An Open Letter to Forum Admins

I work for a company that produces video game tournaments. It’s important to promote these tournaments, so we can get lots of gamers involved and make the tournament sponsors (our clients) happy.

Unfortunately, the company I work for is allergic to spending money, so we really don’t advertise much. The guys who run things believe we can make do with guerrilla marketing — in my case, posting about our tournaments on video game forums.

I have plenty of experience moderating forums. And I understand that forums get spammed all the time, with useless and disruptive ads for penis extenders and Nigerian princes. This blog gets fake posts and trackbacks every day, which I have to remove.

But when I posted on your forum about one of our tournaments, Mr. Forum Admin, this wasn’t spam. The tournament I mentioned was precisely germane to the conversation. It’s a tournament for the game you profess to love so much. So who am I hurting by posting a brief note about it?

Your answer is probably this: if you want to advertise on my site, buy ad space. And that’s fair. But mention of our tournament in your forum does not rise to the same level as a paid advertisement. It’s a simple post in one thread (I never do multiple threads — that’s annoying as hell); it’s not a static ad on your front page. You created a public forum. As long as posts don’t disrupt the community, it shouldn’t matter that a user mentions a commercial site — as long as it’s on topic. And I’m always on topic.

Yes, yes, I know your next objection — it’s your site, and you can do what you want with it. That’s the law. But that’s not what’s ethical. What’s ethical is to do whatever creates the best community experience for your users. And your members are better off knowing about our tournament.

I’m sure there are people out in the world who want to make money unfairly off of your labor of love, your gaming forum. But I’m not one of those people. It’s actually quite fair — I’m giving you content, you’re letting me promote our tournament. There’s no need to be so rabid.

Maybe you can create a topic area in your forum just for posts like mine. Then they won’t clutter up the conversations, and people can choose to read them or not.

Think about it, won’t you?

2007 was the best year ever — for geeks

Originally posted on GGL Wire 12/29/07.

From left: Peter Jackson, StarCraft II, Neil Gaiman, Lunar X Prize, Steve Jobs

Okay, not really. The best year ever for geeks was 1977, because Star Wars, Close Encounters and the Atari 2600 all came out that year.

But it was a really good year to be a geek. Here are some of the top events, in no particular order, that made 2007 great.

Peter Jackson signs on for The Hobbit

Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins.Ever since the final credit roll on 2003’s The Return of the King, Tolkien fans have waited desperately for the announcement that production would begin on The Hobbit, the prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Unfortunately, there was a snag. In March 2005, LOTR director Peter Jackson got into a major legal battle with production company New Line, over the way the LOTR profits were divided. New Line fielded the possibilities of bringing in another director, and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi’s name was bandied around.

It was beginning to look like the two actors you need for The Hobbit, Ian “Bilbo Baggins” Holm and Ian “Gandalf” McKellen, would drop dead of old age before a deal was reached.

But this December, New Line announced that Jackson would executive produce The Hobbit, although someone else might direct. The first part of the two-part film is slated for release in 2010.

Why do we care? Because Jackson’s LOTR trilogy was the best possible film we could have hoped for. It wasn’t perfect (Sauron is NOT an evil lighthouse), but it was beautifully shot, perfectly cast, and brought the book to life magnificently. Jackson is the only person who should be making The Hobbit.

Two Neil Gaiman movies in the same year

Claire Danes in Stardust.It seems Hollywood spent 15 years ignoring Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed British modern fantasy author. In fact, I think it took a generation of Sandman readers growing up, going to film school, and getting jobs before anyone in the film industry took Gaiman seriously.

This year we finally got a film based on a Gaiman story, the critically acclaimed Stardust (based on his 1999 novel); and Beowulf, the film based on the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, the screenplay co-penned by Gaiman.

Both movies featured Gaiman’s trademark wit, and his singular ability to take ancient mythology and make it relevant to the modern world.

An animated film of Gaiman’s Coraline (the creepiest children’s book you’ll ever read) comes out in 2008.

The iPhone

iPhone.No, I don’t have one, because I’m not made of money. Do you know what games journalists make? Not much. And anyway, you want to wait a year or two on Apple hardware, until the bugs are worked out.

Yeah, that’s the excuse I’m using.

In fact, the iPhone proves that the genius of Apple, since the Macintosh arrived in 1984, is in user interfaces. The iPhone touch-screen is remarkably clear and works great. It’s by far the best handheld unit for web browsing, and all the navigation is controlled through simple finger movements.

Some things about the iPhone suck – it’s crippled with useless DRM, you can only use AT&T, and you can’t play games. But the biggest consumer tech item of the year has lived up to the hype, overall.

StarCraft II announced

StarCraft II.I guess if you’re not part of the e-sports community, nor a real-time strategy addict, then Blizzard’s revelation that they have been working on a StarCraft sequel won’t seem so earth-shattering. But this was the biggest videogaming story of the year.

Blizzard announced StarCraft II at the Worldwide Invitational in Seoul; but it wasn’t until BlizzCon that we got to play it. The game feels just like StarCraft, and the designers are working hard to maintain StarCraft’s perfect game balance.

StarCraft is one of the best games ever written; and certainly the best RTS. No release date is yet set for StarCraft II, but when it comes, the world of e-sports will be turned on its ear. Will Korea lose its dominance in StarCraft? Probably not – but anything can happen….

Earth’s (larger) moon.The Google Lunar X PRIZE

I don’t like the privatization of space. At all. I miss the heroism and tragedy of the original 1960’s NASA space program, its only goal the expansion of human knowledge and exploration. (Well, okay, its only goal was to embarrass the Soviets. But I can opine nostalgic, can’t I?)
But between funding cuts, two shuttle disasters, a less-than-usless international space station, and a ridiculous imbroglio involving adult diapers, NASA is a laughingstock. Which is why, a la Andy Griffith, a community of half-crazy Internet billionaires is taking over.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE (why is “prize” all caps? Got me.) was announced at the Wired NextFest in September. The X PRIZE Foundation is offering $20 million to the team who can successfully land a robot rover on the lunar surface by 2012.

Let’s hope someone succeeds, and that their accomplishment spurs America back into space exploration.

Túrin Turambar wearing the Dragonhelm of Hador.The Children of Húrin published

More good news for fans of Tolkien’s Legendarium. This year Christopher Tolkien reached up his ass and pulled out The Children of Húrin, the first original J.R.R. Tolkien work since The Silmarillion in 1977.

The novel retells the story of Túrin Turambar, the most depressing chapter of The Silmarillion. The tale of Túrin and his sister Nienor was Tolkien’s attempt at Greek tragedy, involving murder, exile and incest; the Túrin of The Silmarillion is a jackass and an idiot, and his “tragic” death is not exactly unwelcome.

But the Túrin Turambar of the longer and more detailed The Children of Húrin is far more likable, which may have been Tolkien’s intention in writing it.

If Tolkien wrote it. I’m sorry, call me a kooky conspiracy theorist, but I’m wary of greatly-delayed posthumous works (I’m looking at you, L. Ron Hubbard). We know that Tolkien and his son Christopher were working together on The Silmarillion when Tolkien died; and Christopher admits that much of the editing on The Silmarillion was his own work.

But if a longer, more complete version of Narn i Chîn Húrin was available all this time, why wait 30 years to publish it? Did Christopher Tolkien have to write some of it, to fill in gaps? Inquiring minds want to know.

Blade Runner director’s cut

Blade Runner.In 1982 one of the best sci-fi films ever hit screens. Blade Runner was an adult (sorry, Star Wars), sophisticated (sorry again, Star Wars) film that presented a bleak future and ask its audience to challenge their own ideas of what it means to be human. And Daryl Hannah was hot.

But the 1982 release was a studio cut; the film had been taken away from director Ridley Scott, and a happy ending was tacked on. Harrison Ford was forced to record voice-over narration, which he hated.

In 1992, Ridley Scott was called on to participate in a director’s cut. The film was re-edited, but not by Scott; the happy ending was removed along with the narration, and footage was reintroduced that suggested Deckard, the main character, was not a human but a Replicant. The problem? The new “Director’s Cut” was released without any involvement from Scott.

That was fixed this year; the new Final Cut version, now on DVD after a brief theatrical re-release, is wholly Ridley Scott’s. Now we can see Blade Runner the way it was meant to be seen.

Hello Kitty for Men

No, seriously. Hello Kitty for Men.

What tremendous geeky events did I miss from 2007? List them in the Comments, or email me.

Ladies — What Does Your Man’s Choice of Gaming Console Tell You About Him?

Originally published 11/6/07 on GGL Wire.

MSN’s “Dating & Personals” page features a guide for women — what does your man’s gaming console tell you about him? And one of the experts giving the answers is GGL’s own CEO, Ted Owen.

Read the original article here.

Ted’s excellent answers notwithstanding, I feel the need to share my own thoughts on what your videogame system says about you.

What does a PlayStation 3 reveal about a dude?

The PlayStation 3 man gets by on Daddy’s money and connections. He’s spoiled so his parents will buy him anything, from a Yale education and a National Guard deferment, to an overpriced console with few decent games. In bed, his PS3 affiliation suggests he will be selfish, self-involved, and have very, very small “equipment.” Women should avoid Sony fanboys at all costs. If you must date a PS3 owner, do not get him on the topic of consoles — he will never shut up about it.

What does a Wii tell a gal about her potential date?

That he is too young to be going out on a date. The target audiences for the Wii both poo their pants and dribble indiscriminately — I’m talking about young children and the elderly. If an adult male owns a Wii, it is for one of two reasons. If he owns a Wii to be ironic, then he may be perfectly intelligent and mature. Unfortunately, he probably also buys things like Tiki lamps and lawn flamingos, and has open credit at Archie McPhee. Also, he may be gay. The other species of adult male Wii owner thinks the Wii is a great system. This person is a loser, and possibly suffers from a developmental disability. Avoid.

And what does the Xbox divulge about its owner?

The Xbox 360 owner is just an average Joe, not too bright, not too stupid. He made the safe choice as far as console systems go — reasonable price, and a decent stock of worthwhile games. Don’t be fooled by his lackluster exterior — if you want to dominate and hurt a man who will just beg for more, the Xbox 360 owner is the bottom you’ve been looking for. He puts up with all kinds of crap from Microsoft, so he’ll probably be okay with your leather fetish.

But why stop there? Let’s keep going!

What about the man who owns a PSP?

Just like the PS3 owner, except he has an even smaller penis. And he’s going to try to make you watch Live Free & Die Hard on his PSP — don’t let him.

The Nintendo DS?

Owning a DS isn’t as inherently embarrassing as owning a Wii. If he occasionally whips it out in line at the supermarket (I mean the DS), that’s no problem. But if he’s so deep into Animal Crossing that he collects the friend codes of total strangers, you need to find a new guy.

An original Nintendo Entertainment System?

Yeah, you’re gonna be crawling in and out of the basement window of this guy’s house so his mom doesn’t find out you’re sleeping over. Don’t accidentally knock over his stack of Punisher comics signed by Gerry Conway on your way out.

A DreamCast?

Now this is the guy you can take home to mother. Intelligent, sophisticated, learned and wise — an all-around gentleman. He’s a keeper. And if you’re real nice, he’ll teach you to play Samba de Amigo.

Worst Year Ever: Videogaming’s 11 Worst for 2007 (part 2)

Originally posted on GGL Wire 12/19/07.

Be sure to read part one!

5. Cheating in EVE Online

Within the world of EVE Online, it’s perfectly acceptable to lie, cheat and steal. So why cheat in the game itself?

Without going into the tedious details, it seems that at least one EVE Online developer was cheating, using his “powers” as a developer to provide serious advantages for his friends in-game. This, and other alleged misconduct, was discovered by a player who operated as a spy in-game, finding ways to get into private “corporate” and “alliance” message boards, and then selling the information he found to competing corporations.

When publisher CCP learned the cheating was going on, the punishment was swift – for the “spy” who discovered it. The developer got off scot-free.

You can read in my original post my opinion, that it’s impossible for a developer to “cheat.” But he did violate company policy, and whether it’s justified or not, the EVE Online community felt betrayed.

But the real shanda here is that CCP killed the messenger. The spy who reported the dev’s misdeeds lost all five of his accounts.

4. China’s Civil War disrupts the World Cyber Games

You-chen Liu at the WCG Finals.

At the World Cyber Games Finals in Seattle, Taiwanese cyberathlete You-Chen “D2C-BURBERRYqq” Liu took third in the Project Gotham Racing 3 tourney. On the dais, he held aloft a Taiwanese flag. This spurred ten of the Chinese players to rush Liu and verbally assault him. The altercation was the low point of an event that already had its problems.

For those of you who were educated in American public schools, and therefore know nothing about world history; in the middle of the last century China had a civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists. The Communists won, and the Nationalists fled to the island of Formosa, aka Taiwan.

Each side considers itself to be the legitimate government of China, and accuses the other of being a rogue state. But because the People’s Republic of China is so influential, Taiwanese who attend international events usually do not show their national flag.

In their defense, the Chinese gamers who assaulted Liu were not necessarily supporting the Communist government. The PRC has declared that if a Taiwanese flag is shown at an event, the Chinese players will no longer be permitted to travel. Yes, the PRC will punish its own people, just because a Taiwanese person is proud of their own country.

So should Liu have made his political statement at an international gaming event? That is certainly open to debate; my own opinion skews towards Liu’s freedom of speech under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution. But a sixty-year old civil conflict that has divided one of the world’s greatest nations managed to bring shame upon its people, and soured what should have been an event to bring the world together. And that sucks.

3. Microtransactions

Coins of the world.

Why are microtransactions one of the worst things in this particular year? Two reasons. First, they are one of the worst things in any year. And second, this is the year this pernicious practice began to creep from Korea and Europe into the American gaming market.

What is a microtransaction? Basically it refers to a system for purchasing in-game virtual items with real-life cash money. Many of these items will be very cheap, even less than a dollar. A microtransaction system allows the game publisher to collect the gamers’ money via credit card, even though the purchases are too small for ordinary credit card systems to profitably process.

Right now gamers buy a block of points, or in-game money, to spend on collecting things like costumes, weapons and armor. But soon, games will charge your card individually for each item. Why is this evil? Because most people are very, very bad at tracking expenses, especially for very low cost items. A gamer, especially a kid, will say “hey, that cool costume is only 75 cents, I can afford that,” not realizing this is their hundredth purchase in a month.

World of Warcraft costs me $15 a month. I know exactly what I’m getting for my money — and people who buy items with real-life money are cheating scumbags. A Korean game, like Maple Story, is advertised as a “free” game. But there’s all kinds of in-game stuff you can’t get without paying – how is this “free?”

Publishers of “free” microtransaction-based games claim you don’t really need any of the cash items, and that they don’t throw off game balance. But how long will that last?

2. Nintendo Seizure Boy

Gaye Herford, who doesn’t know how to read a seizure warning.

Earlier this year, the 10-year-old son of Briton Gaye Herford suffered a photosensitive epileptic fit while playing Rayman: Raving Rabbids on the Wii. Since then, Herford has pushed for legislation to ban games that may cause seizures in a tiny percentage of the population. She has also called for warnings on existing games, apparently unaware that most videogames already contain a seizure warning.

Herford:

Most people don’t know if they’re susceptible to epilepsy caused by flashing lights. We need a change in the law to force all game manufacturers to remove the scenes that can provoke epileptic fits.

Unfortunately, legislators in Britain are listening. Conservative MP John Penrose has submitted a motion in Parliament that would require video game publishers to ensure that their products will not trigger photosensitive epileptic seizures in players. It’s hard to see how this would even be possible.

Penrose:

We don’t allow toy-makers to sell products that could poison or injure our children. This shouldn’t be any different. We need government action, now, to change the law so no more young lives are affected by seizures triggered by electronic video games.

I would suggest to the British government that they also look into game boxes that may produce paper cuts, reflective DVD surfaces that may shine glare into the eyes, gaming consoles against which susceptible persons may stub their toes, and console controller cables that may accidentally become wrapped around the base of the male genital region, cutting off blood supply and leading to impotence. It could happen.

1. Jack Thompson and Virginia Tech

Look at me! Look at me!

On April 16th, an emotionally disturbed Virginia Tech student named Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 23 others, then committed suicide. It was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

That same day, censorship advocate Jack Thompson went on Fox News to blame the killings on violent content in videogames. This was before any information about the perpetrator was known. Later, a complete investigation blamed the killings on Cho’s various mental problems, not videogames. Cho played some Counter-Strike in high school, but had no other connection to videogames.

Fortunately, commentators noticed that Thompson jumped the lightgun, and the Florida lawyer’s stock fell in the media. A few days after the shootings, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews laid into Thompson for making premature statements and for blaming videogames without any evidence. Thompson kept insisting that Cho played violent videogames, despite direct evidence that Cho only used his computer for schoolwork. Thompson’s logic was that, since all school shooters “train” on violent videogames in Thompson’s view, then Cho must have been playing violent videogames.

Thompson’s reprehensible behavior in taking advantage of this tragedy to promote his cause just helped highlight the man’s irresponsible behavior over the years. Hopefully, this distasteful incident has permanently damaged Thompson’s reputation, and news producers will stop turning to him for sound bites. Perhaps the tiniest smidgen of good can come out of this horrific tragedy.

Special Jury Prize for Worst Fuckup of 2007: The Red Rings of Death

I’m afraid I can’t let you play that, Dave.

In February it came to light that the Xbox 360 was scratching game disks, due to a design defect with the optical lens; and in July, a class-action lawsuit was initiated against Microsoft over this flaw.

Then the press discovered what gamers had known for a while – that heat problems can brick your 360, resulting in the infamous Red Ring of Death. Initially, Redmond denied both problems. But once the mainstream media got on Microsoft’s case, the company had to take the situation seriously.

In December 2006, Microsoft had extended the warranty of all 360 consoles from 90 days to one year. This July, due to “an unacceptable number of repairs to Xbox 360 consoles,” Redmond extended all 360 warranties to three years, at an estimated cost of $1.15 billion-with-a-“b.” Note that if your console gets repaired or replaced, your new warranty is only 90 days.

This isn’t the kind of disaster for Microsoft that it would be for a company like Sony, which is already in dire fiscal straits. Microsoft has more money than God. But it certainly represents a serious failure on the part of the Xbox 360 team.

Be sure to read part 1!

Worst Year Ever: Videogaming’s 11 worst for 2007 (part 1)

Originally posted on GGL Wire 12/18/07.

Don’t make little Missy unhappy…

Okay, so it wasn’t the worst year ever in gaming. That was 2001. But a lot of stupid shit went down in 2007.

10. Yaris

This game sucks.

There were a number of terrible games this year, but the worst was probably the free Yaris game on Xbox Live Arcade. First of all, the game itself was just terrible. It got a 23% on gamerankings.com.

Second, it’s just a commercial for the Toyota Yaris. Well, it would be, if the Toyota Yaris ran on rails, collected power-ups, and had a “mechanosymbiotic” gun to shoot the mechanical spiders.

I challenge Toyota to find a single person who was inspired to purchase a Toyota Yaris because they played this game. On the other hand, I can name at least three people who would rather dig their own eyes out with a heated spoon and fill the sockets with lemon juice, than play this game again.

9. Maple Story Snail Commercial

This kid has snails. On his nipples.
Click to play.

You can cleanse your eyes by watching this Maple Story commercial from Korea. If that girl turns you on, you’re a pedophile.

Please notice neither commercial shows the game. Why try to hide the fact it’s a low-res side-scroller? People are going to find out when they try to play it.

8. “Lesbo”/”spastic” controversy in UK

You’re Super Spastic!

First, in June, a woman in Ireland complained that MindQuiz for the Nintendo DS contained the word “spastic.” In America, “spastic” is used as an insult to lob at stupid people. But in the UK, “spastic” was formerly used to refer to persons with Cerebral Palsy, and is considered insensitive.Then in October, complaints led Ubisoft to apologize for using the word “lesbo” in Scrabble 2007 for the DS. “Lesbo” is in the official Scrabble Dictionary, so it was included in the game.

If I lodged a formal complaint every time I was mildly offended, I’d – well, I would have lodged several formal complaints. I don’t really take offense at most things. I’m inured to everything up to, but not including, the “Goatse” level of offensiveness. Oversensitive people need to STFU. It’s an adult world, full of adults – act like it, people.

I should note that in neither case did the publisher pull the game, which is encouraging.

7. E for All

Joe Moss is upset about the prices.

For over a decade, the Electronic Entertainment Expo was the premier global videogame industry event, the first major convention devoted specifically to interactive entertainment. And in the gaming community, you were a perman00b until you got in to the exclusive show.

Then in 2006, the big three console giants decided they were sick of the expense of building giant pavilions and stocking them with nubile young booth babes. Thus was E3 slain, and the invite-only industry-only E3 Media & Business Summit took its place.

What were the legions of videogame fanboys and –girls to do? Enter E for All, the show meant to replace the consumer portion of E3. We all waited breathlessly for this last October; and gamers flew in from around the world to attend, paying as much as $90 for a four-day pass.

And what we got was a ginormous bag of SUCK.

With the WSVG dead and gone, 35% of the show floor was empty. And apart from Super Smash Bros. and RockBand, there was just nothing to see. There were too few big booths, and the smaller companies paid too much to hawk their wares to 18,000 bewildered, disappointed fans. As a gaming show, E for All didn’t even live up to the standards of a Comic-Con or Wizard World – neither of which are gaming shows.

Next year’s E for All is planned for the same weekend as the Penny Arcade Expo, proving that the E for All organizers have no intention of putting on a serious event. I dunno, maybe it’s a tax write-off or something.

6. Reviewgate, aka Gerstmanngate

Did I say 6.0? I meant 10 out of 10!

As of this writing, Reviewgate is a developing situation. But basically, Gamespot Editorial Director Jeff Gerstmann published a negative review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, giving the game 6 out of 10. Then Gerstmann got fired, supposedly because Gamespot advertiser Eidos was upset about the negative review.Analysis of the Gerstmann firing has even spread to the mainstream press, and I wrote an opinion piece about it myself. Can gamers trust the information they get from ad-based web sites? (Answer: sometimes.) Does the games industry have nothing but contempt for the gaming press? (Answer: yes.) Do game reviews really matter anyway? (For gamers, no; for the industry, yes, as meta-review scores are used as a metric for determining bonuses.)

What should have been a minor human resources issue for a gaming site has turned into a giant clusterfuck that will hurt Gamespot for some time to come. What this proves is that gamers were already suspicious of the relationship between games reviewers and publishers – and the second gamers sniffed evidence of collusion, they pounced. I hope the gaming media are paying attention.

Be sure to read part 2 — with extra-special SUCKAGE!

‘Games journalists are not journalists. There, I said it.’

Originally published 12/3/07 on GGL Wire.

I didn’t plan to write anything about the Jeff Gerstmann imbroglio. Games journalists writing about games journalists seems incestuous to me. But there is an important issue here — can games journalists be trusted to give information and opinions that gamers can trust?

Here is a timeline of the Reviewgate scandal:

November 13: Gamespot Editorial Director Jeff Gerstmann publishes a negative review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, giving the game 6 out of 10. An accompanying video review is also posted.

November 29: Gerstmann is fired. According to a rumor repeated on a number of gaming sites, Gerstmann is let go because Eidos is unhappy about his negative review of Kane & Lynch (the company paid a great deal of money to advertise the game on Gamespot). The text of the review is edited, although the 6/10 rating stands. The video is taken down.

November 30: A Penny Arcade comic (which was actually drawn before the firing) ignites the controversy. In an editorial, Jerry Holkins quotes Gamespot as saying there had been problems with Gerstmann’s “tone” for a long time. Gamespot owner CNET responds to the rumors: “For over a decade, Gamespot and the many members of its editorial team have produced thousands of unbiased reviews that have been a valuable resource for the gaming community. At CNET Networks, we stand behind the editorial content that our teams produce on a daily basis.” CNET’s Sarah Cain: “We do not terminate employees based on external pressure from advertisers.”

December 1: 1Up and Ziff-Davis staffers march on the Gamespot offices to protest Gerstmann’s firing. No, really. In addition, the fora on Gamespot and the Eidos web pages are slammed with thousands of complaints.

December 3: Gerstmann speaks to Joystiq, defending his original review. “I stand behind my work, regardless of where I do it. If there was content that I felt I couldn’t support, it wouldn’t see the light of day.”

The truth is, we don’t know why Gerstmann was fired, or if the Kane & Lynch review was the reason, or one of the reasons. Gamespot won’t tell us what happened; and according to rumor, Gerstmann signed an NDA to get his severance pay, and can’t tell us.

Why is this minor firing causing so much consternation in the gaming community? It’s complicated, but it has to do with gaming journalism’s precarious place in the videogaming moiety.

One the one hand, there are the developers and publishers. These people are “The Industry,” and it’s a cliquish world with intentionally high barriers to entry. Like their counterparts in the Film Industry, game developers are very protective of their little world and paranoid about keeping their careers. On the other hand sit the gamers; also very cliquish, and often hostile to outsiders. Mostly young, mostly male, gamers treat their favorite videogames like fetish objects, and demand greatness from the high Brahmins in the Industry. If the Industry fails, say by producing a poor sequel to a beloved game, the gamers can turn ugly.

Each group requires the other to exist — that’s why I describe them as moieties. But they are also at odds with each other. To say they hate each other would be greatly overstating the case. Let’s just say it’s a complicated relationship. The Industry sees the gamers as the unwashed masses, fanboys whose loyalties (and dollars) are often taken for granted. The gamers see the Industry as a golden castle on a far hill, where everyone has a dream job, and drinks sparkling champagne out of cups shaped like Master Chief’s helmet. When the Industry disappoints, the gamers feel personally betrayed.

This relationship would be combative enough, if there weren’t a third faction. Although we’re gamers, we aren’t considered part of the gaming community. And we certainly aren’t loved by the Industry (try spending five years of your life developing a game, only to have it trashed in the reviews). The problem with being a games journalist is, you don’t have anywhere to fit in.

Games journalists are not journalists. There, I said it. Let’s look at what a journalist is supposed to be. (Most of America’s so-called journalists have sold out to corporations, and are no better than a games journalist. But the rest of the English-speaking world seems to still have some real journalism.) A journalist knows he can never be truly impartial, but can give a hearing to both sides. A journalist keeps opinion separate from factual reporting. A journalist questions his or her own sources, and depends on alternate sources to determine the truth. A journalist never accepts bribes, and avoids even the appearance of impropriety. A journalist wears a felt hat with a press card stuck in the band and drinks bourbon straight form the bottle.

Real reporters cover important issues like politics, crime, social issues and science. They report what the public needs to know to be effective members of a democratic society. They should never be “stenographers to power.” They’re the Fourth frickin’ Estate, and should act like it.

This is not what a games journalist does. Don’t worry, I’m not singling out my own kind; this also applies to tech journalists, business journalists, sports journalists, boating journalists, real estate journalists, knitting journalists and the writing staff at Cat Fancy. We’re all writing about a specific industry, just for fans of that industry.

In a sense, gaming journalists are like freelance public relations staffers for the videogaming Industry. It’s our job to be stenographers to power — or at least to Blizzard. But there’s one difference between us and the actual PR guys. A PR person’s loyalty is to the company. A games journalist’s loyalty should be to the gamers. Not to the Industry, nor even to his or her own employer — but to the readers.

Gamers count on us to sift through the gaming Industry bullshit and present the nuggets of truth we find there. They rely on us to use our greater resources, our contacts within the Industry, our ability to attend all the conventions and gaming events, to give them information about their beloved hobby that they couldn’t and wouldn’t get without us. They trust us to provide, if not the truth, then at least our honest opinion.

Unfortunately, when we give that honest opinion, it often harms our relationships with the people in the Industry — relationships we need to cultivate, if we’re going to tell the gamers what they want to know. Film reviewers run into this problem all the time. If they give negative reviews to films, they lose their invitations to junkets and press screenings. But they write their opinions anyway, and I can’t think of a case where a film reviewer got canned for pissing off an advertiser.

Game reviewers run into the exact problem in the Gerstmann case — there must be a firewall between advertising and editorial. Honestly, the bad behavior here is not on the journalist who writes negative things. The journalist’s employer is ethically required to shield their reporter. And the advertiser should not think buying ad space on a web site or in a magazine makes them immune to editorial opinion. Do the people at Eidos really want to live in a world where product reviewers have their opinions dictated by advertisers?

Games journalists are not journalists, because we must break the rules of journalism to do our jobs. We must have friends in the Industry, people we like and don’t want to piss off. We don’t write about important issues — we write about trivia, even if it’s fascinating trivia that is important to people in a particular sub-culture. We don’t write unbiased pieces — why would we? We write what we think. We repeat rumors. We speculate wildly on the psychological diagnosis of a certain Florida lawyer.

Just as the Industry doesn’t like us because we snoop out their secrets and trash their games, the gamers don’t trust us. They know we’re in bed with the Industry, to a certain extent. They know we work for media conglomerates. They’re jealous that we have such cool jobs. And the minute they get a hint that we might be liars, such as in this case, they go ballistic.

I can say with absolute confidence that no game review at GGL, GGL Wire, or Epileptic Gaming has ever been altered in any way for the benefit of anyone. But we’re still a small site, owned by a small company. We won’t always be small, and we’re already growing. What will happen here at GGL when the ad guys strike a major multi-million dollar deal with some game publisher, and the game sucks? Will someone tell us what to write? Knowing our CEO, Ted Owen, I don’t think so. I can’t imagine him going for that — he believes in the editorial/advertising firewall, because you can’t build a community if people can’t trust you.

But what will happen when that day comes? Will we show the integrity of the Penny Arcade guys, or the (alleged) spinelessness of Gamestop?

I hope GGL will do what Gamestop and their CNET masters should have done. Because standing up for your reporter means you’re also standing up for the gamers.

How To Play An RTS Game: Advice For Beginners

Originally posted on 11-28-07 at wire.ggl.com.

Clockwise from upper left: StarCraft II, Battle for Middle Earth II, Company of Heroes, Command & Conquer Tiberium Wars

I love math, and I’m terrible at it. I love foreign languages – I’ve studied four different ones, and have absolutely no aptitude whatsoever at any of them.

I love real-time strategy games, and I suck at them.

So I decided to comb the web and talk to a couple of experts, and put together the ultimate list of advice for RTS n00bs. Just from compiling this advice, I’ve graduated from “Worst RTS Player Ever” to “Generally Confused n00b.” But I’m still working at it. Continue reading

Ten Tales of Videogame Terror – Part 2

Originally posted on GGL Wire on 10/25/07.

And now… the final five tales of videogame TERROR:

Saw V

Nooooooo! Not House of the Dead!When Brittany awoke, every part of her lithe, tanned body ached. She tried to move her hands and feet, but they were immobile. Terrified, she opened her eyes.

She had never been inside the shack, but she recognized it from hiking through the Schwarzwald. It sat alone in a dark dell full of stunted, black-skinned elms. She had assumed it belonged to some local poacher, but now she realized the terrifying truth.

Brittany was bound hand and foot, strapped to an ancient dentist’s chair. Various implements of torture were hanging from the walls – specula, knives, drills and other shiny stainless-steel horrors of unimaginable purpose.

She vowed not to scream.

The door swung open, and a man entered – short, stocky and balding, his face hidden behind a mask which amplified the raspy wheeze of his breathing. He closed the door.

“Let me out of here!” Brittany yelled.

The man laughed, low and quiet. He walked over to a television set with built in DVD-player that sat against the wall in front of Brittany.

Slowly, with relish, the man slipped a scratched and mottled DVD into the player.

“What are you doing?” Brittany demanded.

The man spoke with a thick German accent. “Soon you vill know a horror unlike any other,” he hissed.

The screen came to life. It was a movie. Brittany didn’t recognize it at first. Was that the chick from Terminator 3? And the guy who played Ghandi?

The realization crashed down on her. Someone was screaming, screaming at the top of her lungs; and it was a moment before Brittany realized it was her.

The movie was BloodRayne. The man was Uwe Boll!

“Oh god please don’t do this to me! Why? Why?” she screamed.

Brittany had the will to survive. She made it through BloodRayne and Alone in the Dark. But by the end of Postal, her lifeless body had slumped in the chair, her face contorted into a permanent rictus of terror.

Boll dumped her body in the peat bog, and went back to lurking along the hiking trails, watching for hapless young people to kidnap and torture. So the madness continued.

The Pits of DespairThe Pits of Despair

Bobby always wanted to be a game tester, and now he had his chance.

The campus of Electronic Arts was a beautiful cluster of buildings in Playa Vista, a stone’s throw from the Pacific. Bobby’s heart tintinabulated with excitement as he parked and was checked in by security.

“So you want to work in QA?” the woman asked. She seemed pleasant enough, just another ordinary HR drone.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then sign here and we’ll get you started.” The woman pushed a complicated-looking form across her desk.

Bobby reached for a pen, but the woman handed him a strange silver implement with a sharp tip. “Use this?”

“What do I use for ink?”

The woman took the implement and jabbed Bobby in the finger.

“Sign in blood,” she demanded.

Well, that’s weird, Bobby thought, as he bled onto the silver pen and scrawled his name across the bottom of the page with his own sanguineous humours.

The woman snatched the paper away, and locked it in a steel man-sized safe that lurked in the corner of the office. “Come with me, she said.”

Bobby followed her through the offices and down a long hallway lined with paintings of Mediterranean scenes. At the end of the corridor was an ancient freight elevator, the kind with the iron gate. That’s funny, Bobby thought, this building looks only a few years old.

They stepped into the lift, and the woman pulled the gate closed and flipped a giant electrical toggle switch.

The elevator car plummeted at an alarming rate. The sides of the car were open, and Bobby first saw several floors of the EA offices, then a long stretch of dank bedrock. The further down they went, the hotter and wetter the air became.

Suddenly they came out in a massive chamber, an ancient rent in the uttermost depths of the world. Strange gasses spewed from lava-filled rivulets. The whole cavern was lit from above by massive fluorescents that buzzed audibly. The pale white light gave Bobby an instant headache.

“Where are we?” he asked tremulously.

“QA,” the HR woman replied.

The lift hit the floor of the chamber, and two burly shirtless men in turbans grabbed Bobby forcefully and dragged him toward a cubicle. They wore cruel-looking whips on their belts.

“What’s going on?” Bobby screamed.

“You will work 20-hour days,” the HR woman intoned, like an ancient Druidic priest offering a human sacrifice to satiate a bloodthirsty deity. “Eight a.m. to 4 a.m. No bathroom breaks, no weekends, no vacations.”

Bobby wriggled, panicking, as the guards wrapped a red-hot manacle around his ankle. The cooling metal melted his flesh, and he wailed in agony.

“We’re two months behind schedule on Mail Order Monsters 2,” the woman continued, “so we’re withholding gruel and water until you catch up.”

“Let me go! I don’t want this!” Bobby cried as he was forced into his work chair.

“You signed a contract,” the woman replied coldly. Then she leaned in, and spoke with more feeling. “Besides, if you ever want to be a game designer, you have to work up through QA. Don’t you want to be a game designer?”

“Yes.” Resignedly, he put his hands on the keyboard and mouse. He cried out as a guard lashed his back.

“Get to work, slave!” the guard bellowed.

Bobby never saw his friends or family again. And it was years later, his crippled frame wracked with years of labor, he realized the truth – they would never promote him out of QA!

Hello? Anybody home?The Last Man

Robert Frisco boarded his flight in Philadelphia, eager to begin four days of fun, sun and gaming in beautiful Southern California.

He would return to his small Pennsylvania hometown impoverished – between the cost of the flight, the hotel, and the convention passes, Frisco had very little money left. But this was E for All, the biggest event of the gaming year.

Frisco was never able to attend E3, but this trip would make up for all those disappointing years reading about all the E3 action on the Internet.

The first sign that all was not as it should be came when the plane descended over Los Angeles.

The city was burning. Massive fires poured plumes of reddish ash into a sky already choked with car exhaust fumes. What had happened while Robert was in the air? Why hadn’t the pilot made an announcement?

But it’s when Frisco approached the actual convention center that his panic began.

The place was EMPTY.

E3 got 30,000 visitors a year! Where were the people? Was it a terrorist attack? Famine? Plague?

Frisco stumbled across the convention floor, looking for any sign of life. No Xbox, no Sony. Nothing at the Nintendo booth of interest but Super Smash Bros. Just a pitiful few survivors playing RockBand, undoubtedly to drive from their minds the horror of whatever cataclysm befell this place.

Something shambled at Frisco from around a darkened corner. He gasped – it was a booth babe, or what was once a booth babe, shuffling forward in her high-heeled shoes, wearing little but a tight t-shirt and skin-tight short shorts. She languidly offered Frisco a flyer for some no-name videogame resale site.

“H-haaave a flyyyy-er,” she groaned.

Frisco ran, as hard and as far as he could. He burst through a black curtain and into a vast unused space – the remainder of the convention floor that the E for All organizers couldn’t sell.

“Why?” Frisco called out to whatever foul gods still hearkened to the prayers of men. “Why????”

Alone in a vast and empty space of total desolation, Frisco fell to his knees. The despair was too much for his fragile mind, and he slumped to the floor, dead.

The Red Ring of DEATH!The Red Ring of Death

Angrily, Susan finished packing her brand new Xbox 360 back in the box. After only two days of playing Geometry Wars, her console overheated; and the button on the front lit up with the dreaded Red Ring of Death. Now her console was completely bricked, and she would have to wait weeks for Microsoft to repair the damn thing.

She left the box on the porch for the FedEx man, and went back into her apartment to watch TV. But when she pressed the “On” button on her remote, she was greeted by a terrible surprise.

At first, the TV wouldn’t some on at all. Then the screen warmed up, and an image appeared. It took Susan a moment to realize the image was not from some television program.

It was a giant Red Ring of Death.

But how is this possible? Susan asked herself. My TV shouldn’t have a red ring!

She went to the phone to call her brother, the tech expert. But when she picked up the receiver — there it was again, the red ring! The phone was otherwise dead, no signal.

Suddenly, the lights went out. Looking up at the ceiling lamp, she saw the red ring, glowing brightly in the near-dark.

Susan ran for the front door – but the red ring shone out from the doorknob. She tried to open the door, but it would not budge. The door had been bricked!

Losing her mind with terror, Susan ran into the bathroom, where natural light from outside made it possible to see. She struggled to catch her breath – there was a red ring on the bathroom scale, one on the shower faucet, even one on the bath mat. How do you brick a bath mat?

Susan turned to look at herself in the mirror, and the monstrousness of what she saw there drove her mind over the edge of insanity. There in the mirror staring back at her was herself – with two giant red rings around her eyes.

She dropped to the floor, dead. She had been bricked.

The Coral Gables SlasherThe Coral Gables Slasher

Dawn broke through the tiny cellar window, and Brendan decided to try opening the cellar door. Still clutching the tire iron he found, he moved the barricade of boxes and old furniture away from the door.

It had been hours since he last heard the Slasher, pacing in the kitchen above, muttering to himself and occasionally singing bits of hymns. Brendan hoped and prayed the lunatic had become tired of waiting, and left.

Brandishing his weapon in one hand, and fiercely clutching his copy of Manhunt 2 in the other, Brandon nudged open the cellar door. Morning light illuminated the dust motes in the stairwell leading up to the kitchen. He heard nothing.

All his friends were dead. Nikki and Elijah, strangled and burned while playing Grand Theft Auto; Clancy was found hanged, with his smashed copy of Quake 4 lying at his feet; Tim and Monica were stabbed and shot with arrows, their eyes sliced out using a broken CD of Bully.

Brandon slowly climbed the stairs, straining his ears for the slightest sound, the tiniest evidence he was not alone. Forcing himself to continue despite his terror, Brandon reached the top of the stairs to face the horror of the kitchen.

There was blood everywhere, especially on the center island, where it looked like a boar had been slaughtered. But Brandon knew it was Corinne’s blood – Corinne, the beautiful French exchange student, whose only crime was bringing the unrated French version of Indigo Prophecy into the U.S.

“Japanese videogames are the next Pearl Harbor!”

Brandon spun around to find the voice. There he stood, the Coral Gables Slasher, his absurd white hair stained with blood, his cheap suit ripped apart by the clawing human hands of his victims. His eyes burned with insanity, or at least with a serious personality disorder. He held a machete in his had.

Holding aloft his tire iron, Brandon tried to back away – but the Slasher stood in the only exit door (there was no way out through the cellar, or Brandon would have escaped hours ago).

The Sims 2 contains nipples, penises, labia, and pubic hair!” the Slasher hissed.

“What?” Brandon could not understand the old man’s ramblings. He looked about the kitchen frantically, hoping to find a better weapon.

“God is in this battle, and I am privileged to be a foot soldier!” The Slasher leapt forward, chasing Brandon around the bloody central island of the kitchen.

Brandon tried to make for the door, but The Slasher was too fast. He caught Brandon across the face with the machete, and a crimson spray shot across the wall. Brandon slipped and fell, and then the Slasher was in top of him.

“I love the smell of burning gamers in the morning!” The Slasher cried as he raised his machete for the kill.

Suddenly the front door burst open, and in seconds the kitchen was filled with armed police officers.

“Alright, what’s going on here?” one cop demanded.

“Thank God,” Brandon cried out. “This lunatic killed all my friends! Get him off me.”

To Brandon’s horror, the cop laughed. “I guess you don’t get it. We’re with him.”

The cop turned to the Slasher. “Will you finish this one up, Mr. Thompson, or shall we?”

In answer, the Slasher plunged his machete through Brandon’s neck. The last thing the young man saw before death was the Slasher smashing his copy of Manhunt 2 while the cops laughed and laughed.

Note: all Coral Gable Slasher quotes used in this story are real.


Read Part One
.

Ten Tales of Videogame Terror – Part 1

Ten Tales of Videogame TERROR!

Originally posted 10/23/07 on GGL Wire.

Greetings, friend. That most terrifying of holidays, ancient Samhain, which the ignorant call “Halloween,” is almost upon us. Across the globe, the walls between the lands of the living and the dead will fall, and the souls of the slain return to wreak their terrible vengeance on the living.

And people will dress up like Spiderman or a Naughty Nurse, bob for apples and tell ghost stories over an open fire.

Few know there are tales of horror unique to the world of videogaming. Here are ten blood-curdling tales of gaming horror and the macabre. Read on — only if you dare!

The Mobile Phone Game From Hell!The Curse of the Mobile Game

The kiosk stood alone and forlorn in the food court of the old abandoned mall. As the young boy approached, a crone appeared, her cackling laugh splitting the boy’s ears like a knife through rotted cauliflower. She bore a small silvery object in her hand, and held it aloft to glint in the sickly red moonlight.

“It’s a cell phone, boy,” she lisped through splinter stumps of ancient teeth. “And it plays games.”

The boy pulled out his cash, his fingers sticky with the sweat of terror. It was his mother’s dialysis money, but who cared? This cell phone played games!

The crone snatched the cash from his hand and bit down on it, chewing greedily on the brittle tens and twenties. Slowly, almost regretfully, she released the glinting cell phone into the boy’s shivering fingers.

He ran, as far and as fast as he could, and hid in the cellar of the old wheelhouse. Clutching his new prize in the dark, the boy held down the red key – it was sticky with some nameless ichor – until the screen spasmed to life with a sickly pale glow.

He scrolled through the games – Pac-Man, Galaga, Metal Gear Solid Mobile, Destroy All Humans. Crouched in the damp, fetid darkness, he began to play.

Soon, the horror of realization sent chills down the boy’s spine. These games were slow, awkward and ill-conceived! They bore too little relationship to the original game! The controls were clumsy with lousy responsiveness! The graphics were terrible! And the games tore through the phone’s battery life!

A low steady moan from the back of the boy’s throat rose sharply into a scream of eternal terror that rang out across the moors to awaken eldritch creatures better left slumbering. And over it all, the cackle of the evil crone drive mad those men unfortunate enough to hear it.

The Dreamcast of Unknown KadathThe Dreamcast of Unknown Kadath

“He’s quite mad, you say,” quipped Dr. Bent as he followed Dr. Whithers down the grimy hospital corridor.

“Quite,” the elder physician replied. He held an ancient linen scarf to his nose, as scant protection from the twin odors of antiseptic and human effluent that permeated the halls of St. Lucius’ Rest Home for the Mentally Deranged.

Ahead in the dim light of a single electric lamp stood the last door on the ward; Room 101. The steel-reinforced isolation room was reserved for only the most dangerous patients, and this one was the worst yet.

Dr. Whithers peered over his spectacles at the medical chart in his hand. “Charles Mooncalf, age 22. Murdered 16 persons in a rampage at his local Babbages. No known motive.”

The two medical men stopped outside the oak-and-iron door, which was featureless but for a small sliding window and a latch barred by an enormous padlock. Confidently, he pulled the window open and peered inside.

A whispered cant emerged from the darkened hole, a low guttural voice repeating over and over, “Tap on the glass. Make the Seaman dance. Tap on the glass. Make the Seaman dance…”

“What does it mean?” Dr. Bent inquired. He rose up on his toes to view the patient through the tiny aperture.

“No one knows,” Dr. Whithers replied with a sad shake of his head.

Mooncalf sat in the center of his cell, cross-legged, clutching a plastic box in his skeletal hands, scratching at it with his four-inch-long nails. Perhaps the box was once white, but now it bore the patina of years of filth and neglect.

“He beat an elderly woman to death with something called a ‘Samba de Amigo controller,’” Dr. Whithers said.

Whither’s voice roused the lunatic from his babbling. “They cancelled it,” the patient hissed. “No more support, no more new games! They cancelled my dreams!” His voice rose to a high-pitched wail.

Sadly, the doctors pulled closed the window, and continued on their rounds. There was nothing that could be done for a man whose Cast of Dreams had become a Cast of Nightmares.

Holiday of HorrorsHoliday of Horrors

Stanley was nine years old in 1982, the year his father disappeared forever.

It was the most anticipated Christmas in young Stanley’s life. That Summer, Stanley and his father had gone to see the greatest movie ever made, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The film’s message of love and acceptance built a special bond of friendship and affection between Stanley and his father.

And now, for Christmas, there would be something even better – the Atari 2600 game based upon the movie!

For a month, Stanley had lain awake nights, wishing the holiday could come sooner. But now it was here – Christmas Eve, when young Stanley could choose one present to open in anticipation of the next day. And Stanley knew exactly which one to choose – the small flat package wrapped in cheery Santa paper, the exact size and shape of a 2600 game box.

Neither Stanley nor his father could ever have known the terrible truth – that the Chinese factory where the game cartridge was manufactured lay upon an ancient American Indian burial ground, where laid the desiccated bones of slaughtered Navaho tribesman who became very lost on their way to a powwow and were massacred by Chinese Imperial soldiers. Their angry spirits cried out for revenge.

At his parents’ bidding, Stanley tore open the wrapped gift – it was indeed what his heart wished for, an E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Atari 2600 cartridge! Cradling the treasure in his young hands, he excitedly pulled the cartridge from the box and, yanking out the copy of Breakout currently in the slot, pushed the game into the 2600’s cartridge slot.

The game came to life on the screen of the Sylvania color TV. An electronic version of John William’s beloved E.T. Theme came wafting from the speakers. Stanley was beside himself.

As Stanley began to play, a look of horror slowly crossed his father’s face. Stanley was too excited to notice it, but across the living room, objects began to move of their own accord, being slowly pulled toward the television screen.

“What is going on?” Stanley’s mother asked. Then one of Stanley’s other presents, a baking kit for making plastic bugs out of hot molten goo, flew across the room and into the television screen, as if it were a portal to the deepest levels of hell rather than a piece of convex glass.

The mother screamed as more objects were pulled into the TV screen. Stanley’s father yelled at him to stop, but the boy was trapped – certain he could complete the first level, unaware that this was impossible.

“Stop, Stanley! Shut it off!” the father screamed as gifts, furniture and decorations whirled around the room in an orgy of violence before disappearing into the demonic video game.

“Just a minute, dad – I have to levitate out of the pit!”

“What is going ooooooonnnnnn??? The mother screamed, clutching the chaise lounge for dear life.

“Don’t you understand,” the father cried above the din, “the game SUCKS!”

Suddenly, the family Christmas tree came loose from its base and flew towards the TV. The father leapt to grab it, and Stanley looked up in time to see his father, tree and all, sucked forever into the TV screen.

Stanley shut off the Atari 2600, and never turned it on again. But it was too late. His father was gone forever, drawn by a terrible curse into a world where delightful children’s movies became suckfests of dull incompetence.

Men from the government would come, close down the house, and take the TV away for study. The company that made the game would shut down, but Stanley’s father would never return.

The Death By A Thousand CutsThe Death By A Thousand Cuts

Claymore stood at the edge of the lake, poring over the ancient map. It was night, and he could only read the fading characters by the waning light of a gibbous moon.

It’s here, he thought. The holy grail of gaming. The free MMO. And all I have to do, he thought, is cross this lake.

Claymore stuck his toes into the black, brackish water, and his feet at once were freezing, despite his heavy leather boots. The water was colder than sin, cold like the murkiest depths of the bottomless ocean trenches, where eyeless beasts swam in a darkness too complete for even the eyes of God to penetrate.

I must cross, he said to himself, and with a deep breath, plunged himself into the chill lake.

The cold took his breath away, but he began to swim, remembering always his goal, the long-fabled free MMO. But halfway across the lake, he felt a nip, like a tiny bite, upon his knee.

Stopping for a moment and treading water, Claymore felt for the tiny wound, little more than a bug bite. Looking down into the dark liquid, he realized he could see the culprit – just below the surface, a tiny bug-eyed fish, like a piranha but much smaller, luminescing from within with a pale green light.

It’s almost cute, Claymore thought. But there’s no time. And this fish can hardly harm me.

But then Claymore felt another tiny bite, and another. Suddenly, the little fish were everywhere, hundreds of them, thousands, nibbling at his clothes and skin. He flailed his arms and kicked his legs, but the tiny predators ignored his efforts to dispel them.

Panicking, Claymore tried to swim away, but the damn creatures were everywhere. Now they were on his face, and in his mouth. He screamed, and cold water choked his lungs.

The pain of the tiny bites became torment as whole swaths of skin and muscle were relentlessly stripped away. Within a minute, only Claymore’s bones remained, his body eaten alive from inside and out – with only his bugged eyes, strangely unmolested, left to stare lifeless at the water-logged map that floated upon the stagnant water.

There, in an evil hieroglyphics that predated the first writings of Men, it warned in an eldritch tongue forgotten in these days, “BEWARE OF MICROTRANSACTIONS.”

Dialup of the DeadDialup of the Dead

Inspectors Wong and Chen found the body, sitting upright, in a chair at the Internet Café, just as the owner had reported it.

“He came in three days ago, and never left,” the woman said. “Never left the computer, never even to go to the bathroom. He just sat. And played.”

“Which game was he playing?” Inspector Chen asked, as he searched the man’s papers.

“I don’t know,” the woman replied. “One of those MMOs. The one with the little anime wuxia characters.”

Oh, Wong thought to himself sarcastically, that one.

This was the third addicted MMO gamer to drop dead in an Internet Café in the last month. Wong’s superiors at the Ministry were concerned, and ready to enact sweeping new rules that would effectively cripple one of China’s fastest-growing economic sectors. If Wong could prove the gamer were not to blame, it could give his career quite a boost.

The coroner’s office was located in what had been, before the Cultural Revolution, a mausoleum. Ancient Buddhist deities still looked down from the ceiling as Inspectors Wong and Chen arrived to inspect the body of the dead gamer.

“Obesity, and an unhealthy fascination with these Western Capitalist computer games,” Chen declared the cause of death without any concern for the facts. “A healthy diet and a firm familiarity with the Little Red Book, and this man would still be alive.”

The coroner was a wizened old doctor, not out of place amongst the crumbling idols. He poked and prodded the corpse with a variety of instruments.

“I don’t understand why you waited,” the doctor snapped.

“Waited for what?” Wong asked?

“Waited to bring this one in. If you want the cause of death, I need to see them right away.”

For some reason, a chill passed down Wong’s spine.

“He died today. We brought him right to you.”

The doctor shook his head. “Nonsense… this man has been dead three days!”

But — the Internet café proprietor saw him playing – the online records confirm it – the terrible implications swam in Wong’s head. Staring in to the man’s lifeless eyes, Wong felt his sanity slipping away. These games were turning players – into the LIVING DEAD!
Read Part 2!

When Is A Gamer Not A Gamer?

Published on GGL.com on 6/26/06.

Recently, my colleague Mahmood Ali wrote a piece defending a very inclusive definition of the word “gamer.” In that article, he referred to a “friend” who argued the point with him, stating that “I think you’re stretching the definition of ‘gamer’ until it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

That friend was me.

Years ago, in the before time, in the long-long-ago, I was webmaster of a site called gamerjargon.com, which is now utterly and completely defunct. As the URL suggests, it was dictionary of gamer terms, the slang and jargon used by role-playing, wargames, and video gamers.

This was the definition of “gamer” given on gamerjargon.com:

gamer, gaming, n. Also gaming (v.), to game (v.).
1. one who plays games.
2. specifically, one who plays games of specific “hobbyist” genres, namely role-playing games, wargames, strategic simulations, and strategy & collectible card games; also computer-based variants of these games.
3. to game, (v.): the act of playing a game. Ex: Sorry, I can’t go on a date — I’m gonna be gaming all weekend.
4. gaming (n.): hobbyist games as a field of interest, or as an industry. Ex: I used to go on dates, until I got into gaming.

It seems the disagreement between Mahmood and me rests on the difference between definitions one and two. Definition one is the simplest, most obvious meaning, and probably what most people would think if encountering the word “gamer” for the first time.

However, the second definition is the real meaning of “gamer.” And, as I will argue, if “gamer” means anything more inclusive than definition two, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

For the purposes of a simple experiment, I will assume that the person reading this article is a “definition two” gamer. In fact, because you’re reading this on GGL.com, I can safely assume that you are primarily a videogamer, and interested in professional gaming. Chances are very good that you are also interested in some of the other types of tabletop gaming mentioned. And I’ll go out on a limb, and say you’re into anime, Asian cinema, extreme sports, science fiction and/or fantasy, fantasy sports, Internet culture and porn. You may not be interested in any of those things, but there is a good chance you are.

I am also going to assume that you have friends who are gamers. Now, think about your gamer friends. Do you have any gamer friends who play nothing but casual games like Zuma or Bejewelled? Do they know nothing about any of the subcultures I just mentioned, but they spend a lot of time playing The Sims? Are you thinking of a sports nut who would never go near a Halo game, but is addicted to Madden?

Of course, you’re not. Because those aren’t gamers. Those are people who occasionally play a computer game, or have become dedicated to one particular game but don’t care about gaming in general.

If the mom who plays Microsoft Solitaire during her lunch break at the office is a “gamer,” then who exactly is NOT a gamer? Pretty much the Sentinelese and that’s about it. Even the Amish have computers nowadays.

If everyone who ever plays a computer game is a “gamer,” then the word becomes completely useless. As GGL community member H-Force pointed out in the discussion forum for Mahmood’s piece, we don’t call someone who goes to the gym twice a month a “bodybuilder.” That’s not only because a bodybuilder goes to the gym more often; it’s because a bodybuilder is part of a culture.

Gaming is a culture. We have our own jargon, our own language, our own conventions and events, our own clothes. Do we have to coin a term like “hobbyist gamer” or “serious gamer” to differentiate us from the casual gamers? No. Because “gamer” is our word. We own it.

Sorry, I mean we PWN it.