videogames


Just now, it was my job to come up with and then type the words “Knock Knock. Who’s There? MURDER!”

I got paid to do it.

AWESOME.

I don’t do one of these every year, and when I do, I don’t always post it here, but what the hell, here’s my write up on video games in 2010.

If you are having an argument, and you decide it would be a good idea to really really infuriate the other person by making it clear that you don’t care and you’re not taking it seriously, just start playing peek-a-boo. There is nothing less respectful than covering your eyes while someone is talking, saying “where’d I go!” then looking at them again and saying “here I am!”

There’s a feeling, and to my knowledge it doesn’t have a name, that people seem to share. Sometimes, you’re told something, and you can just tell, without being able to fully explain why, that what’s being said is bullshit. I call this feeling cole*.

An example of something that gave me, and gives most people a sense of cole are those ads, usually at the beginning of a DVD you’ve already bought, telling you not to download movies. The argument (set to obnoxious jump cuts and pounding music) is that since you wouldn’t steal a purse, a TV or a DVD, you shouldn’t download movies because it is a form of theft, and therefore exactly the same thing. Except, as that feeling of cole in your gut tells you, no, it’s not.

But why isn’t it? What makes it different, and why does that influence so many people who would not steal a purse to feel that the theft of a film via downloading is not wrong? Here we get to our subject, the ethics of theft. Fortunately, the words we need to describe this already exist. First up is dispossession.

Dispossession is the denial of a person or persons’ access to or use of a thing, service or location. When you steal a purse, you have dispossessed the owner of that purse. They are no longer able to use that purse, or any of the objects inside of it. Stealing a DVD from a store dispossesses the owner or owners of the store of the DVD and the subsequent income from retail. They have now lost money since they purchased the DVD originally with the understanding that it would be sold.

For most of history nearly all theft has been dispossession in one way or another. It is only with the introduction of photographic, photostatic and digital copies that theft without dispossession has become common. In these cases the essential nature of theft is changed, and with it, our ethical understanding of the seriousness of the offense has been massively altered. Essentially, the primary reason theft offended people was that it deprived the rightful owner. In cases where that is no longer true, people now tend to see this dispossessionless theft as a victimless or nearly victimless crime. A lack of victim means the degree of offense is dramatically lessened.

It doesn’t vanish though, and that brings us to the other axis upon which ethical judgments of theft are considered: valuation. Where dispossession is an essentially binary consideration (either someone has been dispossessed or they have not), valuation introduces a great deal more granularity, and also serves to explain why the downloading of a film is, while certainly not on par with stealing a TV, still essentially unethical.

Valuation is a complex term, but for our purposes it means the assessing of value or worth, and the method of the assessment we are concerned with is implicative, meaning not a formal assessment, but an attempt to determine one’s assessment of value based on their actions.

Going back to our purse example, assuming a thief has snatched a purse, stolen the money or other valuable goods and then thrown the purse away, their valuation of the purse itself is roughly $0. It was worth taking for its contents, but beyond that is essentially trash, and since it might eventually serve as evidence of their crime, could even be said to take on a negative value.

Now we apply this to theft via download. Essentially, the person who downloads a movie without purchasing is saying “I value this at about a gig of hard drive space, and a little time tracking it down.” Unfortunately for the people planning to make money from sales, it’s very difficult to buy groceries with a gig or so of some other guy’s hard drive space.

Alternately, it is possible for a theft to increase the value of that which has been stolen. There is the classic example of stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family. Now we’ve taken a loaf of bread, value: $2, and turned it into food to keep your family alive, value: multiple human lives. In this case the ethics of theft, which we compute almost instantly and automatically, tell us that this has become an ethically sound act. We have increased the valuation of the stolen item so much that it is agreed to have been worthwhile. See also: E.T. Stealing a bunch of stuff to call for a ride home.

With that established, copy theft enters a grey area very quickly. What about a TV show that is off the air and not available by legitimate means? The value of the product, per the copyright holders is almost impossible to determine, which means the theft of the object can almost be construed as an increase in perceived value. Then there’s broadcast television, where if a viewer is not a Nielsen Family, the value of their viewership, whether watching the original broadcast or a downloaded copy is essentially 0, so is there actually a devaluation taking place during the latter?

Largely, this grey area exists because our ethical systems have not had time to catch up with the new scenarios of action offered to us by advancements in technology. Additionally, the questions of value (how much a thing is worth to each person, and who exactly is receiving what) continue to evolve in complexity**. It will be interesting to watch our culture adapt to answer these questions in the coming years.

*Named for James Cole, my sixth grade teacher and the person responsible for giving me this feeling more often than anyone I’ve ever met. Honestly, I’d like to thank him for instilling such a complete distrust of authority at such a young age.
**A popular bit of rationalization, one which I myself am not above using, is that while my actual valuation of a product is quite high, my willingness to support the structures that have been built to profit from that product is rather low. Do I want to support a musical artist whose work I enjoy? Absolutely. Do I want to do so when more than 97% of that support is siphoned off before reaching the artist? Not always. Should distribution channels receive recompense for the work and cost required for disseminating art? Yes. Should they be allowed to bloat up like the record and film industries have? Of course not. The line is then, wavering, and often poorly marked.

I’m actually working on something a little longer that will be about videogames to a degree, but is really more about aesthetics. Anyway, I currently have the following question:

How does one pluralize Wii? Is it Wiis? Wiii? Is it like buffalo, where you just leave it the same? Like, “Nintendo will have 1,000,000,000 Wii for the North American launch.”

I checked the official Nintendo style guide, and it doesn’t know either.

Man, I love videogames. Here is a post about them.

Ninja 5-0
HOLY CRAP. Ok, it’s a GBA game, and the name is retarded, but if you ever loved a Super Nintendo, you need this game. It’s kind of a cross between Bionic Commando and Ninja Gaiden. It’s about a ninja who is also a cop, and who saves hostages by murdering everyone else. Also something about evil ninja masks? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter because the story is totally unimportant. What’s imporant is swinging in with a grappling hook, dropping from the sky on some dude, and killing him with your sword before you touch the ground.

Wii
I decided to stay up and be there live for the Japanese press conference for the Wii. It was AWESOME. Someday, years from now, videogame news will be professional enough that we will know the details ahead of time. Like, when the event starts, for example. No one seemed to know. Then there was the “live” feed of the conference that turned out to be from another press event in June. After that we suddenly started getting reports that the show was starting. Several sites were posting roughly the same information, when we all realized it was everyone copying the posts of some guy who was watching the same video we had already realized was old. Everyone quickly covered their tracks. Hours later, when everything had died down while people waited for the real conference, a link to a New York Times story posted by the Seattle PI showed up. It had all the major launch details. And not the Japanese launch, but the American launch that wasn’t supposed to be announced until the next day. It was incredibly anti-climactic, totally disorganized, and online reporting is going to quickly make nights like that a thing of the past. Which is a good thing overall, but I’m glad I got to experience it.

Okami
Proof that a strong, cohesive design process is more important than all the technical bells and whistles in the world. This game is nicer to look at than any game so far for Xbox 360 or PS3.

Whenever people ask me what I do, I say

“I do customer support for a small videogame company.”

Then, they say

“Oh really? Do you play games all day?”

No. No one plays games all day. That is not a job that people have.

Perhaps some of you are wondering “Ian, where have you been?”

Perhaps others of you are wondering “Ian, which country’s regional food is your favorite?”

The answer to both of these questions is

MEXICO

A report of my findings. BUT FIRST:

A Note on Style:
Beginning with this post, and ending
Whenever I Feel Like It, I will be using
the device of Arbitary Capitalization.
Some people find this kind of thing
Very Annoying or simply Irritatingly
Precious. To them I reply that it was
long the standard of English Writing,
used even before there really were
standards, and It Was Good Enough
for Ben Franklin.

And Now, Mexico:

Mexico:

Is Very Hot.

Things That Are Really Good In Mexico, Which You Pretty Much Expected:

  • Tortilla Chips
  • Salsa Verde
  • Fried Cheese (this is good everywhere)
  • Hand Painted Plates
  • Swimming

Things That Are Really Good In Mexico, And You Had No Idea:

  • Coca Cola*
  • Doritos**
  • Cheetos***
  • Pizza
  • Reading During Siesta

Mexicans Apparently Love:

  • Futbol
  • Italian Food
  • Kung Fu Movies

The Most Amazing Thing About the Place I Stayed:

Every Room Has a Private Pool narrowly beats New And Different Flower Petal Designs Daily On Pillows.

Pasta in Mexico:

Always seems to be A Little Off.

Coca Cola in Mexico:

Really is a lot better. I brought a big bottle home.

Everyone in Mexico is Catholic:

Even if they’re not.

How Excited Mexican Cab Drivers Get When Tara Speaks Spanish:

Super Excited.

How Excited Tara Gets When Cab Drivers Speak Spanish back:

Extra Super Excited.

The Video Game Store I Found:

Was totally legit. That was kind of a let down.

Mexican Pornography:

Seemed to all be imported from Spain.


*In the US, Coke is sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup. This is mostly because the US Government has enormous subsidies for corn farmers, and enormous tarrifs on foreign sugar. Theoretically, this is to help small corn farmers survive, but of course, most farming is now done by huge corporate farms. In Mexico they use real sugar. The taste is a little less sweet, but also more subtle and smooth.

**Doritos in the US have, for years now, been crying out for help. Everyone is quite satisfied with the level of cheesiness, and still they announce that they are cheesier. They even changed the name to Nacho Cheesier!. Recently, they have gone too far, and now Doritos are gross. Mexican Doritos do not have this problem, and are instead totally delicious, with a very reasonable cheese level, and a hint of jalapeno.

***See Above.

Today’s post was actually written on the 16th, but I edited the time stamp. I did this because I am disgusting and powerful and must be stopped. This is the face of a total lack of editorial oversight. WHICH BRINGS ME TO:

Videogame Journalism. It isn’t actually journalism. Journalism is the collecting, writing, editing and presentation of news. Your feelings about a game are criticism, not journalism. Speculating wildly based on comments Miyamoto makes in an interview is editorialism, not journalism. Retyping a press release is about as close to journalism as they usually get, and that’s the kind of thing a real news outlet would pass off to an intern.

In related videogame non-journalism, Super Princess Peach is pretty great. It’s like Wario Land 5.