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Your Right to Play

Brandon did an awesome job summarizing yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court decision on videogames’ status as protected speech, but I’d like to weigh in as well. Mostly because I weighed in with a blog post at yesterday, as part of ye olde day job.

It’s very rare that said day job intersects with the world of mainstream gaming. While it’s true that we’re getting into game development on some level, that’s more of a “Games for Change” sort of gig, and less of a “big breaking news” kind of deal. So when I get to flex some first Amendment muscle talking about games, I’m happy to jump at the chance.

It has to be said, however – it can be pretty weird talking to the opposite end of the audience. If you write about games for any length of time, you tend to get used to the idea that your audience knows that games are valid/fun/interesting/worthwhile, instead of mindless junk – or worse, poison for children’s minds.

Either way, what happened yesterday is very important – and not just for games, but for all new formats of speech and expression. From the post:

“Even if you don’t care much for video games one way or another, this represents an important victory for civil liberties in an age of ever-evolving technology. What we have here is essentially a new form of speech enabled by technology–and like many new formats, it expands upon some of our older definitions and challenges us to seek out new ways to protect our freedoms in a changing environment.”

Take that, haters!

Seriously – this is a big deal, though it may not necessarily feel like it at the moment. You can claim this is just another win for corporate speech, but the terms produced here are broad enough to actually help the proverbial “little guy” as well (in this case, an indie developer). And while everything is framed in terms of children and the sale of “violent” or “inappropriate” content to kids – the majority opinion rightly recognizes (and even spoofs) the paternalism inherent to that argument.

Maybe the best statement of all comes from the Amicus brief filed by the IGDA and AIAS intending to educate about what games really are. After explaining the serious side (educational games, newsgames, etc.), they address the bulk of what’s out there:

“At the other end of the spectrum are games written primarily to entertain–but often also having important expressive components. Indeed, as this Court wrote in Winters v. New York, ‘the line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive’ to serve as a distinguishing factor in First Amendment analysis.”

Gabe Newell at Games 4 Change

While Bill and Brandon are on vacation, sunning themselves and taking off in hot air balloons and such, I’ve been off gallivanting at the Games 4 Change festival. Picture E3. Then take away the noise, violence, 90% of the budget, and replace hoards of booth-babe photographing game journos with an array of feel-good types – educators, non-profit, government and NGO people and social/educational game developers, a former US vice president and an assortment of other big names, and voila! You have G4C.

The whole idea is that video games (and non digital games) can be harnessed for educational and social justice/social good causes. Games are (or can be) platforms by which charity organizations may raise awareness or funding for projects – like relief for Haiti or Japan after their respective recent natural disasters, for two particularly dramatic examples.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend Gabe Newell’s (yes, that Gabe Newell, Valve co-founder extraordinaire) keynote address to the Games for Learning Institute, where he basically gave a very entertaining – and interesting – whirlwind tour of all the ways games can be used for educational purposes.

He touched on everything from games as a supplement to curriculum (like Portal 2 and learning physics), to their inherent ability to teach concepts (i.e. the way all good games effectively teach you about the systems and mechanics of said game when you learn to play it), to machinima and other creative outlets that games can foster. He even touched on topics like virtual economies and the ways in which Valve, as a developer, learns directly about players through playtesting and iteration.

Ok, so he didn’t have time to delve terribly deeply into any one area, but as an exploration of what’s possible with gaming and virtual worlds, it was fantastic. Newell is simply a compelling, smart guy – and he took questions throughout from the audience on the fly.

In fact, two things that stood out the most to me were prompted by audience questions. The first came from a gentleman who relayed a story – his son was a huge WOW player, and his college application essay spoke about his experiences with the game, and his desire to “save the world” – oh, the idealism of youth, but read on – it gets more depressing.

Now a junior in college, this kid now says he’s far too afraid of screwing things up to go into any “world saving” field. Newell, a college dropout, claimed not to be sure what it is about our system that crushed this kid’s hopes, but I think I have the answer, and Jane McGonigal (now-famous ARG designer and author of Reality Is Broken) won’t like it. The twitter version of my thoughts? Games offer the ideal (the world can be saved through a “correct” path). Real life is infinitely complicated, and people need to feel empowered and engaged through real-life connection. Games can foster that, but they absolutely cannot replace it.

The second – and perhaps most impactful – stand-out moment came when someone asked about the state of current educational games. Not one to pull punches, Newell basically stated that they really aren’t very good – and game developers in this space need to try harder to make actually engaging gameplay, instead of using the “educational” qualification as a crutch to make boring games.

I damn near stood up and clapped for that. However, to really, really change this – developers and designers with AAA talent are going to have to get involved on some level, in the educational space. So how do we (as a culture) incentivize that?

As always, a great talk will prompt more questions than it answers, and this was no different. I came out of the room completely jazzed – and ready to tackle some of those questions on my own.

Booth Babe Bonanza? Oh Yes.

Rock Paper Shotgun has always been a thoroughly awesome blog, but their latest piece on “booth babes” – the scantily clad women who populate E3, catering to hoards of salivating game journos, random buyers and the like – is one of the most hilarious things they’ve ever done.

Basically a photo essay that turns the camera on the guys who are way, WAY too excited to get their pictures taken with random babes (or are just creepily filming them from a distance, or trying too hard to get upskirt shots, etc.), it’s just utterly wonderful. Thanks for bringing the satire, gents!

Read on: E3 2011 Booth Babe Babes Bonanza!

Danielle’s Deluxe E3 Day 3 Thoughts

No High Scores

The sun has set on yet another E3, and good lord, did I see a lot of games today. I’m pleasantly surprised to report that it was a really, really good day – there were no clunkers among the bunch, and several top-notch experiences. This was probably my best E3 yet – I saw plenty of good stuff that I was excited about before the show, both the big show-stopping productions and the little gems that I’ll be gushing all over on the podcast for months to come.

So here’s a quick recap of my day (some of this will be cross-posted over at the mothership, but this is the expanded, unedited director’s cut), complete with cursory, bullet-point thoughts on the games of the day.

I began the day with what I was expecting to be a weak appointment, at Nival – a Russian developer of strategy and social games. They were showing off Prime World, a Facebook game that they pitched as a mix of hardcore PVP strategy and casual/social gameplay.

It sounds like a train wreck – all that jargon in one sentence, but I actually found the game to be a very pleasant mix – with a really cool environmental bonus system and a Zuma-like optional minigame that yields combat bonuses.

After this totally pleasant little surprise, it was heavy hitter after heavy hitter. I saw Nintendo and got some serious hands-on time with the Wii U. I got my paws on the space combat game and chase/hide and seek demos that were shown briefly in Nintendo’s presser – both were simple, but lots of fun, and they sold me on the promise of asymmetric multiplayer with the new controller and the regular old Wii-motes.

I also got to play the new Luigi’s Mansion, 3D Mario Kart and Super Mario 3D on the 3DS. I’ll give you the bullet points – I love the 3D effect in Luigi, and I’m absolutely thrilled they’re making a new title in this hideously underrated series. Mario Kart played perfectly – the 3D is awesome, and I loved the underwater and hang glider elements. Super Mario 3D played like a strange combo of something a bit like Galaxy and something a bit like a 3D version of Super Mario 3.

After that, I crashed the Indiecade booth and took a peek at Skulls of the Shogun, had an amazingly surreal E3 experience with two experimental games (listen to the podcast early next week for the details), and had plenty of time to really just shoot the shit with the developers. Indies are really getting to be my thing these days – as someone who’s learning the ropes of development myself, it’s awesome to have unlimited access to these guys, who are almost unanimously friendly, passionate and open about their creative processes. I talked rotoscoping, engines, marketing, color schemes, all sorts of good, nerdy stuff with these guys, and could have spent a full day of E3 in that booth, just sampling the wares and chatting.

Alas, the AAA games drew me back in – I saw Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy XIII – 2 (just pick a number system already), and Deus Ex: Human Revolution in the Square-Enix booth, then finished my day – and my E3 – on an extraordinarily high note with a demo of BioShock Infinite.

So there it is. I had an absolute blast this year, and definitely feel like I’m getting into more of a comfortable groove with the whole E3 thing (in terms of balancing the networking, the reporting, the schedule juggling and the story-hunting), and always awesome to see my fabulous colleagues.

Until next year, E3. Until next year.

Score one for print: 1Up Presents

I don’t know about any of you, but I’m a print magazine fiend. Don’t get me wrong, I live and breath in the online world, it’s the only way I’ll ever get my news, and it’s frankly where I read the majority of my gaming content. But there is something special about a really GOOD game magazine – the exhaustively researched features, the gorgeous layouts, the art itself – I’m a big fan.

So, I got excited when I heard the news that the folks I consider to be the very best of will begin releasing a print publication. Dubbed 1Up Presents, it looks to be the pretty, feature-rich, thoughtful sort of publication I can’t wait to get my grubby hands all over, particularly because a number of features in the first issue focus on Metroid: Other M and its complicated reception.

From the post:

“See, print isn’t dying; it’s simply changing. 1UP Presents isn’t a nationally distributed publication, and you won’t find it on newsracks across America. Instead, it’s a print-on-demand magazine, published for and shipped directly to you by Hewlett-Packard’s MagCloud service… There are no ads in this book, so it’s pure content from start to finish. 1UP Presents isn’t trying to be a chronicle of gaming news, either; you aren’t paying for month-old headlines, previews that will be moot in a few months, or reviews of games that you may have played already by the time you read the book.”

Just look at that cover, with it’s Hitchcock references and stark, distinctive art style. Don’t you think it’s worth a few bucks (the issue will set you back $11)? Jeremy Parish and his cadre are among the best in the business, so I’ll definitely be ordering up a dish of 1Up presents.