Tag Archives: Violence in Gaming

ZombieGameWorld.com Lurches to Life Just in Time for Hallowe’en

What do you do when you create a Flash portal filled with word games that fails to catch on? If you’re a savvy business person, you throw your entire company into a wood chipper and go down in a blaze of glory with a high-class prostitute and a motorbike bought on credit. But when you’re me, you build another game portal.

ZombieGameWorld.com logo

Announcing ZombieGameWorld.com!

ZombieGameWorld.com is the newest portal in Untold Entertainment’s growing Game World Network, a group of sites packed with free-to-play web games catering to niche audiences. The key difference between ZombieGameWorld.com and WordGameWorld.com is quality: WordGameWorld.com is a curated site, where we hand-pick only the best or most enjoyable word games available online.

But we’ll throw any old piece of trash on ZombieGameWorld.com. Our reasoning is that zombie fans historically have a lower quality bar than the rest of us. With a few notable exceptions, their favourite movies and books are largely low-budget schlocky affairs where concept trumps execution. An audience accustomed to consuming entertainment that’s a little rough around the edges may be interested in the more … strained attempts of amateur game developers trying to cobble together a zombie game. The Featured section of the site highlights the rare online zombie games that are good-looking and great fun to play.

ZombieGameWorld.com mascot

“Formerly Earl Peterson”, the site’s mascot, tweets news tidbits from the zombie zeitgeist

All new game content is cross-posted to the ZombieGameWorld.com Facebook fan page, as well as the ZombieGameWorld Twitter feed. The Twitter feed adds zombie-related news that gets cross-posted back to the main site.

Future plans for the site include community-based game-on-game elimination battles, badges, and possibly even an online loyalty system. The current model is advertising rev share through MochiAds and Google Adsense. Our immediate business goal is to earn enough ad revenue to cover hosting – both ZombieGameWorld.com and WordGameWorld.com are currently operating at a loss.

If you know zombie fans, or you have a GREAT idea for how we can promote the site without spending any money or digging up any corpses, i’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and tell me if you think ZombieGameWorld.com has any potential, or if we’re just not using our braaaaaains.

DisKinect

i took a breezy trip through X’10 after work today. That’s the Microsoft holiday preview press event, where you get to put your sticky mitts on all the stuff you heard about at E3 a few months earlier. Here, for the joy of cooking, are my thoughts.

i’m old.

Snurfy Burf Blorf

i’ve been going to these events for at least five years now, and with every passing year, i am reminded with more and more clarity that the big video game titles are not for me. i’m a father of two now, and i run my own bidness. i spend my evenings working on great stuff to entertain you nice people – and that’s after i play with my kids, eat dinner with the family, tuck the tiny little girls safely into bed, and sit vigil for a few hours perched on the roof of my condo scanning the streets of Toronto for evil-doers. i do not have time for your Fable Threes, your Calls of Duty, your Fallout 3 New Vegases, or your Halo Reaches.

SEGA Vanquish

(or whatever the Hell this is.)

Not only that, but i don’t like those games. i can’t get past the cut-scenes. i know many people skip those, but i really like to be told a good story by well-animated figures. After the bar set by Pixar and others for 3D animated movies, the emotionless mannequins mugging and mouthing through toneless, dry dialogue just don’t do it for me. One glance around the room, and all of these games are starting to look more and more the same.

i really like a game with a bold art direction. Give me Wind Waker over Twilight Princess any day. i enjoyed Crackdown, partly because they tried to do something unique and interesting with the style. When i saddled up to game after game at X’10, i couldn’t figure out what each game was by looking at it. Is that a knock against art directors? Identity and branding specialists? You’d think that games with these million dollar budgets would drop a few bones trying to differentiate themselves from the competition.

The one game on the mostly hardcore show floor that stood out for me was Shank. i’m not a fan of bloody, M-Rated games, but Shank has style. The new Mortal Kombat game also turned my head, because of a feature where you could pull off a special move and, in addition to the slow-mo shot of you hurting your opponent, you’d see an X-Ray view inside the opponents body depicting cracking ribs and rupturing organs. Definitely not my cup of meat, but at least it’s an interesting visual addition to a stylistically bland landscape.

Shank

Rock Band 3 FTFW

Rock Band 3 Keytar

Because i have very little time to enjoy gOnames these days, Rock Band really turns my crank. i can get in and out in under 10 minutes, make a dent in the story mode, and enjoy myself. i got a chance to try out the RB3 keytar (which you should NEVER use as an actual keytar because it’s hella complicated). On Pro mode, you’re playing the piano line note-for-note. i thought i’d have a leg up because i’ve been playing piano most of my life, but the trickiest thing is that it’s very easy to lose where your hands are on the keys … and in order to fit the whole highway on the screen, the viewable area shifts around from left to right, making it even more difficult and confusing.

Rock Band 3 Keyboard Note Highway

The keyboard note highway shifts between showing the left and right halves of the keyboard in mid-play.

But it’s still a must-buy. It has drop-in, drop-out – a sorely needed feature. i played Bohemian Rhapody (finally!) and The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News. Both were very fun. i fully expect Bat Out of Hell, with its crazy keyboard intro, to appear on the platform now that there’s a piano instrument.

Windows Phone 7? Tasty.

The Windows 7 mobile platform was very enticing. Seeing the excellent Xbox Live social features, including ‘Cheeves, appear on a mobile phone raised my lusty dev hackles. i want in.

Windows Phone 7

Say what you will – those avatars are still ass-ugly.

Kinect Will Bomb.

i got a chance to try a few Kinect motion-sensing games. i say it’ll bomb. i’m not saying it won’t sell well – it actually might – but i think that, like the Wii before it, there will be this big media scramble and we’ll hear a lot about it, but the technology is doomed to collect dust in a corner.

Kinect Track & Field

Game on, tubby.

The first game i tried was Kinect Sports. My friend Emily and i limbered up for the track & field event, and when the starter pistol was fired, the demo jockey said “run!” So of course, we both started doing this weak little jog, pantomiming the act of running. Our characters weren’t really going anywhere. The demo jockey said “No – actually run. Get those knees up in the air.”

Uh … there i was in a light-coloured shirt, because i was out of black ones, and it showed off my natural curves a little more than i usually like them to be shown. i started running on the spot – hauling actual ass, trying to get my on-screen character to move. It was a lot of effort. And then came the hurdles. That’s right, friends – hurdles. i did a feeble little hop, and my character tripped over the hurdle, knocking it over. i ran on the spot some more, feeling like a kid at fat camp, and tried to jump the second hurdle. No good. This went on for more hurdles and more running and more grunting … and then, eventually, the sweat came. It came first in small rivulets trickling from my temples, and soon started gushing out of my armpits like the levee broke. My repressed memories of gym class came flooding back to me, and all i wanted to do was escape to the safety of my rec room and play some video games.

Oh, wait – i was playing a video game.

Kinect Sports Bowling

i figured i had just the right amount of back fat to try bowling.

In my youth, when i went to my friend’s house after his mom bought him the Nintendo dance pad because he was a fat f*cker, we learned how to game the system by sitting on the floor and slapping the dance pad sensors with our palms. It became an exercise in speed drumming. (And i’m sorry, but no human being is able to run as fast as Nintendo’s track & field game demanded.) There’s no obvious way for fat kids to cheat at Kinect, which i count as a victory for disapproving moms everywhere. Maybe wheel a paint shaker machine into the living room? i’m not sure.

Nintendo Power Pad

NOW you’re letting it take up space at the back of the hall closet with POWER.

Ubi Soft has a fitness game that looks interesting. i never liked how the exercises in Wii Fit worked. It would tell you to do push-ups, but since the game could only sense when you were applying pressure to the balance board, you may as well have been enthusiastically humping the device. (At times, i know i was.) The Ubi game puts you alongside a yoga guru. The shape of your on-screen character is exactly what Kinect “sees” – a purply blob more or less shaped like you, down to details like the flared hems of your shorts. When you follow the guru’s motions, the game overlays a skeletal system that turns white when you’re doing it wrong, and green when you’re on the money. It looked interesting, because if one leg is out of place, you can nudge your knee into a better position to correct your posture.

Your Shape Fitness Evolved

i look somewhat more like Grimace when I play this game.

i asked the demo jockeys if the game was accessible to amputees (or freaks of nature). They didn’t know. i was surprised to learn that i was the first to ask the question.

i took a brief look at Kinectimals. A player was running as a lion cub through an obstacle course. Same story there – she was doing a gimpy sort of pretend jog-run, and the lion cub was stumbling around like it was drunk. i called out from the sidelines “you gotta haul ass!” She did, and the game went better for her.

Kinectimals

Why am i sweating like a brother at a Klan meeting, and this lion cub is dry as bone?

Here are my main concerns with Kinect:

  1. You need a 10×10 square feet of floor space. The track & field game kept telling me to “move back” … i couldn’t help but think that if i was in my tiny condo right now, moving back would put me inside the concrete wall.
  2. Even if i did have the space, i’ve got two tiny little girls who litter our living room floor with jacks and Legos and other foot-demolishing traps and hazards that would land me in the hospital faster than the balls-out sprinting that the game required of me.
  3. Very tiny kids, like my murderous toy-strewing daughters, may not be able to play, because there’s a certain degree of calibration and patience required to start games. There are moments when you need to stop moving, or to move slowly and deliberately – two skills my 2- and 4-year olds are nowhere near mastering.
  4. A few times, while we were trying the bowling game in Kinect Sports, some wait staff crossed the room behind us, causing our characters to throw their bowling balls up in the air. Depending on your game room setup, you could be primed for some background interference douchebaggery from your so-called friends.
  5. The system allows me to run, jump, throw, box, dance, catch, and gesture wildly. When i finally do eke out some come-down time, my chosen activities more often encourage me to sit, scratch, space, munch, and snooze.

Much like the Wii, the technology is promising, but it’s not quite there. It’s juuust inaccurate enough to be unfun. Just as game critics have taken to using the word “waggle” to derisively describe interactions with the WiiMote, i predict that the new watchword for the Kinect era will be “flail”.

FTC Embarks on Virtual Worlds Witch-hunt

Virtual Worlds News reports today that the a new Federal Trade Commission study finds “explicit sexual content” in virtual worlds for kids and teens. Like prudish moms scouring books in the elementary school library for cuss words so that they can kick up a book-burning bonfire, the FTC has gone searching for offensive content and lo, they’ve found some swears. The study drops a number of supposed bombshells, including this gem:

explicit sexual content exists “free of charge, in online virtual worlds that minors are able to access.”

i hate to break it to the FTC, but the Internet also happens to offer explicit sexual content that minors are able to access. And that content goes far beyond the mostly “low-level”, text-based content found in half of the kid-targeted virtual worlds that the FTC studied. i’ll dismiss out of hand the report’s revelation that there is “a greater amount of explicit content in worlds that were geared towards teens or adults.” Really? Pray tell, if the report is about protecting kids and youth, why did the FTC bother looking at worlds aimed at an older audience? It’s like saying “pornography was found to contain material that was unsuitable for minors.”

It’s For Kids

The implication must be that, like comic books and cartoons, some people associate virtual worlds primarily with children. When Ralph Bakshi released Fritz the Cat, an animated pornographic movie, in 1972 – or indeed, when Watership Down came out a few years later and the adorable bunnies drew blood from each other’s necks – parents raised a hue and cry because they did not expect the animated film medium to contain explicit material. After all, cartoons are for kids. Right? Ditto those parents who brought their kids to see Watchmen last summer because it was about superheroes, without bothering to check the rating to determine the intended audience.

Fritz the Cat

Stay classy, Bakshi.

It looks as though the virtual worlds medium is suffering from the same poorly-informed people holding it to a standard it was never meant to meet. There’s nothing inherent in the concept of a virtual world that suggests it is a strictly kids’ medium, or that it will appeal expressly to children. The trouble here is that the most successful virtual worlds to date, including Neopets and Club Penguin, have been kid- and teen-targeted. Does that mean that all virtual worlds will appeal to all young people? Of course not. And does it mean that virtual worlds that serve the needs of teens and adults should beef up their security to keep kids out? Emphatically, no.

Forget one or two virtual worlds members typing “i want to touch you on your nay-nays” in open chat – the amount of full-colour, HD titties n’ schlongs available at the click of a button to any child on the Internet is staggering, and it’s all without benefit of a membership wall and registration process. It’s actually far more difficult to sign up, create an avatar, learn the virtual world’s navigation and go hunting for text-only “sexually explicit” material than it is to type “mouth on bum” in Google Image Search to call up a gallery of pics that’ll turn your hair white. Whatever Google serves up will be far more psychologically damaging to a child’s psyche than the “shocking” content the FTC discovered in any virtual world.

Manhole

Pro Tip: never search “man hole” on Google Image Search.

An Unappealing Argument

The FTC’s excuse for profiling teen and adult virtual worlds is likely that these sites will appeal to younger players, perhaps due to their colourful graphics and similarity to Club Penguin, (the clueless adult might reason). You know what else appeals to young people? According to a survey by security firm Symantec, titties n’ schlongs. ReadWriteWeb reports that among the top ten most common search terms entered by children are “Sex” at number 4 and “Porn” at number 6, followed by “boobies” and an assortment of other interesting body parts in the ensuing slots.

i don’t buy the “appeal” excuse for a second. Children are sexual beings, and are just as entranced by All That Jiggles as we adults are. In its report, the FTC recommends more powerful age-screening mechanisms, enhanced age segragation techniques, stronger language filters and better training for moderators in virtual worlds. It all adds up to a completely imbalanced, unfair and unrealistic expectation of virtual worlds staff, an expectation that is not being levied against far worse “offendors” like Google. And sites like Google have far greater sex appeal than virtual worlds. Pictures speak louder than whatever naughty words the FTC uncovered.

Catcher in the Wry

You have to believe that i am all for protecting children from explicit content. In fact, i often go a step farther to point out that adults shouldn’t be viewing a lot of this content. The reason we don’t want kids to see it is often the same reason why grown-ups shouldn’t be looking. But having worked on a number of virtual worlds projects for kids under 13, i’ve seen the heavy-handed amount of legal hoops to jump through and protections you need to add to your product, and i assure you it’s excessive. As a parent, i only take exception to sites that claim absolute safety for young players and can’t deliver on that promise. This is why we sent Mr. McBadTouch into Green.com to see if he could find some new underage playmates.

Free Candy Van

Mr. McBadTouch can be reached for comment here, in his “portable playground.”

Cracking the Safe

i’m far more comfortable with the ESRB’s blanket admission that “Game Experience May Change During Online Play”. This covers any number of sins, from someone asking my daughter if he can put his mouth on her bum over Xbox Live, to being called the N-word by some drunk Southerner (on Xbox Live), to someone simulating touching his scrotum to my corpse’s forehead in a death match (… again, on Xbox Live). Chris Rock said that a father’s most important duty is “keeping his daughter off the pole”. i’d like to add that a responsible dad also keeps his daughter off Xbox Live.

The world, in short, is a dangerous place (not least of all over Xbox Live). i appreciate the steps that some people voluntarily take to help me raise my children in a safer environment. i even appreciate some of the precautions the government mandates to improve that safety, because Lord knows not all parents are responsible. But the Federal Trade Commission’s recommendations to tighten up virtual world security are over-reaching and unfair. Virtual worlds are not the sole territory of children and youth, and parents should take the same precaution with them that they should take with any medium, including comic books, cartoons and animated films.

How to Sell Video Games to the Ladies

Quick OMGPOPQUIZZZ!!! You’re creating a registration form, and you’d like to know if your registrant has a PENIS or a VAGINA. Do you ask for the registrant’s GENDER, or do you ask for his or her SEX?

Female-ish warrior

Choose wisely.

The correct answer is “SEX”.

It annoys me to no end to see “GENDER” on a form asking me whether i have a penis or a vagina, because gender is not determined by that factor alone. Gender – masculinity and femininity/maleness and femaleness – is determined by a number of factors, and is not solely influenced by the amount of testosterone / progesterone / estrogen / Legolas / pepperoni in your body. i reflected on this while i read guest author Julia Barry’s How to Create/Market Games for Women article on Taylan Kay’s “The Selling Game” blog.

Sissy Boy

i comment a lot on violence in gaming, often complaining about it, as i would if i were a filmmaker who wanted to create great films, but the dominant genre in my industry was porn. Or if i was a television producer, and the top-ranking shows were fishing shows, and you couldn’t get any considerable love or attention unless you created a fishing show. It’s depressing.

But i was reminded throughout Julia’s article that i have had a far different upbringing than most men. i was raised the only child of a single mother who abhorred violence of any kind. Most of the men in my life were baddies. And today, i am the only male in my family unit save for the two cats, and we cut off their testicles years ago.

LOLCat Neuter

So when i rail against violence – when i commit to non-violence in my company credo – i’m doing so from a unique position where, through my upbringing and conditioning, i skew further toward the feminine end of the gender spectrum than the masculine end. And i’m okay with that. It helps me to appreciate and understand Julia’s perspective far more than if i’d been raised on a steady diet of blood n’ tits.

Barbarians at the Gate

With many videogames, we are entrenching a world of values where boys impress each other by being violent, and girls impress boys (and compete with other girls) in being pretty and inviting of sexual encounter.

i agree with Julia here, as long as we replace “are entrenching” with “have entrenched”. It feels like this attitude of betterment-through-beheading has been firmly set, and we are enslaved to it. This value system was already in place in other media while the pioneers of video games were creating Space War!, Pong and Zork on monstrous machines at the turn-of-the-80’s. Video games were far less visceral while i was growing up – not because we lacked the technology to depict dismemberment and disembowling, but because i believe the people creating games were kinder, gentler and more thoughtful. Dare i say it? More feminine.

It wasn’t until the 90’s that jocks got involved in gaming in a big way, thanks mostly to id software. Suddenly, there was an influx of customers whose needs were being catered to – in this case, manly red-meat-eating macho MEN with back hair and cocks the size of SUVs who wanted to kill, compete, maim, humiliate, screw, devour, shoot, mock, explode and teabag their way to that thrillingly blunt endorphin release that the more reasoned among us can achieve with a particularly stimulating crossword puzzle. Simply put, dumb, base males aged 18-35 hijacked the video game industry in the early 1990s, and they remain the ruling customer class to this very day.

Chet

Hey, FAGS. Where’s the Playstation at?

But Julia’s article gave me hope: hope of a day when we see a similar shift as the jock renaissance of the early 90’s, and game developers figure out how to best appeal to women – how to reliably give ladies their endorphin release (hint: it takes longer, but they can experience it multiple times). Then – who knows? We might see another complete shift that sees the game industry dominated with games about buying and selling real estate, improving situations through the power of colour and texture, nurturing the growth of plants and animals, stealing each others’ friends, and other more feminine pursuits.

Hope Only Exists in an Alternate Universe

Realistically, though, i don’t see this happening, unless we see a major shift in the way electronic entertainment is designed and built. The dominant programming languages, techniques and methodologies, hardware and software have all been designed by certain types of men, so that the same types of men can understand and use them to create more tools and technology, which beget more tools and technology, and so on. All of these created elements play to the strengths of an analytical, scientific mind – the type of mind that is most often found pulsating inside a body that has a penis. PLEASE DO NOT EMAIL ME INSISTING THAT WOMEN CAN ALSO BE ANALYTICAL AND SCIENTIFIC. i’m speaking generally here. And generally, the tools and technologies have been built by nerdy males and for nerdy males, and now that the beget-ball is rolling, it’ll be very difficult to stop.

In trying to create “girl” games … companies pander even more to gender stereotypes. Marketing games to girls shouldn’t mean making everything gossipy and pink, yet there are countless products in that vein. Games and toys aimed at the female population are often shallow, fluffy screen versions of dress-up and shopping.

The challenge here is that women – and men, for that matter – don’t know what’s good for them. i remember sitting at a panel discussion on this topic, where the game developer said that they tested a number of themes and concepts on little girls and female gamers, and the results that consistently scored the highest involved pink, shopping, dress-up, baking, and pets. The OOO (Three Rings) crew defended the sexy, skimpy female pirate clothing in their Puzzle Pirates online game by revealing that not only did pirate bikini tops sell better than other female characters’ clothing, but that they started the game with more modest attire and were hounded by their female players requesting sexier clothing options.

Pirate girl

Alright, i confess – i’m ready to swash some buckles.

So this begs the question: are less-sexualized, more thoughtful and more “3-dimensional” (as Julia puts it) games something that:

  1. all women want
  2. some women want
  3. all women should want, but don’t know it
  4. some women want on behalf of all women, who should really know better?

My suspicion is that it’s that last point, in which case i suppose i am similarly one man in a minority of men who want something better on behalf of all men. Masculinity and manhood are not proven through achieving the most headshots, or ripping the most still-beating hearts out of digital characters’ chests, in the same way that femininity is not demonstrated by combing and washing the sparkling mane of your pink flying unicorn vagina pony. A better, more balanced world, both virtual and actual, lies somewhere between the extreme ends of the gender spectrum.

Microsoft Stuffs Santa’s Sack with Gore

i took some time out of my schedule to hit X09, Microsoft’s annual holiday preview event for the Xbox 360 and related platforms. This is the nth year i’ve attended as a journalist, although truth be told my game journalism days ended when i woke up to the fact that i couldn’t make an honest buck from it. (So, too, ended my volunteer work, my origami hobby, my devotion to fatherhood, and my patriotism … if it wasn’t profitable, i decided to cut it out of my life.)

Crying little girl

Sorry, sweetie – you’re not economically viable.

Microsoft usually wears its heart on its sleeve at the X events. You can tell by looking around the room where they’re hedging their bets for the holidays, how they’re hanging their hopes. One quick glance around the room at this year’s events spoke volumes about the company’s holiday strategy: no kids, no families, and no casual gamers: just pure, unbridled core players with a penchant for blood n’ tits. God help us.

Generic First Person Shooter

Where have i seen this game before? Oh yeah – EVERYWHERE.

In the past, i’ve written for Whoa! Magazine and GamePad, two Corus Entertainment kids’ properties, and The Magazine Not For Adults (formerly Disney Adventure magazine), so my kid-dar is pretty finely honed at this point. i’m pretty adept at sussing out which titles will be M-rated at launch, and which ones will be T-rated but still inappropriate for the audience (realistic war games never made the cut, by my insistence). i strolled down one wall of the This is London night club in Toronto dismissing each game in turn: first-person shooter, first-person shooter, South Park-themed tower defense game, first-person shooter, third person stealth espionage, first-person shooter, first person shooter. And so on.

And sequels! i caught a glimpse of Splinter Cell: Enough Already, and Grand Theft Auto: Repeatedly-Sodomizing-a-Dead-Horse City. And the game landscape was the blandest, most unoriginal i’ve ever seen it.

Variety Doesn’t Sell

In previous years, there had been Xbox Live Community Games (now Indie Games). There had been friendly characters like Spongebob Squarepants and Banjo Kazooie. There had been Scene It! and You’re in the Movies and Viva Piñata. It’s not that any of these more accessible titles were necessarily any good, but at the very least i got a sense that Microsoft was trying to court a broader audience, trying to sell a system that everyone could enjoy.

Viva Pinata

Viva Piñata: obviously, since it is brightly coloured and features neither blood nor tits, only children are allowed to play it. Or fags – it also appeals to fags.

Well, we now see where that strategy has led them. Whether it’s because Microsoft itself has abandoned all hope, or whether the third party publishers saw abysmal financial returns on their family-oriented products (or indeed, whether the PR company wanted to look cool in front of the members of the gaming public who were invited for the first time this year), Xbox Live is no place for kids, families, or guys like me who don’t go in for blood n’ tits games.

Innovation Schminnovation

i counted on one hand the number of non-FPS, non-M-rated titles, and i had fingers left over:

  1. Tony Hawk: Ride, the one with the skateboard peripheral
  2. DJ Hero, the one with the turntable peripheral
  3. Rock Band: The Beatles, the one with the guitar and drum peripherals

Aaaaaaaand … that’s about it.

Rock Band: The Beatles

Not into first-person shooters? Good news: we’ve got all this extra crap you can buy.

So to you gamers who are slow to take a chance on innovative new franchises – you who want only more of the same, and who are happy with seeing a bigger number next for your favourite game’s title, you’re in for a real Christmas miracle this year.

You’ll run downstairs and slide on your knees to the foot of that tree, soft naked bottom peeping out of the bum flap on your pyjamas, and gaze with wonder at the gifts upon gifts that Santa left you. You’ll tear open the wrapping on each one in turn, eyes wide and mouth agape, imagining the thrills and unbridled delight each title will offer. And when the shredded paper has all been tossed to one side and the shrink-wrapped cases of your new Xbox 360 games sit glistening in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, you’ll marvel at the spectacle of a dozen or more new games to play for your Xbox 360 video game system.

And they’ll all be exactly the same game.