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Where Life Is A Game
By Meredith Goldstein, Globe Staff May 19, 2005
Eric Clayberg's Middleton basement is a kind of joystick utopia for anyone who spent at least part of the 1980s in a pizza joint or arcade playing video games.
He has Galaga, Q*bert, and the beloved Ms. Pac-Man. He has Tron, After Burner, and three versions of Tempest, relics of life before the evolution of home systems like Nintendo and Xbox.
''Tempest is clearly my favorite," said Clayberg, 41, of the 1980 Atari game, one of the first ''color, vector-graphic" games, which became extinct by the mid-1980s.
He is not shy about mentioning that he held the world record for the game in 1983. ''For three months," Clayberg said, wistfully. ''Then I was unseated."
The 40 arcade games in his collection, believed to be one of the largest in Massachusetts, take over most of the carpeted basement in his suburban home. He has two full rooms of machines lined up like soldiers. To nongamers, a group that includes Clayberg's wife, these machines don't mean very much. In fact, classic video games are generally losing investments. Very few video games from the 1980s become more valuable as they age. In fact, most of these games cost about $2,500 when they were released and now sell on Internet sites such as eBay for $500 to $1,500. But to Clayberg and fans of '80s arcade games, these games have an inherent value. It's not just nostalgia; it's the look and feel of the machine. They just don't make this type of video game anymore. ''All of these games, they all had interesting story ideas," said Clayberg, who believes that each game is, to some degree, a work of art. ''All these games were unique and interesting. They had beautiful cabinet designs." They were also for everyone, unlike some complicated modern games that require expertise, he said. ''Anybody could walk up to a Ms. Pac-Man and learn how to play it."
For Clayberg, who owns a computer software company, video game collecting started as a profitable hobby. He bought three games in 1983 from an arcade in his hometown of Fredricksburg, Va., and brought them to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his sophomore year. He stored the games in his fraternity house and charged his Theta Delta Chi brothers a quarter for four games, one-fourth of what they charged at the MIT student center.
Clayberg gave half of his earnings to his fraternity. The other half, which amounted to several hundred dollars a month, was about enough to pay for his room and board.
Those games didn't survive the fraternity experience, so Clayberg was gameless after his graduate work at Harvard Business School. He resumed collecting once he moved back to the Washington, D.C., area and within two months, had bought five or six games. Within two years, his collection had grown to about 15. He had around 20 when he met his wife in 1993.
Back then, the games only took up one of the rooms in the basement.
But in 1999, Clayberg discovered eBay. He was on the site looking for a replacement computer board for one of his Tempest games, and he saw the online options, with hundreds of games for sale each week. ''I was like a kid in a candy store," he said, adding that it didn't take long before he doubled his collection.
Clayberg is one of 28 Massachusetts members of the Video Arcade Preservation Society, a national group with more than 200 members who collectively own about 1,300 games, according to its website. Of the in-state members, Clayberg's collection is rivaled by few.
''He does have quite an impressive collection," said Derry, N.H., resident Dawn Apollo, who collects games with her husband and has visited Clayberg's basement. Apollo and her husband have fewer games than Clayberg spread out in a larger area, she said, but they still boast possession of classics such as Gorf and Klax. ''They're great for parties," she said, adding that many of the guests at her annual Super Bowl gatherings spend much of their time with the games. The pride of Clayberg's collection is Major Havoc, a 1983 Atari game he discovered at an old arcade in Copley Square while he was studying at MIT. He fell in love with the game, but when he went in to play it one day, the game had vanished. ''From 1984 after I last saw it, I spent 15 years looking for it," he said. ''That was my Holy Grail."
In 1999, Clayberg found a dealer in California who was selling the game. He quickly purchased it and shipped it East. Clayberg said one of the most comforting aspects of his obsession is that his collection is fairly safe. No one can break in and make off with his games. ''They're as heavy as refrigerators," he said. ''You'd have to have a . . . truck and a lot of time."
For now, Clayberg's collection will remain at its current size. His wife Karen, who respects the hobby but admits to knowing and caring little about video games, has two rules. One involves no games existing above the basement. The other is a ''one for one" rule. If a new game comes in, one must depart. ''I'm sure she'd like to have a one-for-10 rule," Clayberg said.
Karen Clayberg said she doesn't want to seem unsupportive. ''I'd just like a little space for maybe a couch and some furniture," she said of her basement.
The couple's two young children have more affection for the games, although Clayberg's 8-year-old daughter, Lauren, admitted she prefers Super Mario Sunshine on her Game Cube.
It's not so much his children and their friends who gravitate toward the basement arcade, Clayberg said. It's the parents of his children's friends, who occasionally sneak to the Clayberg basement when they visit. The one-time Tempest world champion is not surprised that it's the grown-ups who want time in the basement. ''The most fun I had when I was a senior in high school was hanging out with my friends at an arcade," Clayberg said. ''We were good kids. We were National Honor Society members. There was no stigma. Going to arcades, that's just what you did."
It's Up To Parents To Monitor The Video Games Children Play
In recent years, there have been many controversies about the violence, sex and other content issues in video games.
It usually rears its head following a violent episode in real life and the investigation shows the teen perpetrator was a video game player.
However, parents like me are faced with a real conundrum on the hard drives of our children because, unlike the movie industry, the gaming industry has done a lousy job of policing itself.
Consider the current crop of video games; recent titles have included slaughter of police officers, incredible amounts of sexual content, gang violence and more.
One to be released next year, "Snow," lets gamers set up their own criminal drug dealing enterprise. In another game, if your character uses cocaine the game speed increases. In another, you get to steal cars .
I am not an anti-gaming evangelist. In fact I enjoy playing games many would consider violent, including titles in the Doom, Quake and Halo series. However, I am well outside my teenage years and I think I am pretty well entitled to make decisions on content for myself.
I agree that under the First Amendment, gaming companies can make games depicting what they want. I just think, unlike the movie industry, parents are not well-informed about what is in that content.
This is not a small problem. Consider that the video gaming industry is a $10 billion business in the United States and growing faster than the movie business. And while many titles are voluntarily rated by the Entertainment Ratings Software Board (http://www.esrb.com/), for the most part if your kid walks into a store with the cash, they can walk out with any title they want. (Not to mention online ordering, which has no age-checking at all.)
Because the industry self-policing is so awful, several states including Illinois, California and Maryland, are considering legislation to control the sales of games to minors.
But, of course, like the kids buying the ticket to "Bambi" at the multiplex and sneaking into an R-rated movie, the various peer-to-peer downloading services offer any games to anyone.
So it falls to the parents to monitor their teens' hard drives. Check the cases from the games and look for the ESRB rating, if any. (The ratings on the front will say C (early childhood), E (OK for everyone), E-10 Plus (OK for ages 10 and up), T (OK for 13 and up), M (OK for 17 and up) and A (adults only).
On the back of the package you'll see the black and white rating again with more information as to why the rating applies "Cartoon violence, mild language," etc.
So find the boxes and see if that content matches what you want in your house. If you know what games your teens play, you can visit the ESRB ratings site above and type in the name of the game and check out what rating the game has and why.
And, of course, talking to your teen and discussing gaming is always the best choice.
Video Games, Fitness, Medicine Team Up
LeahJoy needs water. And she needs it now.
Jumping around and waving your hands and arms in circular motions (think "wax on, wax off') for 10 minutes can make a 7-year-old thirsty.
"She never stops,' says her mother, Sharee Kamnerdsiri of Banning.
It's May 10, and this is the last Kid Fit class at Beaver Medical Group in Redlands until fall. But this last session is different a PlayStation 2 and Xbox are involved.
An end-of-class treat?
Nope it's a workout. Within minutes, games on both systems have about 10 kids sweating up a storm.
"I like games like this 'cause usually I'm just sitting around watching TV,' says Alexandria Degortari, 9, a third-grader at Cram Elementary School in Highland.
Her face is still red from her experience with "Dance Dance Revolution' on Microsoft's Xbox.
"If I do something for like an hour, I get bored,' says 11-year-old Mariam Farah, a sixth-grader at Redlands Christian Academy who lists "bacon cheeseburger' as one of her favorite foods. "This stuff is fun. I play like, 30 minutes a day.'
The worlds of video games, fitness and medicine have united under the banner of "exertainment' a fusion of electronic entertainment and exercise that is catching on nationwide in the face of the childhood obesity epidemic.
As science and medicine begin studying the potential benefits of exertainment, the fitness and game industries look to overcome past failures. Game companies want to shed their image as one of childhood obesity's cultural culprits. Others are working to create facilities loaded with games and machines that promote fitness.
The Sun examined the childhood obesity epidemic and possible solutions in its four-day series, "Table to Grave,' which ran early this month. Nine million children in the United States are overweight or obese. Since the 1970s, obesity in U.S. children ages 6 to 11 has tripled. It has doubled among adolescents.
"We need to start looking at games as an asset, not a curse,' said Dr. James "Butch' Rosser, a New York laparoscopic surgeon who attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles last week. "This is how we're going to get the kids.'
Research - it's in the game
Rosser is just one of several people in the medical field tuned in to the fitness potential of gaming.
George Graham and Stephen Yang o f Penn State University conducted a study this year measuring the heart rate of children who played "Dance Dance Revolution' for 45 minutes.
"We found that the kids had an average heart rate of 144 beats per minute' when playing, said Graham, a professor of kinesiology. "The average resting heart rate is about 60 to 70 beats per minute.'
An increased heart rate means an increased metabolism, which helps people burn more calories.
Graham said many of the traditional answers for getting children to exercise simply don't work.
"You hear solutions like 'walk with your parents' or 'ride your bike' well, teens aren't going to do that,' Graham said. "When they ride their bike, it's to go somewhere and do something else. We have to realize that for many of these kids, video games are the only way they're going to do anything active.'
Other universities are checking out the relationships between gaming and exercise. West Virginia University is conducting a six-month study of children using "Dance Dance Revolution' and coordinating with the state Public Employees Insurance Agency to examine the possibility of cutting claim costs from obesity.
Bryan Haddock, an associate professor of kinesiology at Cal State San Bernardino, plans a summer study with Riverside-based game company QMotions on how exertainment products can affect childhood obesity.
"You hear video games get labeled as a problem,' Haddock said. "What we want to do is take this 'problem' and use it to help kids lose weight.'
Some doctors actually get into video game production itself.
Rosser attended the international trade show in L.A. to promote "Escape from Obeez City,' an interactive DVD that educates children and teens about the nutritional workings of the body. Rosser himself plays a character in the game called Dr. Bludd, who functions as a sort of mission controller for the game's heroes, called the Body Mechanics. It's a question-based game where players' correct answers help the Body Mechanics' fight the Coalition of Harm and Decay inside an obese man's body.
Rosser said products like this specialize in what he called "covert learning.'
"Because 'class' isn't fun, in this game, we have 'missions' and rewards,' he said. "It's like the hook of a good rap song we need something that pulls you in.' Gaming takes notice
Two of the gaming industry's biggest companies are working on doing that.
Sony Computer Entertainment features the EyeToy, which debuted in 2003.
It's a small camera that plugs into the PlayStation 2 game console, essentially making the person in front of the camera the focus of the game. The player can then interact with anything that shows up on screen. According to Sony, the EyeToy has sold 1.4 million units in the United States and more than 7 million worldwide.
There are three games available for the EyeToy, and Sony plans to release three more this year. One of those games is "EyeToy: Kinetic.' It is the EyeToy's first fitness-oriented game, featuring a calorie counter, virtual trainer and settings for various exercise disciplines like yoga and kickboxing.
But if there's one gaming franchise leading the fitness charge, it's Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution,' known simply as "DDR.' It has proven to be a hit on both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. The game has gained a large chunk of its popularity in the fitness world because of testimonials from people who have lost weight playing it. And the academic and medical communities often use it as the centerpiece for their research.
Jason Enos, Konami's product manager for the game, said the benefits of games such as "Dance Dance Revolution' also reach a larger market of parents and educators.
"There are so many schools that want to try and bring in DDR,' he said. "And more health clubs either already have it or are planning on getting it.'
The big dogs of the video game industry aren't the only ones doing their part in trying to promote the union of games and fitness.
QMotions also had a presence at last week's expo and showed off its "FunFitness' add-ons for cycles, treadmills and elliptical machines that allow people working out to interact with games on their personal computer and Xbox.
Amro Albanna, CEO of QMotions, said his company's booth was tucked away from the din of the Sonys, Microsofts and Nintendos, but the response he got was "huge.'
"I think people are realizing that video games are here to stay,' he said. "We had a blast at the show We would have been lost if we were in one of the other halls.'
Several fitness equipment companies also have been successful in combining exercise machines with many of today's games. One of them is Cateye Fitness, which produces the Gamebike, capable of using more than 70 existing games for the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube.
"A 45-minute workout is over like that,' said a finger-snapping Don Payne, regional sales manager for Cateye. "Our question was: 'How do we, in fitness, get the kids?''
It's a question that has taken both sides quite some time to answer. Before the revolution
Exertainment isn't a brand-new concept, and it's been around long enough to see its share of failures.
On the gaming side, perhaps the best-known example is Nintendo's Power Pad, which was packaged with the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988.
The Power Pad was essentially a floor mat littered with blue and red dots that plugged into the game console like a controller.
The idea was to use your feet, and players did so when they put in games such as "World Class Track Meet' and "Dance Aerobics.' But the Power Pad never hit it big. It was too small for some adults or teens to enjoy, and young gamers also resorted to pounding on the dots with their hands, practically eliminating the "running' experience.
Konami's Enos points to the combination of colorful graphics and thumping music as one of the biggest reasons behind the appeal of "Dance Dance Revolution,' which has sold about 8 million copies worldwide, including roughly 3 million in the United States.
Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn pointed to culture and technology as the main differences between the time of the Power Pad and today.
"The musical capabilities of today's video game machines are a lot more sophisticated than they were in 1988,' she said. 'People are more likely to get up and dance to something that sounds like real music.'
Nintendo itself has caught the "Dance Dance Revolution' bug. It plans in October to introduce "Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix' for use with the Gamecube, complete with workout mode.
In the mid-1990s, the exercise equipment maker LifeFitness introduced an exercise bike actually called the "Exertainment System.' It featured an adapter to work with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Cateye's Payne pointed to two factors that led to the machine's downfall.
One was sticker shock the LifeFitness bike cost about $3,500.
"That's pricey for a lot of people,' Payne said. "There was a also a company called Tetrix that put out something that went for $7,000.'
Payne said companies like LifeFitness and the now-defunct Tetrix made the mistake of trying to develop games solely for the machines. The result was one that is common in the gaming industry high-cost systems with almost no games to play on them.
"It takes a lot of (research and development) money to make a game,' Payne said. "What we did was design hardware, not software, to be compatible with existing titles.'
QMotions' Albanna said that when a company prices home items too high, it loses out on both the gaming and fitness markets.
"The serious fitness person will say, 'I'm already used to one brand name of equipment, why would I want this?'' he said. "And you can be pretty sure that a gamer isn't going to spend $3,000 on an exercise machine.'
Instead, some are working to bring the machines and equipment to the masses. Places in the works
Ernie Medina Jr., the preventive care specialist in Redlands who started the Kid Fit class, wants to bring exertainment to the Inland Empire.
Medina is gathering investor money for his proposed XRTainment Zone, a center loaded with machines and games that "makes fitness fun for kids.'
He wants to open the first one in Redlands, hopefully in the fall. His shopping list includes the Cateye Gamebike, "Dance Dance Revolution,' and Makoto, a small arena that company vice president Marian Bower calls "Simon meets Whack-A-Mole.'
"We want to make sure we have all our money in the bank before we start looking for a site,' Medina said.
"My dream would be something like the holodeck in 'Star Trek.' That's the ultimate in exertainment,' he said. "But we don't have the technology yet, so this is as close as we can get.'
On the other side of the country, Alex Erlich is working to open a similar center. Erlich's Energy Factory will debut in Tenafly, N.J., in the middle of June.
Both he and Medina said they've faced plenty of challenges along the way, such as a general misunderstanding or unawareness of the exertainment concept.
"Parents have their own idea of what fitness is. It's either what they're used to doing, like riding a bike, or competitive sports,' Erlich said. "The thinking is, 'It's better for my kid to hang out in right field and stare at the daisies than to try this.' '
The two said the demand is growing for places such as the Energy Factory and the XRTainment Zone.
"We want to take an unhealthy addiction and use it,' Erlich said. "We're aiming for the great mass of kids out there.'
Medina hopes his concept of an exertainment center encourages people to be more open-minded about how their children get exercise.
"Instead of people pointing to the games and saying, 'This is the enemy,' we're saying, 'If you're going to be playing video games all day, play these games.'
Although photobooths are relics of a bygone, pre-camera-phone era, they remain part of the public consciousness. Maybe it's because they wrap up the temporary in a permanent package, loosing a strip of pictures that capture one moment, one party, one day with your friends or lover. The best photobooth photos have couples lip-locked but with one eye to the camera, looking out at us long after the moment has passed and the photos are stuck to the fridge. The booths have also played a vital role in cinema, from the iconic image of Superman's costume change to the collection of discarded photobooth photos in Amélie. "There's a nostalgic, can't-put-your-finger-on-it feel about photobooths. Nothing takes pictures like that," says local photobooth artist, owner and enthusiast Tim Garrett, one of this year's International Photobooth Convention (IPC) organizers.
Perhaps the photobooths' uniqueness explains their longevity -- the booths were developed in the 1920s and have remained in public use since then. There are about a half-dozen traditional booths in the St. Louis area, not including the newfangled digital machines that look like arcade games. "They crop up in urban areas mostly," says Garrett. Perhaps the most famous photobooth was the one in a New York subway station near Andy Warhol's Factory. Warhol was a huge photobooth enthusiast, and he used to drag people to the booth and use their pictures as art -- fittingly, the postage stamp commemorating the godfather of pop art is a photobooth portrait doctored with pastel hues.
An opportunity for St. Louisans to celebrate all things photobooth arrives when the Seventh International Photobooth Convention rolls into Mad Art Gallery (2727 South 12th Street; 314-771-8230 or www.madartgallery.com) Monday and Tuesday, May 30 and 31. Not only can the public go to the conference, but attendees also can slide into the machines and contribute to the photobooth art project on display at the convention's end.
The IPC is here through the tireless efforts of Garrett, who manages www.photoboothstl.com, where you can see dozens of shots of the strangers who have rented his machines. Garrett is a photographer and artist who fell in love with photobooths three years ago. "It's becoming more and more of a full-time thing," he says of his hobby, which was inspired by Warhol's work with the machines. Four of Garrett's booths will be at the convention, including one he designed, a vintage booth completely refurbished with digital components. It's on display (and in use) now at Mad Art as an installation piece -- Garrett's programmed it to function like a traditional photobooth, but after you're finished mugging for the camera, it spits out LA homicide photographs from the '50s.
Previous conventions have been masterminded by U.K. artist Mixup, who will be on hand at the St. Louis gathering, making it officially international. Last year's IPC was in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, and Garrett, who was unable to attend, says, "One of the main reasons for my organizing this year's in St. Louis was so that I could be there."
It's always a party at Mad Art, and the Seventh International Photobooth Convention will be no different. On Monday night there's a brief lecture about photobooths in film beginning at 7:30 p.m., followed by a cash bar and a screening of Amélie at 8 p.m. The following night offers a more traditional art opening from 6 to 9 p.m., with wine and cheese, photobooth pictures and a Latin jazz combo. These events and most others are free; for more information visit www.photobooth.net/convention.
Kanagawa To Ban U-18s From Playing Violent Video Games
Kanagawa expects to implement the ban by early June and will require video games that are designated as violent to be sold separately from regular games.
Anybody found selling designated violent video games to children under 18 will be liable to a fine of up to 300,000 yen.
Matsuzawa is urging other governors of prefectures around the capital to follow in Kanagawa's footsteps.
"Unlike movies or videos, children playing video games get the sense of actually being on the scene when they see them. We need to regulate these games," Matsuzawa said.
Kanagawa inspected six popular video games believed to contain extreme violence. One in particular was deemed to be excessively cruel.
On May 30, the game will be presented to the prefecture's child welfare council to determine if it should receive a rating. If it does, it will be required to be sold separately.
Kanagawa plans to bring about the changes by revising its ordinance on harmful publications, which are deemed to be books, magazines, periodicals or video games that glorify violence, murder and cruelty.
It has been deemed difficult to pursue ratings for video games because scenes displayed depend on the way the game is played. (Mainichi Shimbun, May 26, 2005)
Get Up, Stand Up
It was the fact that he was out of the bean bag.
The most demanding work-out console-game players get is of a thumb, but there he was, ducking and weaving as he snapped off quick-fire volleys at a procession of pop-up targets.
Mission Paintball ($69.95 from some toy stores) is at the vanguard of a new generation of "plug-and-play" TV-based games that challenge the argument that videogames do nothing to alleviate childhood obesity.
From sport-oriented soccer, golf and basketball efforts, snowboarding simulations and battles straight out of Star Wars, these games are not only fun, they get kids moving.
Another bonus is they are simple.
They differ from such console games as PS2 and Xbox in that they can be connected directly to a TV set. There are no game CDs to load, just plug a cord into the A/V socket of your TV.
Or, in the case of Hasbro's coming Star Wars Lightsaber, it's a wireless operation: motion detection technology does the rest.
"You don't have to be an Einstein to work it out. You just plug it in," Dorcy Irwin marketing manager Phil Grimm says.
Rather than competing directly with console-style videogames, the plug-and-play devices are charting a whole new course.
"It's a new entertainment medium," says Grimm, whose company imports and distributes the Play TV Snowboarder. This allows players to balance on a realistic-looking snowboard and replicate everything you would do on the real thing.
Grimm says consumer reaction to Snowboarder has been so good the company hopes to repeat its success by bringing in Play TV versions of basketball, soccer and golf next month.
Hasbro is also getting in on the action. The company behind newly arrived Mission Paintball plans to follow up with the Star Wars Lightsaber and MX Dirt Rebel, a Motocross simulation complete with handlebars.
Toys R Us merchandising director Alan Tieste says the new arrivals are more like toys than game systems and expects classic arcade games such as Space Invaders, Tetris and Commodore 64 for as little as $30 to be popular.
"We think it's an emerging trend," Tieste says.
That view is shared by US game designer Sandy Chim. At the recent Toy Fair in Melbourne he was showing the first in his new range of Motion Activated Gear games.
Batman MAG uses wireless technology and 3D animation. Players strap on a Batman breastplate and can not only land blows on their on-screen opponents by punching with their fists, but feel the telltale "thud" when they get hit themselves.
"We've used wireless technology to take this to a whole new level, but a simple level," Chim says.
Other titles coming our way include Buzz Lightyear and a web shooting Spider-Man adventure.
Some games available in the United States -- such as those focusing on American football or baseball -- may not be seen here.
THEN there is Buckmasters Huntin' 2, a game aimed at players as young as eight, which includes a realistic plug-in rifle (complete with bolt action) that allows players to hunt three species of game. But Grimm doubts we will ever see that in Australia.
"It's a cultural no-no. Retailers get a bit nervous about that."
The plug-and-play games are part of a trend to more interactive TV.
The blending of board games and DVDs is well under way, with recently available titles such as Atmosfear, Trivial Pursuit and the movie trivia game Scene It.
A DVD-game version of the Eddie McGuire-hosted TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire is also on the market.
Games consoles are far from leaving interactivity behind, though.
Sony's Eye Toy camera, plug-in dance mats and Singstar karaoke microphones are designed to get gamers off the couch.
Attacking Violent Video Games
By John C. Dvorak Last Update: 1:39 PM ET May 25, 2005
BERKELEY, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- The controversy over ultra violent and often perverse video games always crops up in the news around the time of the E3 tradeshow in Los Angeles.
Column: John Dvorak's Second Opinion
It's there that the new more gruesome game offerings are showcased to the industry, and this year proved no exception.
Probably the most offensive franchise in the gaming business is GTA -- Grand Theft Auto -- where the player typically goes on a rampage killing cops and hookers while stealing cars. It's published under the Rockstar Games label by Take-Two Interactive Software. (TTWO: news, chart, profile) .
The game, like many others, is part fantasy and part simulation. It's the simulator aspect of these games that has legislators as well as the morality police worried.
The argument is interesting because simulators do train people. Most pilots learn to fly commercial jets on simulators before getting into the cockpit of a real plane. The U.S. Army uses tank and battlefield simulators to improve performance in the field.
I once interviewed Al Unser, Jr. about the use of race car video games and their usefulness as simulators for professional drivers and he told me that when he was a kid he'd sneak out of school to "drive" race cars at the video arcade. He not only thought they were useful training tools, but the newer improved games are helping the up-and-coming drivers even more.
So this brings us to Illinois State Senate which last Friday approved restrictions on the sales of violent and sexually explicit video games to kids under 18. However well intentioned, it's a pointless exercise in restraint of trade.
Much of the legislation is based on the notion that many of these games are simulators and are thus training kids to be violent criminals. The sponsor is Sen. Deanna Demuzio, who is quoted by the AP as saying, "Video games are not art or media. They are simulations, not all that different from the simulations used by the U.S. military in preparation for war."
While there is little doubt that simulators are valuable as training devices and may well be training people how to steal cars in GTA, the overlooked fact is that simulators do not motivate anyone to steal cars. In fact simulators do nothing more than simulate -- there is a difference between simulation and motivation.
Since the first release of the GTA series, arguably the most popular game of its type in history, to the latest version "GTA: San Andreas," there has not been a notable increase in auto thefts, cop killings or assaults on prostitutes. Millions of kids have not turned into crazed criminals because of this or any other game.
Of course there is no doubt that some kid with a screw loose might "improve" his criminal technique with a good crime-oriented simulation, but GTA is not a good simulator for doing much except getting yourself killed. There are no real skill sets you develop in this game and although it is a simulator, it is not one based in a world of reality. And except for games such as "Flight Simulator," few games mimic reality.
In fact when you watch or play the game it's mostly black humor and gore for gore's sake.
If this sort game is damaging just because it is a simulator, then so are Karate classes where kids pretend to kick someone in the neck while they are on the ground. Ban karate too. You may as well ban all martial arts for that matter.
That said, you'd think that the game designers would show some social responsibility and tone down their products. But it's clear that it's the audience that wants these games. Most of the very popular games involve some sort of stomping, shooting, kicking, electrocution, dismemberment or being eaten by a monster.
Perhaps if we weren't at war this would be different. It seems to me that these games exemplify people venting their frustrations with the way things are in the world. I expect the simulated violence level to actually increase over the next few years, if that's possible.
Shuffleboard Players Website
Mile High Pinball
Mile High Pinball is a a straight-forward pinball title from Nokia. The game features 80 levels for players to work their way through to better their score.
The graphics in the game are decent, particularly for the N-Gage. Most importantly the ball moves realistically which adds to the experience, but beyond that the graphics are nothing too special.
The game itself has various things for you to hit including monsters to up your score even more. What's somewhat disappointing about the game experience is that you have to start from level one and work your way up to get more levels every time; from what we were told you will not be able to continue from where you left off. The game also features power ups that help you rack up even more points. The game will also feature the ability to play against each other with bluetooth technology.
Overall, Mile High Pinball is shaping up to be a decent puzzler for the N-Gage. It's not going to blow anyone away with it's gameplay or graphics, but it should keep you busy for awhile and give you some moderate enjyoment.
TV, Video Games: Brain Food For A Generation?
Steven Johnson wants to do for popular culture what the Atkins diet did for red meat: make it OK to enjoy something that’s supposed to be bad for you.
It’s the “Don’t eat your vegetables” approach to life: Watch “The Sopranos” and “24” on TV, play video games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” go see the new “Star Wars” movie and surf the Internet. Then watch your IQ rise!
Johnson is dead serious. His new book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, boasts not only a long title but also a provocative premise. Johnson argues that the complexity of modern culture provides a rigorous cognitive workout and develops skills that are useful in personal and professional settings.
“The most debased forms of mass diversion — video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms — turn out to be nutritional after all,” Johnson writes. “For decades we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a steadily declining path toward lowest-common-denominator standards. But in fact, the exact opposite is happening: The culture is getting more intellectually demanding, not less.”
Something, apparently, is making us smarter. From 1947 to 2001, the average IQ in the United States increased by 17 points, Johnson says.
The leap has puzzled researchers. Is it because of better schools or a better diet, or is a test-crazed nation simply getting better at taking tests?
It might be all of those things, but Johnson says TV and video games have made a significant contribution. He says several studies have found that frequent video gamers do better on visual recognition and memory tests than nongamers, but he says that not enough work has been done in the field.
“The story of the 20th century is ever more new forms of media and interfaces that we have to master,” Johnson said recently. “Anyone who’s under 30 — a majority of them have grown up with video games as a core component of their entertainment life, and what they like in those games is they’re challenging. You have to solve problems and figure things out on the fly.”
What makes video games worthwhile, Johnson said, is that they’re difficult. Some take months to master, and are filled with tasks to complete and clues to discover. The games force players to analyze situations, make good decisions and use a trial-and-error process to discover hidden patterns.
Video games make you smart at figuring out systems — how things work, Johnson said, although even he admits they can stunt other kinds of growth. Johnson meets lots of avid video-gamers at conferences and said, “Some of these folks don’t have the greatest social skills, and it may well be true that some side effect of what I’m celebrating is that people’s emotional IQ is not as enhanced or may be dumbed-down by the technology.”
But emotional intelligence could be developed by watching television, Johnson suggests in the book. A recent episode of the Fox action drama “24” had nine narrative threads and 21 distinct characters — a lot for a viewer to keep straight. But mastering the social network on the show could help viewers master the social networks in their own lives, Johnson said.
And in “24,” as with “The Sopranos,” “The West Wing,” “ER” and “Alias,” the plot isn’t laid out in a simple fashion. Key information is withheld or obscured, and the viewer must work to figure out what’s happening. Even some comedies today have complex jokes and layered plots that reward viewers who pay close attention.
Some critics, however, say constructive TV lessons can be overshadowed by the gratuitous sex and violence that are staples of many shows. The Parents Television Council, which offers parents guidance on TV and lobbies the industry to be more responsible, was skeptical of Johnson’s claims.
“Any positive benefits from watching TV, as this author suggests, would be sort of undone by the high levels of sex and violence that bombard the viewer,” said Melissa Caldwell, director of research and publications for the council.
She said shows such as “Leave It to Beaver,” even if they were criticized for their simplicity, had a moral with each episode.
That’s different today, Caldwell said.
“A kid who watches prime-time TV today is more likely to take away ideas that I need to be sexually active at a young age to fit in or wear a certain kind of clothing or belong to a certain social or peer group,’ ” she said. “TV is a great educator, but that works both ways.”
Johnson, a father of two who lives in New York, insisted that he is not advocating that anyone watch TV all the time. He said that if your kids are watching TV all day, you should tell them to do something else, and he accepts the critique that TV and video games do little to develop a child’s physical health.
“If your kid is addicted to video games, think of it as if your child was addicted to chess,” he said. “You’d be like, ‘Go outside and play with your friends.’ But you wouldn’t be freaked out.”
More To Dance Game Than Meets The Feet
The arcade game Dance Dance Revolution already may have peaked in popularity among its young followers - they say it's completely dead in Japan where the game started - but a dedicated cadre of "DDRers" won't let it go.
And why should they? The game, and its newer incarnation In the Groove, has given kids and young adults all the benefits of an organized sport: an ongoing challenge to improve, a sense of accomplishment, physical activity, a chance to test skills in tournaments and competitions, and strong social bonds.
"A lot of people become friends through this," says Meredith Williams, a 17-year-old junior at South Eugene High School. "I love the competition, but I don't think it overpowers the social. It's a whole new level of friendship. The social is more important for me."
Players like social as well as physical side of dance games.
Photo: Wayne Eastburn / The Register-Guard
The large arcade games still can be seen in such places as movie theater lobbies, where they pump out electronic music while players frantically try to hit arrows with their feet as they concentrate on the instuctions from the screen. Williams once drew a crowd of 30 onlookers at the Gateway Mall, she says.
"I'm not addicted to cigarettes, but (DDR) is like a drug," she says. "A lot of people think it's amazing. I think more adults think it's amazing."
The current lure among young people goes much deeper than showing off DDR prowess. Those who are hooked on the game say they enjoy the subculture that has been formed with others from Oregon, Washington and a few from Idaho.
"The community part is really important because most people play at home, but playing at the arcade is really interactive," says Phylicia Bishop, 18, who traveled from Portland for a recent tournament at the University of Oregon's EMU building. "I feel like these kind of games have been really important for me. It's hard to find people with common interests."
Some say it's difficult to explain their hobby to friends who don't share their enjoyment of DDR, and that it's not uncommon for other teens to give them a hard time.
"It tends to be that if you do something you have two groups of friends," says Angelo Carosio, a 17-year-old South Eugene High junior. "It's really kind of funny. Plenty of my friends, they know I play DDR, they know I have DDR friends. They talk like they are better than my DDR friends."
It may not be the coolest thing to outsiders, but that doesn't seem to matter.
"After a while, if you're not ashamed of it, people will accept it," says Scott Scriven, who last year made a documentary called "Dance Dance Maniacs" about DDR obsession. "I figure it's nothing to be ashamed of."
"I hate when people generalize all the time," she says. "It doesn't make sense. It's not right for them to judge when they don't know anything. (The game) is way more intense than you'd think."
While the Dance Dance Revolution craze was launched in Japan, enthusiasts have now turned their attention to In the Groove, which is an updated American version. They still refer to themselves and to the game using DDR as an abbreviation.
One byproduct of the game is weight loss, but players say they like it more because of the competition and camaraderie.
"Old people love this game," Lainii Schmidt, 15, of Portland, says. "They're like, `Wow, you're getting exercise!' There's so much more about the game we want to tell people."
Players have parties and poker tournaments and go out to eat together. Online, they share information about tournaments, post their scores and chat about who's dating whom and other "drama." And tournaments draw competitors and friends from throughout the Northwest to one city.
Betsy Williams, Meredith's mom, says at first she didn't know what to think of the DDR crowd. But after meeting Meredith's friends and hosting some visitors, she decided it was a good group of kids.
"They make connections," she says. "I think it's great. A lot of parents are happy with it."
The DDR community is male dominated, just as with the world of video games. "Some girls just don't get the concept," Meredith Williams says. But, she says, the girls who do become involved feel welcome. And as with many subcultures, these kids have their own language, as cryptic as the general sea of teenage lingo surrounding text messaging and modern slang.
"It's gotten to the point where the Web site for DDR has a dictionary so people know what we're talking about," Carosio says.
Crazes come and go, and there are signs that Dance Dance Revolution is declining. There are fewer tournaments, and many enthusiasts find other interests as they get older or move on "into the real world, with real jobs," Bishop says.
But there are those who hold out hope that In the Groove will breathe some life back into the hobby, and that the social bonds will be strong enough to keep the dance going for a little longer.
"It's not dead yet," Williams says. "Hopefully it won't be dead."
Indians Plays Video Games The Most
MEW YORK, N.Y., May 22 (UPI) --
Global market research company GMI found that more than 20 percent of those polled spend up to half of their leisure time playing video games. However, nearly 30 percent of those polled in India spend up to half of their leisure time playing video games -- the highest figure recorded in the study -- and 20 percent in Mexico, another nation new to the industry.
The more developed electronic gaming markets of the United States and Germany were in second and third place, in that order, with 24 percent each.
The survey also suggests video game entertainment is going to become an increasingly sought after leisure activity, with more than 80 percent of those polled believing "people will spend more time playing video games" during the next 10 years.
In addition, 40 percent of those polled indicated they would like to spend more of their free time playing video games.
Director Rich Sees Big Future For Stars In Video Games
LOS ANGELES -
He further confirmed that the title will feature the voices and likeness of Larenz Tate ("Ray"), Noel Guglielmi ("Training Day") and rapper Guerilla Black.
"We are in the beginning stages of the video game world as it relates to Hollywood talent," Rich said. The next-generation consoles will improve games and stimulate more professionals to migrate into interactive entertainment as an additional creative outlet, he predicted, referring to the three major consoles unveiled last week during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2005 in Los Angeles: Sony's PlayStation 3, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Revolution.
"Video games are the future of the entertainment business," Rich said. "I think in the future, you will find many games that will blend the emotion that a viewer gets from a movie."
The best thing about writing and directing a video game is that it's a more personal medium because of the interaction with the audience, he said.
"Working on '187' was absolutely rewarding for me as a director," he said. "I wanted this game to represent everything that I am about as a filmmaker - strong on characters, strong on story, and, most of all, fun."
Rich spent time in Hong Kong directing the team that created the game's 10 computer-generated cinematics. He said the game universe gave him complete freedom to move the camera and add visual effects and lighting to the story-driven sequences.
Rich also moved to Paris for nine months to work hands-on with the development team as creative/art director, designing the characters, cars and many environments for the game as well as crafting the dialogue.
"After working on '187' as creative director, I found a new creative outlet that I would like to continue," he said.
Music also plays a crucial role in games today, perhaps even more so than in films because of the long hours gamers spend with a title, and Rich was keenly aware of that element.
"Music motivates the player to continue playing and brings the gamer closer inside of the story," he said, adding that music bridges the game from make-believe to believability.
The 15 original West Coast rap songs produced by Guerilla Black and his Dolla Figga label for "187" add to the authenticity of the game, Rich said. "Since the game takes place throughout the streets of Los Angeles, the music had to have the West Coast flava," he said.
Rich also is keeping busy in the more traditional part of Hollywood.
He will direct rapper the Game in an untitled thriller before year's end, which Angela Mancuso, Delaney McGill and Jimmy Rosemond are producing.
In addition, he is following the current wave of video game-based movies with a personal interest.
"The cool thing about that is that there is already a built-in audience that will want to see a game made into a movie," Rich said.
"That would be very exciting for me to do."
BUZZ: Products Invade Games
May 23, 2005
FREE PRESS NEWS SERVICES
Real products are everywhere in games these days, creating a windfall for the video game industry as it capitalizes on a growing push by advertisers to reach big-spending males ages 18 to 34 who log long hours playing video games.
Until very recently, advertisers weren't rushing to place products in video games. They spent only $34 million in 2004 on in-game ads. But that amount is expected to explode to $562 million by 2009, according to the Yankee Group research firm.
Advertisers were wary in the past partially because there wasn't a way to measure the effectiveness of the ads. Now, Nielsen Entertainment, which measures TV ratings for advertisers, is testing a system to gauge the impact of in-game ads.
In conjunction with Activision and Jeep, Nielsen has embedded an electronic marker in each Jeep image included in "Tony Hawk's Underground 2." Each time a Jeep is used or appears on the game screen, the electronic tag sends a signal over the Internet to Nielsen, which tracks the hits.
Gaming arcades are hard to come by these days, done in by a combination of powerful home consoles and the rising cost of games.
There were only 5,000 independent arcades nationwide last year, down from 23,000 in 1982, according to Play Meter, a Louisiana-based monthly trade magazine.
The cost of high-tech games has outpaced the return on investment for small operators.
Previously, an arcade operator could take about three months to recoup the price of a game that cost about $3,000.
Today, arcade patrons lose interest much faster, given the saturation of the home video-game market and its weekly onslaught of new titles. That forces arcade operators to try to recoup their investment in a game more quickly.
Best Buy Tightens Policy On Mature Video Games
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Best Buy chain wants to make it tougher for children to get their hands on video games meant for "mature" players.
Under a new policy, Best Buy salespeople will be trained on asking for identification and could face dismissal if kids under 17 are sold violent or sexually explicit games rated "M" for mature. The company plans to enforce the policy using "mystery shoppers" who will check up on whether clerks are checking I-D's.
Best Buy's new rules come seven months after religious groups filed a shareholder resolution asking the company to disclose its procedures on the sale of mature video games.
Tommy Pinball A Must Have
By Rick BirdPost staff reporter
It is a multi-media exhibit of manuscripts, letters, random notes, movie and interview clips, garish costumes, guitars and, of course, a pinball machine.
It would seem to be a lot of fuss over a "deaf, dumb and blind boy." It's all in a display attempting to bring to life what is considered the first - and still best - rock opera: The Who's "Tommy."
For the first time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland has chosen to construct a single exhibit entirely around a rock album, instead of an artist, time frame or genre.
"Tommy: The Amazing Journey" opened last month and will remain up until March 2006.
The 1969 double album is almost entirely the creation of The Who's Pete Townshend about a boy who can't hear, talk or see after witnessing his father's murder, but becomes a pinball wizard of messianic proportions as Tommy feels everything through the rhythms and vibrations.
On one level it is Townsend's rant against organized religion and charlatanism, yet it remains a deeply spiritual story. It also references child abuse, the myth of super-stardom, psychedelic consciousness and age-old questions of spiritualism, yearning and betrayal.
When the album was released it had mixed reviews. Some called it bombastic; its story lines are often incomplete. Some of the music can feel self-absorbed and overdone. It is probably not rock's most creatively hailed album, certainly behind such tour de force efforts as the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" and Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds."
But it may be rock's most celebrated album. It has an enduring quality that makes it ripe for an exhibit. "Tommy" has never really faded away like some rock classics. There is still a touring theater production and as late as 1995 the Broadway version won five Tony Awards.
"I guess what made 'Tommy' interesting for us was that there was the album, the movie, a Broadway version. Ballet companies have done interpretations and so have symphony orchestras," said Jim Henke, the Rock Hall's chief curator and a former Rolling Stone magazine editor. "It was written in 1968 and over 30 years later it's still being reinterpreted by different types of artists."
What also made it easier for the Rock Hall is that it has always had a close relationship with Townshend, who has frequently donated memorabilia. In fact, the first item ever donated to the Rock Hall was an acoustic guitar Townshend used to write "Pinball Wizard." He made the donation in 1993, two years before the opening.
"He is something of a pack rat," Henke said, "and he kept a lot of his correspondence. He had saved a lot of stuff."
The exhibit features many of Townshend's original handwritten lyrics and conceptual notes about the project, along with numerous artifacts like tickets and programs from "Tommy" performances.
There is also much in the exhibit about the movie version directed by Ken Russell, which has become almost as iconic as the original album with its glossy surreal look. The movie celebrated the 30th anniversary of its release in March with a DVD reissue. Henke loves Townshend's letters to Russell in which he suggested who should play the various roles. "He thought Tiny Tim should have a part," Henke said. "As for the Acid Queen, Townshend thought he could play the role himself, if he shaved off his beard."
Fortunately, we got Tina Turner in her most memorable role. There was also Ann-Margret wallowing in baked beans, Elton John's oversized Pinball Wizard, Jack Nicholson trying to sing and tremendous performances from The Who's Roger Daltrey, the late Keith Moon and Eric Clapton.
"Tommy's" importance in rock history is that it made rock respectable at a time when the genre was barely 15 years old and still considered disposable art in many critic circles. The notion of a rock classic was an oxymoron.
Calling "Tommy" a "rock opera" sent the message this was somehow high art, a concept fueled by The Who, which often performed the piece live in its entirety, like any respected classical work.
"The Who pushed the rock opera notion by playing places like the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and opera houses all over Europe," Henke said. "They became the first rock act to play at these classical venues."
The release of "Tommy" also coincided with the emerging FM rock format. (For example, Cincinnati's WEBN came on the air in 1967). It was the perfect album for DJs suddenly willing to play long album tracks and looking for material that worked in the format. It was an album that helped jump-start the new format and, in turn, the radio play assured "Tommy" became an instant classic.
Purists might grumble over the use of the word "opera." Henke figures that's semantics. "It is music with a story line," he said. "I guess it would more properly be called a musical, rather than an opera. The story is told through song."
And rock history purists might debate what is the first rock opera. A British band, Pretty Things, released "S.F. Sorrow" in 1968, a concept album about the struggles of a character named Sebastian Sorrow.
But no one's going around humming melodies from that. And in the final analysis, that is what makes "Tommy" so enduring. Townshend never let his meandering metaphysical storyline get in the way of catchy and edgy pop melodies. It was an album that gave us "Pinball Wizard," "I'm Free" "We're Not Going to Take It," "Sensation" and "Christmas." It also was the album that cemented The Who's lasting place as the third rung of the seminal British invasion bands behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
And for those who think "Tommy" may be fading 35 years after its release, consider that TV viewers have almost nightly heard its "overture" this year in a commercial for Clarinex, a drug for treating allergy symptoms and hives.