Seanbaby and G4 Hate Video Games
Video Games Get Raunchier
Video games: State attempts to protect kids run into free speech
The most tasteless of these interactive games are shockingly violent and sexually explicit - hardly entertainment suitable for children, even young teenagers.
And what should the state of Michigan do about them? Very little, except encourage parents to perform their parental duty as the first and most influential buffer between their kids and inappropriate video games.
Of course, the instinct in the Capitol is to glom on to "family values" legislation that seeks to punish retailers who rent or sell these games to minors. One such bill would punish offenders with up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. The legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has joined the bandwagon.
These are heartfelt sentiments about protecting children, but they are, at best, misguided emotions. It's one more example of a government trying to be the surrogate parent, at the expense of free speech.
Some folks may not consider a violent video game to be protected speech, but that has been the correct conclusion by three federal courts. They have struck down state laws similar to the one Michigan is contemplating.
Here's what the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2003:
"We do not mean to denigrate the government's role in supporting parents, or the right of parents to control their children's exposure to graphically violent materials. We merely hold that the government cannot silence protected speech by wrapping itself in the cloak of parental authority ... "
There seems to be little doubt that a new Michigan law that attempts to regulate video games will meet a similar fate in the courts.
It is noteworthy that video games are rated the way movies are, for age-appropriate audiences. In fact, the video game industry's rating system is considered by many to surpass in sophistication the movie rating system. The industry has a six-level rating system that rates games from EC (early childhood) to AO (adults only).
What should receive support are less onerous bills, such as House Bill 4703. It would require signs and brochures be present in stores that explain the rating system. Nearly everyone, including the video game industry, thinks this will help.
The problem, and the solution, begins at home. Studies indicate that 83 percent of all video game purchases and rentals are being made by parents. Sound familiar? Think of the parents who don't exercise control over what their children watch on TV. Or those parents who routinely take youngsters to R-rated movies.
Parents, not the government, are the appropriate censors when it comes to what video games kids play. No amount of new laws, which risk bumping against the First Amendment, will protect children from these games if parents abandon their duty.
Grandfather Of Video Games, Ghost-Wary Hero Pac-Man Turns 25
(CP) - For a video game, Pac-Man is getting downright old. The ghost-wary hero with an insatiable appetite for dots turns 25 this month.
From Pac-Mania in the early 1980s to today's endless sequels and rip-offs, the original master of maze management remains a bright yellow circle on the cultural radar. But there was more to Pac-Man's broad appeal than eating dots and dodging on-screen archrivals Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.
"This was the first time a player took on a persona in the game. Instead of controlling inanimate objects like tanks, paddles and missile bases, players now controlled a 'living' creature," says Leonard Herman, author of Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Videogames. "It was something that people could identify, like a hero."
It all began in Japan, when Toru Iwatani, a young designer at Namco, caught inspiration from a pizza that was missing a slice. Puck-Man, as it was originally called, was born. Because of obvious similarities to a certain four-letter profanity, Puck became Pac when the game debuted in the U.S. in 1980.
Its success spawned a romantic interest (Ms. Pac-Man), a child (Junior Pac-Man), a cartoon show and hundreds of licensed products. The phenomenon even reached the pop music charts when Pac-Man Fever by Buckner & Garcia drove us all crazy in 1982.
Billy Williams, the first and only person known to play a perfect game of Pac-Man (he racked up a score of 3,333,360 after clearing all 256 levels in more than six hours in 1999, according to video game record keepers Twin Galaxies) says Pac's popularity was in its nonviolent simplicity.
"The fact that it's cute, it's almost like a hero running around the board from bad guys. It's not an appeal based on violence," the 39-year-old from Hollywood, Fla., said. "Whether it was an 80-year-old lady or a kid, everyone could adapt to the Pac-Man world."
Billions of quarters later, Pac-Man's influence continues.
As part of a final project for a class in New York University's Interactive Telecommunications graduate program last year, students with cellphones and Wi-Fi Internet connections mimicked the game, tracking their movements on a grid spanning several city blocks.
They called this analogue re-enactment, where four people dressed as ghosts searched for Pac-Man on the streets around New York's Washington Square Park, Pac-Manhattan.
"We never had anyone clear the entire board," said Frank Lantz, a game designer who taught the course.
Namco, which can't offer an exact date for Pac-Man's birth, sold 293,822 of the arcade machines between 1980 and '87. It shows no signs of giving up on the franchise.
The company has several new games this year, including Pac-Mania 3D, Pac-Man World 3, Pac-Pix and Pac-Man Pinball. It even began making a special 25th anniversary edition of the old arcade machine.
"People say, 'Who buys Pac-Man?' It's one of the few games where the answer is, 'Everyone,' " said Scott Rubin, general manager of Namco America.
Herman believes Pac-Man's place in video game history is forever secure.
"It was a milestone of video game history."
The Man Who Keeps Nintendo Cool
02:00 AM Jun. 15, 2005 PT
Shigeru Miyamoto can't stop thinking up video games.
You'd think the renowned creator of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda would want to take a break. But as the head of Nintendo's Entertainment Analysis and Development division, Miyamoto devotes seemingly all his waking hours (and probably most of his dreams) to creating new interactive entertainment.
Miyamoto's days at E3 are packed solid; he meets with developers, chats with reporters and occasionally fulfills the lifelong dream of a terminally ill child courtesy of the Make-A-Wish foundation. But he remains cheerful throughout each session, gleeful when he demonstrates a piece of Nintendo DS software about to be released in Japan, a game with brain teasers and math drills meant to stimulate the adult mind. These are the sort of offbeat games that Nintendo is counting on to jump-start a flailing video-game industry in Japan.
Wired News spoke to Miyamoto off the crowded E3 show floor in Los Angeles last month.
Wired News: The Japanese games industry is in trouble, as sales keep dropping. What is Nintendo doing to get things going again?
Shigeru Miyamoto: I don't really think it's a Japanese problem. I think it's an industrywide and worldwide issue. In fact, I'm surprised how well the U.S. has held up; I think the U.S. is more the exception rather than the rule.
What's happening with video games is the same thing that happens with anything new and interesting. At the beginning, everybody wants to see what it is. They gather around and check it out. But gradually, people start to lose interest.
The people who don't lose interest become more and more involved. And the medium starts to be influenced by only those people. It becomes something exclusive to the people who've stuck with it for a long time. And when the people who were interested in it at first look back at it, it's no longer the thing that interested them.
So obviously, it's very important for us to create brand new things that bring back those people. But it's just as important to create the kind of games that current gamers know they like.
WN: If you look, for example, at Space Invaders or Street Fighter II, those games were amazingly popular. But now, space shooters and fighting games are niche genres.
Miyamoto: One of the things that we're looking at as an answer to this issue are games like Nintendogs. It's sold over 400,000 units to date in Japan, and we think it'll just continue to sell for a long time. A great thing about Nintendogs is that one-third of the purchasers of that title are also buying the Nintendo DS hardware. So it's bringing people back, or even bringing people into video games for the first time.
WN: So why is Nintendogs so appealing to the masses?
Miyamoto: Because rather than trying to follow industry trends, it's based on things that people find appealing in general. Not just what they find appealing in a video game.
Moreover, I think that if companies are challenged financially, or are concerned only with profits, they're going to only create things that are safe, products that are proven to sell. And that's what they're going to continue to crank out.
Nintendo's always been about challenging itself to come up with interesting things. People from outside might say that we make many different games with Mario every year, or a lot of Zelda games. But within those titles are always new and interesting challenges. We have the luxury of being both profitable and creative.
WN: Speaking of which, New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS is a rather ambitious follow-up to a revered series. Who are the team members working on the game?
When Mario went 3-D, there were a lot of new things that Mario could do and that the player could experience. But moving from the side-scrolling game that everybody is used to into a full 3-D environment, the game design process became more difficult.
With the DS we wanted a game that uses cutting-edge technology -- you're using wireless gameplay for two-player simultaneous Mario -- but also has gone back to the roots of the series to be a game that anybody can pick up because it's very familiar. We wanted a Mario game that everybody can be excited to play.
WN: This is the first traditional side-scrolling Mario game Nintendo has made since 1991. Why wait this long to do a new Mario game in the original style?
Miyamoto: Because we'd spent all this time working on 3-D Mario games. And of course, when we had Rare developing the side-scrolling Donkey Kong Country games, we were able to rely on them, which kept us from coming back to side-scrollers for a long time.
WN: But there's still no sign of the long-rumored Mario 128 for GameCube.
Miyamoto: It's still floating around. We're searching for that fundamental idea that's going to drive the next 3-D Mario game. But we're not sure when that's going to jump out at us. We're doing lots of tests with small groups.
WN: If that's the case -- if the design process is still at the point where you're doing experiments and tests -- is it even possible that Mario 128 could come out on GameCube at this point? Or is it definitely a Revolution title?
Miyamoto: We think we want it on Revolution.
WN: So, there will be no new GameCube Mario platform game.
Miyamoto: Right. The Mario team can't create too many games at the same time, so they're concentrating on the Revolution.
WN: At your E3 press conference, Nintendo announced that the Revolution will be able to download and play games from Nintendo's back catalog. Does that mean that the entire library of Nintendo-published games will be available?
Miyamoto: Technologically speaking, it's possible to run every previous Nintendo game. It's just a matter of picking which ones we want to have available.
WN: The Revolution's controller wasn't shown, but there has been a lot of speculation as to what special functionality it will have. Can you tell us about that?
Miyamoto: Nintendo is always trying to be on the forefront of control innovations, like the analog stick, rumble or wireless. As soon as these are available, our competitors snatch them up.
Because the user interface is going to drive the Revolution software design, that's what's going to make our software stand out. Nobody else is going to be able to do what we do with next-generation game software. So, I can't reveal anything. It's under wraps because it's the big gun.
Huge Pinball Tournament With Great Success
TCFPA President Todd "PinTed" Andersen reports from SS Billiards in Hopkins, Minnesota.
THE GREAT MINNESOTA MAY DAY PINBALL TOURNAMENTS
The May Day tournaments were held at SS Billiards from Thursday, April 28th through Sunday, May 1st. Go to http://www.pinballnews.com/shows/mayday2005/index.html
EUROPEAN PINBALL CHAMPIONSHIP 2005
Killer List Of Video Games
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Man Turns Pinball Hobby Into Perfect Basement Hangout
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Time should have stopped in the 1950s.
If it did, Bob Brague Jr. of Loyalsock Township would have the perfect place to hang out: "Bobby's Diner."
Brague turned his basement into an authentic replica of a '50s diner, complete with black-and-white tile floor, a Coca-Cola soda machine, pinball machines, a jukebox and candy machines.
It all began when Brague began repairing and restoring pinball machines as a hobby.
"I played these machines as a kid," he said, referring to the games he played as an 8-year-old at the ABC Bowling Alley on Park Avenue.
"I am a coin-op addict," he said. "Back then, when the machines 'knocked,' people knew you were a pro and called you a pinball wizard."
Brague said repairing pinball machines is not a quick fix.
"It can take 40 to 50 hours for one machine," he added.
Brague said he is self-taught, learning the repair trade from dealers, "old timers" and the Internet.
He attends pinball machine shows in York and Allentown twice a year, he said, where he often finds a good deal.
"No one wants them when they're not working," he said.
When he gets a machine running, the sound reminds him of the games at Knoebels Grove Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pa.
One of his favorite machines is the Bally "Beauty Contest," once dubbed as the "fastest moneymaker ever built."
He was pleased to discover that he and Elvis Presley had the same taste in pinball games. During a trip to Graceland he saw a 1975 "Knockout" game that he also owns.
Up until the 1960s, machine manufacturers used wood rails on the side until switching to metal in 1961, Brague said.
"It's amazing some of the old machines don't have cigarette burns," his wife, LeAnn, said of the machines with wood rails. Brague said people used to smoke and use the rails as their ashtrays until some pinball machine companies started putting cigarette holders on them.
Brague said people used to carve their initials on the machines - but "I never did it."
"Some guys like to go hunting, but I'm not into that," he said.
Brague said this is his only vice - he's not into sports, he's not a couch potato and he's not into movies or television shows.
He doesn't want to sell his collection - "it's priceless to me" - but he's hoping to pass it on to his children.
His wife supports his hobby. She said she has no problem with him investing time and money into it. "It keeps the kids home," she said. "We have parties with ice cream and pizza."
"When my kids come down here, they go nuts ... their friends light up like a bulb."
After a bad day at work Brague said he likes to go downstairs, play the pinball machines and relax.
"That world is a headache," he said, gesturing upstairs. "I'd rather do this than work."
His wife agreed.
"His mind literally is in the '50s," she said.
And being stuck in the 1950s is a bit unusual, considering Brague wasn't born until 1963.
Brague has a paper soda jerk Coca-Cola hat made in 1941 in Japan, which is extremely rare, he said.
"This is when things had style and class."
He built the diner countertop and booth table with a boomerang-speckled top and chrome on the sides to be completely authentic.
"I'm not into reproductions," he said.
The jukebox, a green 1955JL Seeberg high fidelity model, only plays the "real stuff," according to Brague. It has a lot of oldies and goodies from artists such as Patsy Cline, his favorite female artist, and Elvis, the "ultimate male artist," along with tunes from Skyliners, Richie Valens, Chuck Berry and The Platters, just to name a few.
Brague said the "L" in the model number stands for "lime" because the color green was once considered a jinx.
The jukebox tunes can be selected from a 'Wall-O-Matic' wall box on the bar and booth. The music, when played through his United Artist speakers on the ceiling, provides an early version of surround sound.
Looking up, old car hubcaps from Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and Buick are artistically arranged on the ceiling.
Brague said he has a 1958 Coca-Cola machine that he restored and rewired so the light works without the compressor running. He even found Coke bottles with caps from the 1950s to stock it for an authentic look. The room includes such details as the sugar cookie-scented candle he lights for guests, the fake doughnuts for sale on the diner counter, and the shade of green paint he painted the walls to be reminiscent of Woolworth's and L.L. Sterns.
He has a display of license plates from 1950 to 1958 lining one wall in blue and orange.
"They always replaced the plates in March," he said, so police could tell what year the plate was registered just by the color, blue one year, orange the next.
His Topper bubble gum machine and 1947 cash register both work, along with his 1938 slot machine.
When Peg and Bill's Diner on West Fourth Street closed, he bought their coffee cups, which line the bar, and an old coffee machine, which sits in the corner.
Growing up, Brague remembers his parents giving him $2.50 to spend Saturdays at ABC Bowling Alley. He said $2 would go toward bowling and the 50 cents would go to the pinball machines.
"I would starve myself bowling all day just to play the machines," he said. "I would hide when my mom came to pick me up."
He's especially pleased with the restoration work he did on the "Home Run" baseball game machine. He bought it at a pinball show because it was a game he remembered playing in Knoebels Grove and Hills Department Store. But when he first bought it, the game wouldn't even turn on. Now it works perfectly, he said.
Brague said he also remembers his father playing the "Shoot A Line" bingo pinball machine at the Uptown Coffee Shop on Fourth Street in the mid-1970s.
"Being a minor, I wasn't allowed to play the bingo pinball machines back then," he said. "Bingo pinballs were supposed to be for amusement only back then, but some places would secretly pay out in
Players Test Table Tennis Talent
By STEVE CUSUMANO
June 10, 2005
Will Todd has known table tennis his entire life.
His father taught him the sport when he was 2 by attaching a net to a coffee table. When he was 6, the Columbia native was the No. 1 player in the nation for his age group, and he has since lost count the number of times he won the under-17 state tournament.
Todd, now 18, will join nearly 100 other competitors in the Missouri State USA Table Tennis Tournament this weekend in Jefferson City. Play will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Washington Park Ice Arena. It is the first USATT tournament held in Jefferson City since 1995. Admission is free, and the doors will open at 8 a.m.
“This is a unique event for Jefferson City and the surrounding area,” Tournament Director Steve Downing said. “There is no other tournament of this level in the Midwest. We hope this event will help us promote the sport of table tennis in the Midwest.”
This isn’t pingpong played in your grandfather’s basement. This is a four-star tournament, one step below international play. The best players put spin on the ball, making it unpredictable, and play at speeds close to 100 mph.
Participants must be USATT approved and are ranked using a point system. The tournament includes two divisions based on the ratings of members of each team. Players’ ratings are based on how well they have fared against other USATT players.
Downing said the upper division will include mostly nationally ranked players, and the majority of teams in the lower division are from Missouri.
Todd will compete in the lower division. He and his teammate Alex Lehocky, 35, from Tennessee, were awarded the fifth seed in the lower division, and Todd said he thinks they have a good chance to win.
Todd and Lehocky have never met before, but that doesn’t stop Todd from being optimistic. Todd said he feels he can beat any of the other competitors in the division. He will probably play against the other team’s strongest player.
“I’ve held my own against a few guys with ratings around 2,100 who have an offensive style, so I think I can do real well,” Todd said. “As long as he can beat the guys on or below his level, we have a real good chance of winning.”
Todd said the high skill level forces players to always be thinking a few moves ahead.
“It’s all about positioning and serves,” Todd said. “You want to get the other guy out of position, and you’re always thinking ahead. You have to know where the ball is coming to and get set, and pay attention to how high the ball is bouncing to determine the spin. If you can get to the ball and get set and get good position before you stroke, you have more time to hit it, and you’re guaranteed to get a good hit.”
Lehocky brings intimidating size to the table. Todd says Lehocky, who is 6-foot-5 tall, should help the team in doubles.
“If he can reach the long balls and return them,” Todd said, “then I can come in and get ready to attack.”
Todd expects to play in at least 15 matches during the tournament. Playing that many matches means a player must be in good physical shape to compete.
“In our bracket, it’s going to be about stamina,” Todd said. “It’s really crucial to win your matches fast. If you don’t play to your ability with every play and you start playing around, you’re going to waste a lot of energy. Then, it can hurt you in your next match when you play a tougher opponent.”
Todd hasn’t competed in a tournament since last year, but he has stayed in shape by playing basketball at Douglass High School. Despite the time away from tournaments, Todd still said he has the experience needed.
“I’ve played in a tournament in Baltimore where there were 1,000 people watching,” Todd said. “It’s not so much the physical part and technique for me anymore. The game is more mental for me right now. It comes down to execution on shots. I need to stay focused.”
Battling over video games
by JULIE E. GREENE
Dr. Mark Yacyk is probably like many parents of youngsters who like to play video games.
He and his son occasionally argue over when Andrew, 10, should take a break from game playing.
"I'm yelling at him to put the thing down," Yacyk said. But then Yacyk hears, "'Dad, I've got to capture this one guy. Please just let me finish.'"
Sometimes dad wins. Sometimes Andrew wins.
The reason Yacyk, a physiatrist - a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation - with Physical Medicine Specialists in Hagerstown, wants his son to take a break is to prevent injury such as a muscle strain, tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Those are some of the health concerns associated with playing video games, in which players typically sit and stare at the game displayed on a TV or computer screen. Players manipulate a controller with buttons and joysticks, making repeated, sometimes vigorous, small movements of thumbs and fingers to direct characters' actions on the screen.
New cause for old problem
Not much is known about the long-term possibility of wrist damage, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, to people who play a lot of video games, Yacyk said.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when repetitive hand motion causes the already tight tunnel of wrist bones and ligaments to compress onto the median nerve, compromising blood flow to the nerve, Yacyk said. The result is numbness or pain in the wrist, palm, fingers and thumb.
Most carpal tunnel syndrome patients developed the problem once they entered the work force and didn't play video games to the degree many young people do today, Yacyk said.
He said it would make sense if future studies show that the generation of frequent gamers has a greater chance of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, and perhaps at an earlier age, but the jury is still out.
Patients usually have a different primary complaint or primary cause for carpal tunnel syndrome, Yacyk said, but playing video games exacerbates the problem.
He said he doesn't generally see carpal tunnel syndrome in children, but playing video games for long hours can lead to tendinitis and strains.
To prevent that, he recommends taking a break every 20 to 30 minutes for five or 10 minutes and stretching the finger and wrist muscles.
Players have a tendency to clench the controls, especially if they are playing a handheld game, he said.
They also should stretch their neck because they might sit in an awkward position when playing, leading to a stiff neck, Yacyk said.
Staring leads to strain
Dr. Erik Bergman with Bergman Eye Associates in Hagerstown also recommends breaks, at least every hour for 10 or 15 minutes, to rest eyes.
There's no physical evidence that playing video games causes physical damage to the eyes, but it can cause eye strain, Bergman said. Symptoms include an achy and tired feeling in the eyes, headache and irritability.
Irritability is one of the symptoms of computer or video game addiction, according to The National Institute on Media and the Family.
The institute lists addiction symptoms for children and adults at its Web site at www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_gameaddiction.shtml. The main Web site also has a link to a quiz people can take to determine if they or someone they know is likely addicted to video games.
A study by the Minnesota School on Professional Psychology and the National Institute on Media and the Family found that with adolescents addicted to playing video games there were more reports of them being involved in physical fights, more arguments with friends and teachers, and lower grades.
A bit of good news
A major concern with video games is that they are a sedentary activity, but there are games that encourage movement.
One game that prohibits sitting and is garnering more attention for its health benefits is "Dance Dance Revolution."
The West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency and the West Virginia Department of Education are using the game to help children who are overweight or are at risk of becoming overweight, said Nidia Henderson, health promotions director for the insurance agency.
The game, which is available for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, comes with a floor pad for players to dance on. The floor pad has four circles with arrows pointing left, right, up and down. Dancers place their feet on the arrows as directed by a pattern of left, right, down and up arrows that scrolls on the TV screen. Different levels of difficulty are available - faster or slower music, simpler or more complex dance choreography.
The game is very appealing and very much a physical workout for players.
"It is enormous fun. Unlike a sedentary video game that makes their health worse, this has the opposite effect. It is great for vascular health, a great cardiac workout," Henderson said. "We got interested because we're one of the most obese states in the nation."
The agency started its project in January and already Henderson has seen physical improvements with children. The agency's project eventually will enroll 85 children, whose cholesterol, glucose level, body weight and blood flow through their arteries are measured periodically, she said.
The children are given the software and game pad to dance in the privacy of their homes, where they might be less inhibited than in front of their peers, Henderson said.
The education department has the game in 20 schools, none in the Eastern Panhandle. Schoolchildren can play it during physical education, recess or after school, Henderson said.
Games also provide mental exercise
There are benefits to playing video games other than the physical exercise a game like "Dance Dance Revolution" provides.
People who play video games a lot tend to be better at multitasking and careful risk taking, said Mitchell Wade, co-author of "Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever."
Wade said the typical teenager plays 2,000 hours of video games during the teen years.
Frequent game players also tend to be more creative and persistent when it comes to solving problems, Wade said.
Game Gallery Summer Sale Going On Now
Video Games Live Concert Tour
American computer nerds will be compelled to detach their joysticks from their sweaty palms for a couple of hours this summer, as Video Games Live present a live concert of music from the world’s most popular video games.
FNG Gaming have revealed details about the US event which will kick off at the Hollywood Bowl on July 6th before travelling to, amongst others, Denver, Atlanta and Boston. The concerts will include music from games such as Mario, Final Fantasy, Sonic, Tomb Raider and Zelda and will even include a ‘classic arcade medley’ incorporating the likes of Pong and Donkey Kong.
The innovative event was announced by lauded video game composers Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, who between them have created the theme music for the likes of Earth Worm Jim and Splinter Cell, in collaboration with the Clear Channel Music Group.
The game tunes will be performed by prestigious orchestras, choirs and soloists and will be embellished by state-of-the-art video footage and laser sequences.
Wall asserts that: “Video game music is not bleeps and bloops anymore…this music represents a true art form. The success of this tour will demonstrate to the world that video game music can command the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike.”
Brad Wavra, Touring Vice President for the Clear Channel Music Group adds: “There are millions of video game fans in the US, who know and love the games, music and the entire scene, and we believe they will flock to this event.”
If they can get them to stop masturbating over Lara Croft for long enough that is.
Gamers Turn Cities Into A Battleground
09:45 12 June 2005
Special Report from New Scientist Print Edition
Matt has been abandoned on Tower Bridge, London, with nothing except his clothes and a mobile phone. A woman dressed in black walks past, and Matt receives a text message to follow her. He doesn't know who she is, or where she is going. All he knows is that he must follow her if he is to find Uncle Roy.
Matt is playing Uncle Roy All Around You, where for one day he is the main character in an elaborate experimental fantasy game played out across the streets of London. He also happens to be a pioneer of a new social phenomenon, urban gaming. If you thought the computer games of the 21st century are only ever played by couch potatoes addicted to the new generation of Xbox, Nintendo or PlayStation consoles, you'd be mistaken. For urban gamers are harnessing the power of global positioning systems (GPS), high-resolution screens and cameras and the latest mobile phones to play games across our towns and cities, where they become spies, vampire slayers, celebrities and even Pac-Man.
Urban gaming started in the 1990s with the advent of "geocaching", where GPS is used to pinpoint exact locations. Players buried "treasure" then posted the longitude and latitude coordinates online, allowing others to hunt for the prize. Such treasure hunts have become extremely popular and are played by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, with prizes buried in ever more exotic locations, even underwater.
"The limitations of physical space makes playing the game exciting," says Michele Chang, a technology ethnographer with Intel in Portland, Oregon. There is also a social element, says Chang. Last year, as a social experiment to see how people behave with real-world games, she created Digital Street Game, which ran for six months in New York. The aim was to acquire territory by performing stunts dictated by the game at public locations around the city, such as playing hopscotch at a crossroads while holding a hot-dog. "People are more reserved than you would imagine," says Chang. Some players took to performing their stunt on rooftops to avoid being seen, she says, while others relished being ostentatious - like players of Pac-Manhattan, in which New Yorkers dress up as the video game icon Pac-Man and flee other gamers dressed up as ghosts.
While many of the first real-world games involved using separate GPS receivers and handheld computers, mobile phones and PDAs that integrate such technology are catching up. "There's an evolution using the mobility of the phone to create completely new gaming experiences," says Tom Söderlund, who worked as a games producer for Swedish games company It's Alive, based in Stockholm. "I think we are going to see more and more games that blend with our real lives."
Uncle Roy All Around You is one such game, developed by interactive technology researcher Steve Benford at the University of Nottingham, UK, as part of a European effort called the Integrated Project on Pervasive Gaming, or iPerG. Matt has just an hour to find the eponymous Uncle Roy by following instructions or clues fed to him via cellphone text messages. But every time he moves, the positioning technology on his phone transmits his exact location onto a virtual map of London, allowing other players in the game to track his movements and hunt him down. Meanwhile a small band of performance artists called Blast Theory shadow Matt like spies, interacting and manipulating him in his quest to find Uncle Roy.
Another phone-based game is a variant of the classic arcade game Tron. Two or more players, who may never have met, speed through a city leaving a virtual trail behind them that is plotted on their mobile phone screens. There is one rule: you can't cross your own trail or that of the other player, so the basic tactic is to try and encompass or corral your opponent, forcing him or her to cross a trail and lose the game. Pac-Manhattan players use PDAs incorporating GPS to work out each other's whereabouts.
Soon you may even be able to play games using phones without GPS hardware. One being played by 30,000 people in Sweden, Russia, Ireland, Finland and now China is called BotFighters. Produced by It's Alive, BotFighters is a variant on Dungeons &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp; Dragons role-playing games in which players explore an arena - in this case a city. Stumble into another player's territory, and you have to fight them by exchanging virtual blows boosted by acquired superpowers. Each blow is sent via a text message. The game exploits the location-based services provided by cellphone companies, where the position of each phone is tracked by its network. As location-based services become ever more sophisticated and accurate, so will the games.
But not all real-world games use positioning technology. Simon Woodside, a graduate from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has started a company that runs treasure hunts for fund-raising events or team-building exercises. In Woodside's games, players hunt for clues in the form of coded signs called Semacodes hidden in the landscape. These grids of black and white dots work like bar codes but can store more information. Software developed by Woodside transforms the digital camera in a player's phone into a Semacode reader, allowing the phone to decode the information. This can either be a clue to another destination or act as a progress marker by proving the player has been in a certain location.
One big issue with games that use satellite navigation is accuracy, says Benford. High buildings can block GPS signals from satellites, creating positioning shadows. "Sometimes you get tens of metres accuracy, sometimes it's hundreds of metres," he says. You also get blackspots - places where the receiver cannot pinpoint your location. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, says Benford. Another game he has devised, Can You See Me Now?, exploits these shadows and blackspots, which can be extensive and vary with time as satellites move. One player stays at home and moves a virtual character around a representation of a real city. Other players speed around the real streets, trying to hunt down the virtual quarry. Both have to build up knowledge of where the shadows and the blackspots are, and then exploit these hiding places.
Games console makers are also embracing the trend. Portable console maker Gizmondo is soon to launch Colors, a gangland game where players play a conventional arcade game to earn credits and money. These are then used to buy turf in the real world - Soho in London, say. Walk into a Soho cafe and attempt to play Colors, and the GPS embedded in the console might tell you you're playing on another gang's patch, and you need to beat them in a virtual fight to claim the turf and continue.
The company has even bigger plans, developing a game that exploits a digital camera already built into the console. Virtual creatures live at specific GPS coordinates, and when a player views the location through the camera they will see the real world with a three-dimensional animated digital creature laid over the scene. Get the creature in the cross hairs on the screen and you can shoot them. But vampires, for example, will only come out at night, and werewolves can only bare their teeth during a full moon. "You can also capture them to breed and train so you can use them against other players," says Paul Hilton, a games developer with Gizmondo.
Merging real and digital worlds can have its problems. For some games to work, you need a quorum of players. "If I'm a good terminator trying to find a bad terminator to fight, and the only bad one lives in Sweden, then I'm not going to see much action," Hilton points out. And in Uncle Roy, for example, not only does the game involve innocent bystanders - the woman dressed in black who Matt followed had no knowledge she was taking part in the exercise - but it culminates in the street player climbing into a stranger's car, which means the player has to trust the organisers. Uncle Roy was deliberately set up to question the trust and boundaries that can emerge from this sort of game, says Benford.
So game designers face the challenge of how to preclude "cyber-stalking", and protect the safety of the public and players, especially children, who might wander into unsafe situations or places. But ultimately, urban games may encourage a generation of console geeks to get off the sofa. "I have literally run around a park interacting with virtual creatures," says Hilton. "I'm going to have to get seriously fit if I want to develop one game I'm working on."
Redlands District Plans To Wed PE With Video Games
REDLANDS - In an effort to boost student health and fitness, the school district is turning to a new form of physical education video games.
Redlands Unified School district officials are working with Redlands Community Hospital to bring "exertainment,' the latest form of fitness in a mix of video games and exercise, to at least one school by the fall.
Unlike traditional video games, players must move physically to interact with the game. Exertainment reaches an audience that wouldn't normally go to the gym or become involved in competitive sports.
Sue Buster, director of elementary education, said the district is looking for a suitable elementary school to host the program where students could use the games under the supervision of a PE teacher. The district is also looking for corporate sponsors to help.
"We'd like to see how kids take to it, especially kids who are not involved in league sports like soccer,' Buster said. "We really jumped on the idea of looking at what children love to do and what gets them to move. These games are fun and engaging and keeps them on task, competing with themselves.'
Using the exertainment center, which would be equipped with games like "Dance Dance Revolution,' would count as PE class time for students, Buster said. The center would have enough games to serve between 20 and 35 students, who would rotate through during a session, she said.
Physical education in the Redlands district is lumped in with enrichment subjects, like art and music. Each subject is taught for one-third of the year with PE taught by roving teachers. Administrators hope to hire after-school personnel to staff the center when the PE teacher has gone onto the next site, Buster said.
The cost to set up an exertainment center will fall between $10,000 and $50,000, for equipment, games, a security system, video monitors and, if necessary, a portable classroom.
Linda Dutton, director of business development for Redlands Community Hospital, said the hospital is also trying to work with the school district and Beaver Medical Group to open local exertainment centers. The hospital began pursuing the project after local clinicians began noticing children with obesity-related conditions like hypertension, Dutton said.
There are 9million overweight and obese children in the United States, and the number of obese elementary school students, the 6- to 11-year-olds, has tripled since the 1970s. The Sun's four-day series "Table to Grave,' published May 1-4, explored the costs and consequences of childhood obesity.
The partnership wants to set up an exertainment center, or "gym,' in a central location outside of a school in the next three months, Dutton said.
"If kids participate in PE at school they can earn something like 'bonus bucks' they can use to 'buy' their way into these clinics,' Dutton said. "This way its not economically segregated, so everyone has a chance to participate. They can also use the bucks to buy the games and use them at home.'
The partnership is now trying to secure $50,000, enough to fund two gyms, and is also looking for a grant to help students without transportation get to the center.
Arcades Are No Longer king, But Doris Self, 79, Is Still A High-Scoring Queen
WEIRS BEACH, N.H.-- As she flailed away at the video arcade console, Doris Self found it hard to concentrate. It wasn't a matter of age; she's sharp as ever at 79. It was all the distractions -- camera crews, reporters, curious onlookers of every age. They'd come to the Funspot arcade to see Self in action. You'd think they'd never seen an old lady playing a video game before.
In fact, they probably hadn't seen anyone Self's age playing so well. She sat at the console, one of those tabletop-style arcade games that let you pull up a chair, and ran up hundred-thousand-point scores with casual ease. It helped that she'd spent eight hours playing the previous day. ''Then I went next door and played poker for four hours," Self said with a laugh.
It was an unusual regimen for a player who'd come all the way from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to set a world record -- two of them, in fact. Self came to Funspot last weekend to reclaim her old titles from the 1980s -- world's highest score on the classic video arcade game Q*bert, and world's oldest person to hold a video arcade record.
Born in Boston, raised in Cambridge, Self has a knack for making history. At 19, she became one of the first female flight attendants at Eastern Airlines. ''The DC-3 I used to fly on is hanging from the ceiling of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum," she said. She later married an Eastern pilot and raised two children.
Then in her 50s, Self discovered video arcades. Her husband had passed away. To cheer her up, Self's daughter took her to a movie and then to a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant for pizza. The Chuck E. Cheese chain was launched by Nolan Bushnell, cofounder of video game maker Atari, and each restaurant has a video arcade.
Self's daughter goaded Doris into trying a few games. Soon she was hooked. It was the 1980s, the peak of the arcade craze, and Self soon discovered a large game room near her Florida home. It was full of younger kids during the day, and she preferred an older crowd. So she'd wait till 11 p.m. before heading for the arcade to play all night.
Q*bert was her favorite game -- an odd little title featuring a goofy-looking creature who hops around on a grid made up of dozens of cubes. The cubes change color with each hop, and the goal is to make them all the same color, while dodging a variety of critters who are trying to devour poor little Q*bert.
The young adults at the arcade welcomed their middle-age rival. ''Everybody wanted to adopt me," said Self. ''They couldn't have been nicer." And Self got so good at Q*bert she developed a reputation as a sort of hustler. ''They got to the point where they'd trick kids to play against me," she said.