Game On!

By Eric Lam
Epoch Times San Francisco Staff Dec 01, 2005

Customers try the new game Xbox 360 by Microsoft at the Tokyo Game Show in September, 2005. The increasing use of violent and sexist content within the industry has spurred California Assemblyman Leland Yee to author a bill which would prohibit the sale of violent games to minors. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)
High-res image (2400 x 1600 px, 300 dpi) The traveling "Game On" video game exhibition, consisting of over one hundred video games from past to present, made its way to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San José this Tuesday. The exhibition was originally organized by the Barbican Art Gallery in London in collaboration with the National Museum of Scotland.

This hands-on exhibition allows you to play classic arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Donkey Kong. Other playable games included more recent ones like Street Fighter on Nintendo, Tomb Raider for Playstation, and multiplayer action games like Super Smash Bros. Melee for Gamecube, and Halo 2 for X-Box. Also it showcased what it considered to be the ten most influential game consoles of all time, from the Atari, the first home game console, to the Sega Saturn, to the Playstation.

The exhibition, initially meant to illuminate the history, culture, and development of video games, has taken a new turn at the Tech Museum of Innovation. The museum, in collaboration with Santa Clara University, has also raised for discussion the ethical issues surrounding video games.

As video games have evolved from the simple ping-pong simulation, Pong, to the violent zombie slaying series Resident Evil, the question of the influence of video games on users has been increasingly debated.

A forum, entitled, "Video Games: Playing with Ethics?" was held midway through the exhibition to discuss the issue of ethics in video games. Panelists included California Assemblyman Leland Yee, author of a recent measure to prevent the sale of violent games to minors, Mike Antonucci, a popular culture writer for the San José Mercury News, Kristin McDonnell, CEO of LimeLife, a video game developer for women and girls, and Caroline Ratajski, a student of Santa Clara University and a gamer.

The discussion revolved around Assemblyman Yee's bill, and the topics of whether video games are addictive, racist, or sexist, and if they promulgate violence.

Many people think that the government should not interfere in determining whether or not kids can buy certain video games. Currently, video games are rated by the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB). Video game vendors, on a voluntarily basis, check each buyer's identification to make sure he/she is old enough to buy the game according to the game rating. Yee's bill will prohibit the sale of violent video games to persons under 16.

Assemblyman Yee defends his bill by saying society has already determined kids should have certain limitations, citing the prohibition of the sales of alcohol and tobacco to minors as examples.

All of the panelists agreed that video games are addictive and somewhat sexist by reinforcing traditional gender roles such as the damsel in distress or having a sexy female hero in skimpy clothing. However, Mike Antonucci of the Mercury News contests that primetime TV on public broadcast channels depicts the same violence and sexism video games portray. Sex sells, and it's not a problem of the media, but of the culture that consumes it.

The panel discussion ended with a question from the audience, "Which is more morally offensive, the damsel in distress or the sexy heroine?"


Colleges offer video games major

By Stephen Berger
December 02, 2005
Every few years, a new major is added to the offerings at Hopkins to keep up with changes in academia and in the job market. Neuroscience, East Asian studies and history of science all draw from exciting and relatively specialized fields of inquiry. If trends at other colleges are any indication, the next major to be offered at Hopkins might be video games.
Schools as diverse as Carnegie Mellon, the University of Southern California and Parsons, the New School for Design, have started programs to teach students everything they need to know about the next generation of interactive media.
But hardcore gamers should be warned: the programs are anything but playtime. Classes at these schools focus on teaching students how to create realistic and engaging games. They are often taught from both an artistic and a computer science approach, and they frequently demand a serious time commitment in labs and group projects.
According to the people involved with the programs, they are intended for students interested in joining the growing digital gaming industry. Industry insiders say their businesses today are experiencing the growth movie studios and television stations did decades ago, making them eager to recruit new talent.
Add to this growth the increasing complexity of computer, video, and Internet-based games, which means there is a broader and more difficult set of skills to learn to be successful. They include story and character development, art design and how to integrate the latest hardware, as well as the technical elements of programming.
Video gaming classes help students turn an idea for a game into a completed and marketable final product. Group projects in which games are developed from scratch are a common teaching tool. The hope of these programs is to send out graduates ready to start designing the next generation of interactive entertainment.
Programs in game programming reflect a larger trend among colleges and universities. Technology-related majors are springing up at institutions of higher learning across the country, even at staid and traditional schools, in response to changing realities in the American job market.
From nanotechnology to virtual reality to the Internet, the modern worker must navigate a maze of technological advances when choosing a career. Traditionally, much of the advanced training for these sorts of technical jobs occurred after the employee was hired. But more and more, tech companies demand specialized knowledge before they will even consider an application.
That's where these new college programs come in. They supply technical know-how and experience long before a student enters the real world, where resources are spare and mistakes are costly. They also nurture promising talent and serve as a hotbed of new ideas and fresh approaches to old problems.
Skeptics question whether such areas of study are necessary or appropriate in colleges and universities. Some people in the video game industry argue that the only way to learn how to be successful in the industry is to actively participate in the process at a real company.
Other skeptics ask if game design is a true academic discipline, worthy of being taught in the halls of a prestigious university. Applied technical studies may be out of place among the classical disciplines of academia. They echo the sentiment that specialized technical knowledge should be learned by experience in industry.
Proponents of these courses respond that the growing complexity of video games, and of technology in general, makes it crucial to develop a sound theoretical basis to back up everyday practice. They point to the early years of the film industry, when schools teaching actors and directors sprang up across the country and had a crucial impact on the success of the new industry.
Despite these ongoing doubts, tech-related majors are likely to become more prominent at colleges and universities in the coming years. Specialized education in college will help students tailor their interests and hone their skills, while giving industry the best and the brightest. Who knows: your next class could be PacMan 101.



Report by TCFPA President Todd "PinTed" Andersen.
The last planned TCFPA pinball event aptly was the 2005 Year-End Tournaments. Two tournaments were held at a location Pinball News has a report on, SS Billiards in Hopkins, MN, USA.
The first year-end pinball tournaments for the TCFPA were in 2003 . But, we just couldn't keep up the league.
Unlike last year, no attempts were made to procure a “guest” pinball machine for a special pinball tournament. This proved a wise move by the TCFPA.
Let us start with heart felt thanks to everyone who has helped the TCFPA. For, this last event simply couldn't have happened without our members and sponsors.
First off, thank you LTG of SS Billiards for providing a great place to play twenty-some well maintained pinball machines. Besides providing the only location in the entire Twin Cities Region, Minnesota, USA for weekly pinball league play and twice yearly pinball tournaments. For this event, Lloyd also donated some “Safe Cracker” tokens and translights.
And, we would especially like to thank the handful of members who showed up more Saturdays than not. It was for them the TCFPA was created.
Thank you Pinball Renaissance for providing: the trophies for the double elimination tournament and for sponsoring some advances on the double elimination bracket. Thanks for also providing “Safe Cracker” tokens, and some of the give-away plastics.
Thank you Kevin of K & K Amusement and Pinball at the Zoo for T-shirts and some of the plastics.
Thanks to those who previously sold things to or donated to the TCFPA .
And finally, thank you Pinball News for hosting this final write-up and for providing the cool T-shirt for the first place winner.

Read much more about this by ckicking on this link:



Flipper fanatics - Pinball fans find their niche in Portland

By Marty Smith of the Portland Tribune
It's Sunday night at Southeast Portland's Clinton Street Pub, and gang activity is rampant. Members are openly flying their colors. Rowdy gang slogans fill the air. An in-your-face 5-foot rendering of the gang's insignia brazenly adorns the barroom wall. Worst of all, several members are dueling openly in the corner, occasionally complimenting one another on particularly accurate shots.
Yet, as gangs go, this one isn't particularly dangerous - unless you challenge one to a quick pinball game.
The occasion is the more-or-less weekly meeting of the Crazy Flipper Fingers, the self-described "Hell's Angels of pinball," and while the proceedings may get a bit raucous at times, so far no one's lost an eye.
"We're a drinking gang with a pinball problem," says John Wray (aka "Tilt"). His ZZ Top beard and plentiful tattoos lend some weight to the Hell's Angels comparison, though the most threatening thing about him probably is his inexhaustible supply of utterly unprintable one-liners.
Pinball has had its ups and downs since it took on its modern-day look in the mid-1800s (it traces its roots to a game created in France, bagatelle, in the 18th century). After recent decades of being overlooked in favor of flashy console video games, it's back again, and it's no surprise that Portland, with its mania for retro Americana, is one of the nation's leading hot spots for the venerable electromechanical game.
If the Crazy Flipper Fingers (CFF for short) aren't the city's most visible sign of the game's resurgence, they're certainly the most audible. Though there are only about 15 members in attendance, what with all the trash-talking, the machine-slapping and the occasional choice obscenity directed at a recalcitrant table, the bar's decibel level is comparable to that of a sustained, low-level riot. And every time a member has to go home (for gangsters, a surprising number of them appear to have to work in the morning), the entire group lets fly with their earsplitting rallying cry "CFF: Till death!"
"We look death in the eye and say, 'Bring it, (expletive)!' "
Jay "Kickback" McDonough says, adding, "One of us has to get arrested tonight!"
Founded three years ago by Wray and fellow sharks Louie "Replay" Hamlett and Russ "Skillshot" Wallis (other pinball gangs are just ripping them off, they say), the Crazy Flipper Fingers represent the boisterous, beer-and-sawdust contingent of pinball aficionados - folks who would be right at home at an old-school punk rock show.
Paean to pinball
Kitsch-loving rebels are not the only Portlanders to have fallen under the silver ball's spell.
Across the river in Old Town, competitors in the Portland Pinball League have gathered at self-styled "retrocade" Ground Kontrol, and while the voices here are more muted, the players' enthusiasm for the game is not.
The room itself is a testament to pinball's quiet comeback. Originally best known for classic console video games like Tron and Galaga, Ground Kontrol has turned its top floor into a virtual shrine to pinball's history. More than a dozen tables run the gamut from classic '70s single-decker boards to modern gee-whiz marvels so tricked out with ramps, targets and kickouts that an amateur scarcely knows where to send his ball.
Jeff Eberlin, a software engineer and PPL regular who recently moved to Beaverton from San Diego, says this is the kind of display he could only have dreamed about in his hometown. "Look at that," he says, indicating an older machine (called, bizarrely, "Space Invaders"). "There's probably not another one of those within 300 miles.
"Portland is a Mecca of pinball. There are so many places to play. You go to Red Robin, and they have pinball. That would have been unheard of in San Diego."
The league's meetings are more controlled affairs than the CFF's blowouts, with tournament-style brackets and season standings carefully recorded on spreadsheets by league organizer Jeff Weston, also a software engineer. Few players down more than a beer or two, and the festivities will conclude well before 10 p.m.
Still, the reverence in which the game is held is obvious.
"When you're in the zone, you can have balls that are magic," says Eberlin, who, like an increasing number of devotees, has a couple of machines at home as well. "Your first ball may be lousy, and then you can get a ball where you're hitting all the shots and the combos, and you really feel that there's no way you're ever gonna lose it. It's almost a Zen thing."
Aging gracefully
Unfortunately for pinball's Zen masters, there aren't many new games upon which to hear the sound of one flipper flipping - of the five companies that were building games in 1996, only one is still turning them out. But players seem happy to play on the older machines.
"Business is as good, if not better than, it was five years ago," says Mike Mahaffey, vice president of sales and marketing for Portland's Quality Entertainment, a leading provider of tables for local bars and arcades. "(Pinball is) very popular. We get calls two or three time a week from people wanting to buy a machine for their home. People think it's cool to have a pinball machine in their game room."
Mahaffey should know: He owns 36 of them himself. "Sixteen in the house and 20 in the garage," he laughs.
When asked what drives his passion, he grows thoughtful.
"When you play a machine that you played back in those carefree times when you were younger, maybe 15 years ago," he says, "it brings that time back a little bit - kind of nostalgia thing. I think that's why people like it."


Video games go from worse to unspeakable

Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune
Last update: November 30, 2005 at 7:52 PM
Printer friendly E-mail this story Katherine KerstenParents know that today's movies often contain scenes that would send most families running for the exits. TV is no sanctuary, as anyone realizes who turns on the set after 8 p.m. On the Internet, sites featuring Paris Hilton in various states of undress are, well, "hot." But at least we can breathe easy when our kids are in their bedrooms playing their favorite video games, right?

Wrong. This week, the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family released its 10th annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card, along with a 10-year review of the video game industry. Together, these should start alarm bells ringing in parents' heads.

The institute's staff members aren't prudes trying to protect kids from a few naughty words. "Take 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,' " says David Walsh, a psychologist and the institute's founder and president. "In this game -- the top seller of 2004 -- kids can hack prostitutes to death with chain saws. Today we're seeing things we never saw in the late 1990s, like cannibalism. The f-word is now common in video games. Profanity is up 3,000 percent. Sexual content is up 800 percent."

Adding to parents' worries, the institute reports that every year kids spend more hours playing video games. "Our research suggests that one in seven teen boys actually exhibits the signs of addiction," Walsh says.

"Take out the words 'alcohol' or 'cocaine' and substitute 'video games,' " he says. "For some kids, all the behaviors are there: lying in order to play, getting up in the middle of the night to play, thinking about games constantly when they're not playing."

Parents often trust the video games rating system -- T for teen (13 and over), M for mature (17 and over). But Walsh says the system is broken beyond repair. "It's controlled by the industry. Sales considerations are driving the system, not concern for the welfare of kids."

Parents can't trust the retail gatekeepers either. In the institute's nationwide secret shopper survey, children found it much easier to buy M-rated games this year than last. Girls as young as 9 were able to buy M-rated games 46 percent of the time, up from 8 percent last year. Boys were able to buy the games 42 percent of the time.

There was one notable exception in this bleak retail scene: Best Buy, the Richfield-based consumer electronics giant, which has 910 stores in North America. Best Buy scored a perfect 100 percent in clerk enforcement, the first time this has happened in the survey's five-year history. Kelly Groehler, a Best Buy spokesperson, says: "We require age verification at the cash register from any customer who purchases an M-rated game, regardless of apparent age. Video and PC games are a big part of our business, so we take this very seriously."

Walsh believes that protecting our children from antisocial video games should be a top national priority. "Whoever tells the stories defines the culture. Video games have become dominant story tellers for many kids."

Hats off to the National Institute for Media and the Family for defending American children's welfare, and to Best Buy for setting an outstanding example in corporate citizenship. Now we parents need to sit down and have a serious talk with our kids.


Disney launches Web site with video games for adults

Alex Armitage Bloomberg News
Posted December 1, 2005

Walt Disney Co., the No. 2 U.S. media company, expanded its online game business by starting a Web site with titles tailored for adults.

The site, disneysgamecafe.com, features 20 downloadable games intended to appeal to adults aged 25 to 45, the company said Wednesday.

Disney, which plans to double its video-game spending to $100 million in fiscal 2006, includes the games Cubis 2 Gold and Diner Dash on the new site.

Chief executive Robert Iger has made at least four acquisitions this year in the video-game industry, including this month's purchase of European publisher Living Mobile.

"All of these individual initiatives add up," said Ken Goldstein, the managing director of Disney Online.

Disney's Game Cafe will be "break even to modestly profitable" in the next 12 months, Goldstein said.

Games can be downloaded from Disney's Game Cafe for $9.95 to $19.95. The company plans to add more games to the site.

About 43 percent of all people who play video games are between 18 and 49 years old, according to the Entertainment Software Association, which cites data from Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Shares of Disney fell 15 cents to close at $24.93 on the New York Stock Exchange. They have fallen 10 percent this year.

As part of Disney's video-game expansion, the company will also begin testing a new online gaming service called "Playhouse Preschool," Goldstein said.

Disney.com is the top kids and family entertainment site on the Internet, Disney said, citing tracker Media Metrix data.

Disney and other media companies, including News Corp., are expanding their offerings in the video-game market.

In September, News Corp. agreed to buy IGN Entertainment Inc., which runs Web sites for video-game fans. Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone controls video-game maker Midway Games Inc.

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