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CounterstrikeYou know the old adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same‘? The same can be said for the videogame industry. I’m fairly certain that 99.9% of North Americans didn’t realize that August, 2012, marked the 40th anniversary of the first commercial videogame console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Not only that, it marked the the 40th anniversary of the coin operated arcade machine Space War!, distributed by Nolan Bushnell. I vividly remember walking into a penny arcade on Government Street in Victoria, BC, Canada, when I was 12 years old in the the summer of 1972, inserting my hard earned quarters into that machine, and feeling supremely ripped off that it was too hard to play! I mean, the nearby Undersea Gardens aquarium had a Sega UFO electronic arcade shooting game that was much more satisfying because I could actually advance several levels!

Videogames have been around for 40 years, so you would probably think that everyone is used to them by now; they’re accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment. Well, hold onto your tinfoil hat, Sparky, because it just ain’t so. I never cease to be amazed by the controversies videogames continue to elicit from the general public after all these decades. Yes, decades. The latest episode took place last week, when a group of recent high school graduates from Port Moody Secondary School created an accurately detailed 3D level map of their school that could be played using the Counterstrike mod developed from Valve Software’s Half Life engine. Co-incidentally, Counterstrike was first created in Surrey, BC, (of all places) by Minh ‘Gooseman’ Li back in 2000. I’ve designed many 3D levels commercially, so I understand the mindset of where these young guys were coming from. In fact, they explained on their website that they built the level as a way of showing their school spirit. This was done with the intent of creating a virtual space where they could bond.

Unfortunately for these kids, they naively made the mistake of posting a video of this level on the Internet without thinking about how anyone who doesn’t like or understand first person shooters (and they exist in large numbers) might react to seeing their local high school being used as a battleground, especially given the recent tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, or the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. To the students’ mind, this was a Counterstrike map – no big deal. To their teachers, parents, and the RCMP, there was nothing entertaining or nostalgic about it.

Speaking as a former professional videogame developer with 22 years of experience, a long time gamer, and as a responsible ‘middle aged’ man, I think the reaction of some teachers and parents was completely overblown and utterly exaggerated. What I heard and saw were overly sensitive adults who don’t play or understand video games at all. They make up their minds based on sensational media stories that use large amounts of emotional hyperbole. These adults make emotional statements about a video game they have never played that have no basis in fact.

Given the current climate about shootings on school and post secondary campuses in North America, I understand why the police were asked to investigate this situation. But I believe it was unwarranted and needlessly contributed to public hysteria. In an increasingly paranoid society, the last thing we need are police investigating people who play video games as potential homicidal maniacs. Peer reviewed empirical research evidence shows that there is no causal connection between playing video games and school shootings. But many adults keep wanting to believe a connection exists. Thankfully, the police investigators recognized that the students were not planning something sinister. It’s too bad that some parents, teachers, and Port Moody municipal politicians were not as rational in their assessments.

Time and again I’ve heard people claim that first person shooter video games are literally the devil’s handiwork. If this claim were true, then I should be a raving homicidal maniac who would have decimated entire cities by now! I’ve played all the classic first person shooters for over 20 years and I can tell you that they’re masterpieces of art, music, and narrative for their times.

CBC Radio invited me to appear on their call in program BC Almanac, to discuss first person shooting games. I also appeared on a news segment for The National.

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

AllianceThis week the good doctor observed that not one – but two – stories about video games caught the attention of national news media in Canada and the United States. The media frequently reports about video games and the the game development industry. Seeing two titles make the national news on the same day is a bit unusual and deserves special mention.

On Thursday morning, May 7th,  CBC Newsworld aired a two minute video segment on their website that discussed medical researchers studying the Corrupted Blood incident in World of Warcraft to learn about human behaviour in a simulated pandemic (Note: Could it be they listened to Doctor Arkanoid this past Monday on CBC Radio in Vancouver? Hmmm…)

CBC Newsworld Corrupted Blood

Six Days in FallujahIf you visit this blog regularly, then you’ll know that in Power Up 4! and Power Up 7!, I wrote about Konami Digital Entertainment cancelling the development of their upcoming video game Six Days in Fallujah, developed by Atomic Games in North Carolina. The title is based on the battle for this Iraqi town that happened in 2004.  Veterans who served in the Iraq War from the United Kingdom and the United States voiced their concerns about making a game based on this recent military event. The story was originally reported in Japan by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. On Thursday evening, May 7th, ABC World News broadcast a feature about the game and the controversy surrounding it.

ABC News Six Days in Fallujah

I find it interesting to see how one story presents a video game as being helpful to medical research; the other game is presented as insensitive to the emotions and experiences of veterans from the Iraq War. I don’t think the game review editor from IGN was a particularly good choice for that interview, but I’ll cover that in a future article.

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

Workers of the World Unite! It’s time for another edition of Power Up!

Six Days in FallujahIn Power Up 4! on April 8th, I wrote about Konami Digital Entertainment working with Atomic Games in North Carolina to produce Six Days in Fallujah, a Playstation 3 title that recreated this well known battle in Iraq. Now it appears that Konami is ‘bugging out’ of the project according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The company received many negative comments and e-mails from the United Kingdom and the United States that were highly critical of the company’s plan to publish this game. Game Politics also reports that the president of Atomic Games made comments at a recent Konami sponsored event that seemed to imply Iraqi insurgents were consulted during its development.

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Once upon a time a wise old game developer wrote a one page sheet that he called ‘The Ten Commandments of Game Design’. There are other game developers who have since written their own interpretations, but the  commandment I always tried to follow was this one:

‘Thou shalt design the game for the player and not for thyself.’

It’s really quite simple: Design the game for the person who will be playing it, not for your own gratification. Unfortunately, there are a goodly number of game developers who still make games that they want to play and therefore they assume everyone else will want to play. Every year several thousand game titles are released; the overwhelming majority of them are financial failures. Video game publishing is like any other entertainment industry. You churn out a mountain of dreck and hope some real gems will turn up.

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Lara CroftThe Power Up! cup overfloweth this week with a veritable cornucopia of interesting stories. Take a sip at your leisure!

Darn that President Obama! He’s everywhere these days. As the Protoss would say in StarcraftWe feel your presence‘. Game Politics has a short piece about a series of  famous videogame character images inspired by the Obama posters created by Shepherd Fairey. Here’s an image I like to call ‘The Audacity of Lara’. There’s also Niko Bellic (Grand Theft Auto 4), Gordon Freeman (Half Life), Master Chief (Halo), Pac Man, Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid), and several others.

In recognition of Earth Day 2009, National Geographic just released Plan it Green, (do you see the word play?), a Sim-City style strategy game that takes place in the picturesque town of Greenville and lets players develop their own ecologically sustainable community. You can download a trial version, or buy the full game.

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Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin’ down the Power Up trail!

ToddlersHow young is too young for children to start playing video games? Take a look at some interesting stories from Citizen Gamer that deal with this controversial question. What do you think?

Speaking of kids and computers, there’s a news story from Kentucky about $300,000 USD in federal funding to develop a computer game that teaches middle school and high school students about protecting themselves from online predators.

Here’s a story that emphasizes why it’s important for parents to scrutinize what kind of video games they buy for their children. A mother bought a new Playstation Portable console for her six year old son at a Wal-Mart in Manatee, Florida. The little boy turned it on and discovered all kinds of pornographic images concealed in the PSP memory card. You can view the news report here.

There’s plenty of crude, offensive language to be found in online game chat. Microsoft’s XBox Live Channel recently came under fire from American gay and lesbian activists for its policies on this matter.

Should there be a ‘sin tax’ on video games because some of them are considered violent? In Europe and the United States, the issue is starting to receive more attention than in past years. Here’s a story from the Hartford Examiner in Connecticut.

It might surprise you to know that there are several billion people in the world who don’t play video games because they can’t afford them! But a San Diego based company called Zeebo is hoping to change that with their development of a low cost video game console that can be sold in countries like Brazil, China, India, Russia, and other emerging markets.

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz. I wonder where that Power Up! is?

Voulez vous jouer Lara Croft? On April 1st, the government of Quebec introduced a new language law that prohibits the sales of new English language video games if a French version is already available. To give you a bit of context about adapting video games for the French Canadian market, 22 years ago, video game publishers were required to produce all marketing and packaging materials in French for titles released in Quebec. Plus ca’ change, plus ca’ meme…

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NASA Computer Kids Image

NASA Computer Kids Image

Time to celebrate the first weekend of spring with another installment of ‘Power Up!’.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) called Astronaut: Moon, Mars, and Beyond. The game is being developed by Virtual Heroes in North Carolina and uses the Unreal Tournament 3 software engine. Players will be able to create astronaut characters that take part in missions using real NASA space technologies.

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Time to ‘Power Up’ this week and catch up on some interesting video game news:

Do you have problems in chemistry remembering the periodic table of the elements? Take a look at this imaginative creation from a dedicated gamer.

Videogame Periodic Table from iHeartchaos.com

Videogame Periodic Table from iHeartchaos.com

Here’s an interesting article about how Guitar Hero and Rockband are having some positive effects on learning and music.

A pilot program at an elementary school in Washington DC is using Nintendo Wii Music to help promote interest in the subject. Nintendo plans to work with other schools across the United States.

If you’re thinking about adding more titles to your collection, here’s a very good article from EDGE magazine about the 100 best video games to play. EDGE is arguably one of the oldest and most comprehensive video game magazines still available.

Sony Canada voluntarily decided to remove a large advertisement for the Playstation 3 title Killzone 2 from a bus stop shelter in Toronto, Ontario,  after receiving a complaint from a teacher at a nearby elementary school. Sony is now reviewing how it will advertise future games near schools.

The Nintendo DS has now sold more than 100 million units since it was released in 2004. And people said playing with a touch screen would never work!

The Sony Playstation 2 continues to be a popular game console since it was released in 2000, with a total of 136 million units sold worldwide.

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

Fifth Estate Top GunLast weekend, the popular CBC television program The Fifth Estate, aired an episode called ‘Top Gun’, which dealt with the death of Brandon Crisp; a 15 year old boy who ran away from home after getting into an argument with his parents about the amount of time and effort he spent playing the XBox360 title Call of Duty 4. Brandon fell out of a tree and crushed his chest upon impact.

The program interviewed the parents, a behavioural counsellor, Brandon’s friends, professional video game players from Major League Gaming, and a spokeswoman for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in Canada. I reviewed the episode three times and decided to write a letter to CBC television.

Here is what I wrote:

The Fifth Estate is well known for shining a spotlight on important issues that Canadians need to know about. However, I feel the level of investigation and research for this episode was shallow, resulting in a program that made Brandon’s family appear to be victims of the video game industry. Important questions were not asked of both parties, and you didn’t provide constructive information for viewers so they could educate themselves.


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Anthony Gurr and Doctor Arkanoid - Revelations From the Inner Sanctum!, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anthony Gurr and Doctor Arkanoid - Revelations From the Inner Sanctum! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.