The Needles

The Needles by Andy Chalk is an ongoing look at the news and events that shape the hobby and the industry we know and love, shot through with occasional outbursts of randomness that can only be found in a gaming column written by a guy who doesn't actually own a gaming console.

The Needles

When Kaminsky says, "What we've realized over time is that making a great game is important, but not enough," one cannot help but wonder if Activision decided that, since great games aren't enough, maybe great games aren't necessary at all. Activision's mind-boggling bottom line ... indicates the company is certainly doing something right, but it's not necessarily indicative of a commitment to great videogames.

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Why? Violent and pornographic movies are fine because they're intended for adults. Videogames with violent or sexual content, on the other hand - and we're not even approaching the level of either that can be found in everyday movie releases - apparently are not; the obvious implication being that even after all these years, videogames are still "for kids."

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They were even bold enough to declare their vision and intent to the world. "We're an association of electronic artists who share a common goal," they said. "We want to fulfill the potential of personal computer." It's not at all an exaggeration to say that when I read those words, I felt a surge of pride at having some kind of ephemeral connection to this new revolution.

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It may not be surprising that a federally-funded videogame promoting the Army life is looked at somewhat askance, but the fact is that it's a long way from a concerted effort to turn children into the dead-eyed, remorseless killing machines of the future.

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There's no question that Shadowgrounds Survivor is not a game for the sophisticated palate. It has the subtlety of a kick to the groin and the emotional range of Dolph Lundgren, and obviously the story isn't going to win any awards for creativity. Instead, epitomizing the principle of doing one thing well, it offers intensely-focused action for an intensely-focused audience: guys who like shooting stuff.

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I have no idea what the solution is. Waiting for Jack to consign himself to the pits of absolute irrelevance sounds good, but who decides when he's hit bottom? If he is disbarred, as many observers expect is inevitable, will we find ourselves free of him?

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As the games become more important and the hardware less so, maybe the simplest path to Rapture really is the best one. If I'd just stop worrying and learn to love the Box, the little big guy could finally be set free and I'd get to see first-hand what all the hullabaloo is about. It certainly makes sense. So why do I, and the PC crowd at large, struggle against it?

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Yahtzee Croshaw called me a craven douche last week because I chose not to purchase the 2005 action-adventure game Psychonauts when it was released. My first instinct was to defend my honor by telling him about all the other weird games I've bought over the years (got a copy of Bad Mojo on your shelf, Yahtzee?), but I decided instead that maybe my energies would be better directed toward discovering what all the uproar was about.

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The recent furor over the slaughter of black zombies by the very white Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 5 isn't the first time complaints about game-based racism have been raised, although it's certainly one of the most tenuous cases. While examples of overt bias in videogames are rare, they tend to attract disproportionate levels of attention because, well, they're videogames. The medium is a lens, focusing and amplifying everything - violence, sex and prejudice - beyond their inherent values. What's often forgotten is just how far we've come.

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Consolize. According to the Wikipedia entry, it's the process whereby an arcade game board is modified for use on a standard television set. But lately, the term has taken on a new and sometimes emotionally-charged meaning for a small but particularly dedicated group of gamers, to whom it means something entirely different: The process whereby a PC videogame is modified for use on a standard gaming console.

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Throughout the 1980s, most of the problems swirling about American youth could be safely attributed to three factors: heavy metal, marijuana and Dungeons & Dragons. Videogames were on the radar, but more as a symptom than a cause, and game developers, their efforts tightly constrained by technological limitations, went about their business largely ignored by the mainstream. But in 1992, everything changed.

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A self-described Christian conservative and Republican, Thompson's beginnings were innocuous enough. Born in 1951, he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, attended Denison University, went to law school at Vanderbilt University where he met his wife, then moved to Florida in 1976. He joined the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church where he became a born-again Christian, got involved in local politics, and if that was the end of the story he'd be well on his way to a very normal, moderately successful and otherwise wholly unremarkable life.

Alas, it was not to be.

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It's been a long time coming. Envelopes have been pushed and boundaries have been challenged. Technology has given us the ability not only to depict levels of violence that were unimaginable a decade ago, but to actually flail our arms about in a spastic mimicry of the act; meanwhile, the public sees increasing levels of violence among the young in schools and homes and cries out for something to be done. The biggest surprise is probably that it took this long for it to happen, but nonetheless, the Entertainment Software Rating Board's decision to slap an Adults Only (AO) rating on Rockstar's soon-to-be-released killfest Manhunt 2 has created almost as big a splash as the game itself is expected to.