Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sugar coating the difference between T & E

Something I was thinking of the other day (warning: anecdote incoming) when a friend of mine's son (8 years old) handed the PC game, Star Wars: Jedi Knight Academy, back to me, slightly chagrined, saying that he shouldn't play it due to the Teen rating and his father's computer's vid card was not a gaming card.

My first thoughts were along the lines of relief, having realized after I'd lent it to him that it was unlikely he could play it, game-controls-wise, as it's fairly intricate. The last thing that had crossed my mind was the game rating issue. Here's my beef with game ratings and why it never occurred to me:

Game ratings are more or less useless, like a lot of non-R rated movie ratings. Take a game like Super Mario Bros from Nintendo. It has an E rating (E = Everyone; aka rated G). So it is of a fantastic nature, with 'fantasy or mild violence'. Then take Jedi Knight Academy, rated T (T = Teen; aka PG 13), which 'may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood and/or infrequent use of strong language'. So the only thing here that qualifies is 'may contain violence'.

Super Mario Bros: you've got a plumber in a crazy world of castles, evil mushrooms, flying turtles, 'magic' mushrooms that make you grow, and an exhorbitant number of pipes (many of which sprout fire-breathing plants). In this world, our peasant hero is off to save a princess by running around, smashing the local mushroom and turtle population into the ground and eating magic mushrooms to be more powerful. So you have good guy vs bad guy(s), in a wacky fantasy world. Seems innocent, right?

Not at all. Picture this, if you will: Some guy, uninvited from another dimension, has taken it upon himself to pound the crap out of the locals, while seeking 'power ups' from mushrooms and flowers, taking money along the way. Sure, the bad guys squish in a cute, cartoony way, with silly sound effects, and when they kill the plucky pisano, he pops into the air and drops off the screen with a "woo woo wooo wooooooo....." sound. But make no mistake: Mario is out for blood with the end goal of gettin' some princess lovin's.

Jedi Knight: you, as a Jedi student, and friend begin their training under Luke Skywalker (set 10-15 years after Episode VI). Weird things start happening, and you as a new student have to undertake missions with your Jedi master overseeing your conduct. The plot unravels over the course of missions, and your friend from training goes missing, with him becoming seduced to the dark side by the nefarious behind-the-scenes bad guys. Throughout the whole thing, as a Jedi, you are singled out by renegades, smugglers, miscellaneous baddies and the Remnant, what is left of the Empire (stormtroopers mostly) and have to avoid or defeat them to carry on and complete your tasks.

There is no blood, simulated, unrealistic or otherwise, and no coarse language. (I mean, c'mon, when did you ever hear Luke say "Holy fuck! You're my father? NOOOOOO!". He was always "Well, gee-wiz, Obi-Won, that's a swell idea."). Along the way you have the option to make a pretty nasty decision (kill your friend who went to the dark side, or be merciful) but that's about it, and it's a moral decision with consequences in later missions.

Summary: both games are violent, but I would argue that Jedi Knight is less inappropriate than some E games. A Jedi has a goal, and in the game, every mission is designed to build up the plot and set the stage for the end (and you have no idea what the ending is). Mario's goal is to get T&A by kicking the snot out of 98 levels of bad guys, who, I might add, are not really bad but only enslaved versions of the good-aligned toadstool people. I mean, yes, as a Jedi you lightsaber a good many people, all of whom are out to destroy the New Republic and bring back the Empire. Mario just wants the princess. There is no political or moral drivers here... only the desire to pound goombas (isn't that racist? yet that's what they're called) and get some tail. Can someone argue that jumping on a turtle, then kicking it through and killing multiple msuhroom people only to have it rebound and be punted down a hole worse than a Jedi trying to keep his friend from the dark side and stopping the political fabric of the universe from unraveling?

It's all about sugar coating. Take the Legend of Zelda as another example, also rated E. Link, little boy do-gooder, seeks to (surprise!) free a princess. (a theme, which, I might add, is sexist) In so doing, the guy clear-cuts entire areas with his sword trying to find enough rupees (rupees??) to buy bombs so he can blow up both people and ancient, historical buildings. Hmmm... You don't find Jedi killing people for wealth to buy mini weapons of mass destruction (MWMDs). In fact, in one mission, you are trying to disarm them while keeping Boba Fett off your back (a very cool mission, I have to say) and doing other things like trying to restore a Jedi Knight's tomb to proper order because it's being defiled by dark siders. These are noble goals.

Kirby (another E game) freakin' sucks enemies up and spits their energy out at other enemies! He is, in essence, subsuming their souls for his own purposes. You don't see many Jedi eating souls. And Kirby is rewarded for it by earning points, as is Mario!

Again, though... sugar coating. E games have cute music and zany sound effects, therefore the perception is that they are fun and contain healthy content. Games rated T are simply honest with their content. End of semi-coherent rant.

Completely off-topic, there is nothing cooler than hearing a German named Wolfgang say "Cool".

Friday, July 15, 2005

"I push my fingers into my eyes..."

Okay, upon cursory glance, I thought I had a lot of books, but also figured I had the storage units (aka, bookshelves) to contain them.

.............. Sadly, I was mistaken. Very very mistaken.

About an hour and a half ago, I began unpacking my books in earnest. Foolish me, I actually thought that one bookshelf could hold all my fantasy and sci-fi, mixed together by author. Not - even - fucking - close. I very badly need a Gravbenda(tm) so I can shelve my books perpendicularly on the ceiling.

So I've used up 2 of my 4 bookshelves for fantasy and sci-fi, and that's after removing the "grey" ones: Michael Marshall Smith, historical lit, etc. that could conceivably go into those bookshelves.

The scary thing? I actually think there's more of a mess now -- after putting some books away -- than when I initiated this folly.

I'd like to post something meaningful, but truly there has been a lot of SFA happenin' in my life. I'm sure I'll hit 70 and someone will ask "What was your life like? You lived in such an amazing period of history" and I'll say "Ummm... you know... I ummm... *mumble, mumble* and stuff".

One highlight was having caught up on most of the 4th season of Family Guy thanks to Aaron having burninated me a dvd of 7 recent episodes.

Ummm... yeah. Guess that's it. Oi. Back to the ol' librarian work...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

No reason not to die laughing

A few quick hits for now:

I love 'Maddox'-esque write-ups like this: Human Torch with ATV toy!

Okay, just plain funny: Classifieds

More later!

Friday, July 08, 2005

My new hero

Whoever this guy is, he is my new hero.

In praise of good fantasy

I've read a lot of fantasy novels over the years, starting in grade 6 with pulp Forgotten Realms novels and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books (I remember having like 80 bookmarks in those types) and subsequently moving to Dragonlance and Dark Sun, etc. Then I started with Terry Brooks, Dennis L. McKiernan, J. R. R. Tolkien and multiple others.

Let's be very clear: fantasy novels definitely follow Sturgeon's Law, which is "90% of everything is crap".

(You can find this in the forward in Callahan's Cross-Time Saloon, as an anecdote by author Spyder Robinson. Basically, at a convention someone said "90% of sci-fi books are crap", to which Sturgeon replied "Actually, 90% of everything is crap".)

There are a few rare gems: Dragondoom, the Silmarillion and... the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.

I've just started to re-read his first three (Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, Storm of Swords) because his fourth is due out in the near future, and they're amazing novels for many reasons, but outstanding fantasy novels for one reason alone: there is no nemesis or poetic justice. I.e., good guys get hurt in nasty ways, bad guys win as often as not, "good guys" aren't straight out good, no one is what they seem. The entire series is driven by politics and intrigue, and the desires of the narrative's central figures (of which there are many, both crooked and mostly-good).

The big selling point for me was a well-developed political world and a gamut of pivotal characters. He also dives into central characters' PoVs in true third-person narrative style: every chapter is told from a different character's perspective. Also, and this seems like a no-brainer but most fantasy novelists are unable to convey this... the characters grow and change over the course of the writing. Often, a perceived 'good guy' will show himself/herself to be rotten, 'bad guys' will emerge as simply pragmatic or misunderstood and misrepresented, etc.

Brilliant books all 'round, but a warning: don't read them if you can't stomach some harsh writing. The guy doesn't pull any punches, and characters you love and have followed for a book or more will suddenly find themselves perished in not-so-nice ways via treachery, sickness, character foibles, or simply through common mishap. (Don't you ever wonder why people don't break legs from a simply fall or why they only take wounds in the shoulder or thigh in most fantasy novels? Pretty stupid if you ask me.)

Anyway, enough praise for Mr. Martin. Also, I encourage anyone and everyone to read "The Virtues of War" and "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield. Phenomenal historical fiction set in the Classical period (Alexander the Great and Battle of Thermopylae, respectively).

Guess I should work.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Darth Siddious, make way for Darth Hyper

What with all the brujahah about Tom Cruise lately, here's what really happened when he appeared on Oprah...

(best to right-click and Save As)

Go ahead, laugh your ass off. I did!

Alarming news

I don't mean to alarm anyone, but according to ABC News, Osama Bin Ladin is not in Afghanistan. .......

Yeah, my thoughts exactly. What actually surprises me is that anyone is still looking for him, and that they're so hopeful of catching him. I'd love to see the CIA's budget. It probably just says "Gardening Tools: $982,000,000,000".

I bet Ol' Osama is in Cuba, collecting sea-shells in between drinking cocktails, smoking cigars and checking out discoteque nights at the resorts. Hell, this is a wired world... why not just Skype with his cronies in the Middle-East, or email them from his Blackberry?

Anyhoo, just thought that article was funny. I wonder if they're still looking for Elvis, too.

On another note, tonight will be my last night of moving. I have just about everything out of my old apartment except for the majority of my kitchen accoutrements. Hopefully by this weekend, I will have everything sorted out and unpacked.

Had a pretty quiet Canada Day (as opposed to some poor folks I know), and Saturday consisted of lots of food, friends and shinanigans with a 2-11 bday party. Got to speak with John about FCM, and I'm liking the sounds of the place. I did some research online, and checked out some of their speeches and PRs. It's all quite nice and straight-forward; no marketese or fluff. They have a very solid objective, with a good structure in place to reinforce it. (That they have every Friday off for the summer is awfully damn sweet, too.)

We shall see what happens! Yesterday was the cut-off date for applying, so now the wait begins.

Guess that's about it for now.