Sunday, December 18, 2005

Social commentary or art? Maybe both

Alex Chan, a 27-year-old Parisian of Chinese descent, lives in the North Paris suburbs rocked by the riots. He thought the coverage on the riots didn't quite capture the true essence of what was going on in his neighborhood. He decided to do something about it.

He bought the Lionhead Studio's new video game Movies and spent a week directing a 13-minute short film called The French Democracy using the video game. For $50 USD and a week of his time he was able to get his thoughts heard around the world. The return on investment can't get any better than that.

Using video games to make films is called Machinima. Chan's machinima creation may be the most well known, but the genre has been popular for quite some time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Video games helping in disaster recovery planning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding development of a series of video games designed to help prepare first responders to deal with different disasters.

The games are being developed by University of Illinois at Chicago and its The Center for the Advancement of Distance Education (CADE).

There are multiple benefits to using interactive video games for training such as this, some of which include reduced training costs, wider variety of scenarios available to trainees and better participation. The video games are not designed to replace existing training methods, but to supplement them.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Video gaming myths debunked

PBS has published an interesting essay on often cited myths about video games by Henry Jenkins, Professor of Literature and Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

None of the following eight myths are true according to Professor Jenkins:
  1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
  2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
  3. Children are the primary market for video games.
  4. Almost no girls play computer games.
  5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
  6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
  7. Video game play is socially isolating.
  8. Video game play is desensitizing.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Who are these video gamers anyway?

The mainstream media and detractors of video gaming culture often refer to video gaming as somethings only kids do. The Entertainment Software Association publishes industry key figures yearly and they show a completely opposite view.

Here are some highlights. Please refer to the PDF file linked for a more complete picture.

The average age of a gamer is 30. 19% of gamers are over the age of 50. The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 37.

The Ziff Davis Digital Gaming in America (DGIA) study lists mean income of $69K for computer gamers and $62K for video gamers.

Not only are gamers getting older, but they are getting increasingly affluent. Hardly the demographics for politicians to ignore and stomp on.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fatal1ty - Professional Gamer

Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel is 24 years old. He's been a professional gamer since 1999. He's made more than $350,000 in tournament winnings since he started. He's got a computer gaming product line licensing his name. He's the Tiger Woods of professional gaming.

To understand what professional gaming is all about, you have to understand the business side of it. There are 300 million gamers in the world, who will spend $34B this year on gaming hardware and software. By comparison worldwide box office ticket sales worldwide come to about $21B.

Fatal1ty competes in the Cyberathlete Professional League. CPL is sponsored by some of the biggest computer companies in the world, including Intel and nVidia. The 2005 CPL World Tour Finals in New York city later this year have a cash prize pool of $500,000. The finals will be covered by MTV.

CPL is only one of several similar professional gaming leagues. Probably better known is the World Cyber Games, sometimes referred to as the Olympics of cyber gaming. WCG runs national qualifiers, and the national champions compete in the WCG Grand Finals, currently happening in Singapore. 2006 Grand Finals are going to be in Monza, Italy. WCG's main sponsors include Intel and Samsung. The WCG Grand Finals has a cash prize pool of roughly $435,000.

To be successful as a professional gamer Fatal1ty trains 8 hours a day in his basement where he has 4 PCs networked together. He studies the games he plays, watches videos on his opponents to know their weaknesses and varies his gamestyle against different opponents to gain an advantage. Poker and football fans will instantly see a striking similarity to how professional poker and football players prepare for their games.

People don't call Fatal1ty the Tiger Woods of professional gaming only because of his gaming skills, but also because his business savvy. He's licensing his name to several computer manufacturers, which are putting out Fatal1ty branded computer equipment. Along with the hardware, he's got apparel and accessories on sale at his online store.

Time will tell if professional gaming will ever reach the popularity of professional sports, but professional gaming is booming right now. Prizes are getting bigger, more and more sponsors are interested, TV networks are competing to cover events and public interest is greater than ever. It sure isn't just for kids any more.

Fatal1ty wins big in the CPL grand finals, which puts his total winnings for the season at $231K.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The 2005 Child's Play charity website is up

Child's Play is a charity founded by the Penny Arcade owners Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (or Gabe and Tycho). In 2003 they had an idea to rally the video gaming community they had built around Penny Arcade for a good cause. They figured their 150,000 members would willingly and generously give to charity. And they were right. Through Child's Play people have sent nearly a million dollars in toys, games, and cash to the sick kids in Children'’s Hospitals around the nation.

Penny Arcade works with hospitals, this year for the first time outside of the US as well, and to set up wishlists for video games, toys, and movies. Donators can then go to and purchase items on the wishlist to be sent to the hospital.

Please give generously. I know I will.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Video games as a means to escape physical pain

Steven Burkeland has a club foot, a birth defect that has forced him to go through several surgeries, one of which left the nerves in his foot damaged. Apparently the nerves do grow back, but painfully so. Steven says he's happy just to be able to walk.

Steven's also an avid video gamer. He's 18 and has played video games since the age of 12. He says:
"In games, I can run, I can jump, I can play sports, and I can defeat fantasy creatures and save the world. Video games take my mind off my pain and allow me to live at least through the characters as a normal person."
His parents are well aware of his video gaming habits and when he was younger actively monitored his game playing. They also pay close attention to game ratings.

"Please, if you care so much about your children," his father said, "take a minute when you're with them buying games and read the rating box and why it's rated that way."
Steven maintains a role playing game site called The RP Site.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Overcoming physical handicaps and societal prejudices in Virtual Worlds

Wilde Cunningham is famous in Second Life, a popular virtual world game. He's well liked and respected. The story is quite different in real life.

Wilde Cunningham is actually a group of severely physically disabled people almost all of whom are confined into a wheelchair. Many of them can't use a mouse or a keyboard, so they require some help playing the game. The group takes votes on how to respond to situations presented in the virtual world, and their friend, an employee at the care center they're living, acts on what the majority decides.

They're using the virtual world as a form of therapy, a way to overcome their physical disabilities, but more importantly to communicate with "normal" people without the disabilities and prejudices getting in the way. They're also raising funds by keeping a virtual gift shop.

In real life "normal" people flinch at interacting with the Wildes. Their severe disabilities turn people off quite involuntarily. In Second Life they can walk, fly, talk, flirt and befriend "normal" people without the prejudices coming in between. It is impossible for the Wildes to get that level of interaction with "normal" people outside of virtual worlds.

Please read the four part article on the Wildes written by W. James Au. Also see Live2Give, a collaborative project to help develop an online virtual community for people dealing with cerebral palsy and similar physically disabling conditions.