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Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 04 Dec 2007

Annual Video Game Report Card says industry sliding in protecting children.

Gaming

Every year the National Institute of Media and Family (NIMF) produces the “Annual Video Game Report Card”. This report is often cited each year by political candidates in the issue of violence in video games and how we are protecting our children. The 27-page document was released today at an event attended by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Amy Klobuchar. To cut to the chase, the overall rating given was a “C”. It seems odd that they would get a “C”, given that last year’s report seemed to be pretty positive (though no overall grade was given last year). Granted, this has been a year of controversy. Whereas last year’s ESRB swift reaction to the Hot Cofee mod in GTA was applauded by the industry, the Manhunt 2 controversy clearly set a different tone for this year’s reaction. David Walsh, who penned the report, firmly states

…While the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has continued to educate the public about its video game rating system, several shocking incidents have inadvertently revealed dangerous loopholes in the ratings process. Simply put, some of the hard-won progress seen in previous years has been lost, and now, too many children are spending too much time playing inappropriate video games that can harm their health and development.

The overall grades, as follows, tell a certain story about the current outlook of the market.

Parental Involvement: C
Ratings Education: B-
Retailers’ Policies: C-
National Retailers: D
Game Specialty Stores: B
Game Rental Shops: F
Video Game Industry: C
ESRB Ratings: C+

The especially poor rating given to rental shops is due to the results of the NIMF sending out kids across the country to see if they can get access to M-rated games. While specialty shops enforced the rules 80% of the time, rental shops complied merely 17% of the time. The big blow though comes to the ESRB. Recently criticized by some of the most outspoken senators on Capital Hill regarding this issue, this only serves as further damage to the ESRB. The president of the ESRB, Patricia Vance, was quick to respond to the document. She cites a report by the Federal Trade Comission (FTC) in her response:

The FTC’s report… called the ESRB rating system “a useful and informative tool that parents increasingly use to help them make informed decisions about games for their children.” Its nationwide survey of over 1,300 parents showed that nearly nine in ten parents with children that play video games are satisfied with the ESRB rating system, three in four use it regularly, 94% find the ratings easy to understand, and 59% never let their children play Mature-rated games.

The report offers a list of ways to rectify their reportedly gloomy situation, but they come across as otherwise dull responses.

  • A universal ratings system is needed now, more than ever, to increase ratings knowledge and reduce confusion. A majority of parents favor one rating system for all media.
    • The ESRB should issue its rating based on the game’s entire content, blurred or
    unblurred, locked or unlocked. Game makers should only disclose when such
    content exists in the code, but should provide footage of the blocked or blurred code
    along with the footage they provide of easily accessible code.
    • Retailers must return to the level of compliance of which they have proven in the
    past they are capable.
    • Retailers need to educate their employees, especially the younger ones, concerning
    the importance of enforcing the ratings.
    • Parents need to become better educated about the ratings and then make use of
    them. Parents also need to learn about and use the parental controls offered by the
    new console systems.
    • Libraries, schools, churches and other pubic institutions should follow the game’s
    rating and only allow games appropriate for the age of the youth. By promoting M-rated
    games, they are undercutting the ESRB’s rating system and undermining
    parental credibility and authority.

The last bullet is a definite response to the Halo-in-church controversy earlier this year, where a church used Halo as a promotional tool to attract children to the church. Most of these recommendations do not seem as much of a problem from the industry, but a problem from those regulating what a child can witness. The second bullet point hearkens to a bill currently being put through Congress which many withing the business are worried about. Shankar Gupta, formerly of MediaPost, writes

The bill fails, industry-watchers have noted, because it doesn’t understand how video game content differs from a TV show or a movie. In many games, there’s no way to play through a game’s full content. In some, users create their own content, which can be significantly more adult than what exists in the game. In others, when you play online with other gamers, the experience of the game changes significantly. Usually, there’s more swearing involved. Requiring the ESRB to play every game all the way through and punishing it for failing to do so means one of two things: It is either ignorance, or a calculated attempt to destroy the organization.

Overall, the findings of the report have the sting of political importance, referencing several scandals in the industry that fall back on bills currently being sponsored by the likes of Lieberman. Giving more importance to these scandals, and not taking the positive strides noted by the report itself as being important, are fishy. However, the first recommendation bears a lot of merit. Making a simpler across-the-board rating system that parents can easily understand for all forms of medium would go a long way to making the decision of the parent easier. If this report highlights anything, it is that the parent or adult guardian ultimately is the biggest weak point in keeping children safe from mature imagery and themes. Though the ESRB has taken many steps towards keeping parents informed, it is us as adults that need to decide what is right for them.

Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 02 Dec 2007

Yo Ho Ho Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me


I’ve always liked the swagger a lot of Swedes seem to have. They have great education and health-care. They have fantastic chocolate. They have those banks I keep hearing about. They’re politically neutral, which is pretty cool. Really interesting though is that, currently, Sweden is neutral waters in the file sharing debate. The biggest results of this is the success of Pirate Bay. I’m not much of a pirate, myself. It’s not that I outright have problems with piracy, some of my best friends are pirates, but I imagine if Cake didn’t make money off their next album they might stop. What a terrible world that would be.

Debate continues to rage over how much piracy hurts media sales. While the industry would like to promote a one-to-one loss of sales, the real number is perhaps far less. Often, people take it as a system of “trying it out.” Granted, DVD and CD sales are continuing to decline, but the entertainment industry overall has never been as strong as it is now. As well, many are critical of the various industries themselves which often seem to take money from the artists and continue to pump themselves up. With the WGA strike currently in full swing, and the countless RIAA debacles, controversy has never been higher. Even EMI, one of the “big four” music labels, is reducing its funding to the RIAA. EMI is generally regarded as the most forward-thinking of the major labels, and this is a sign of a distancing of themselves from the generally unpopular association.

The antics of Pirate Bay continue to be amusing. In October they snagged the domain IFPI.com from The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a pro-industry international lobby group. They have even undermined CBS with the addition of the last.fm widget to the results page for extra information on artists. CBS, owners of last.fm, can do little more than accept the use of this open-source API, and perusing legal action against them would be against the “music social revolution” spirit the website promotes.

Still, after the raid on popular music sharing site OiNK, and TV Links, it seems amazing that they can keep up such antics. Never boring, the pirates continue to fly their flag in the face of its industry adversary. They do not see themselves as hurting the industry. In their own words…

“I do pay for it by listening to music, by bringing the music to my friends, they bring it to their friends and they go to concerts, I go to concerts. The actual product doesn’t have to cost anything in order to make money.”

Of course, this riles the industry, and they have made very powerful enemies. While there is a court case to be brought up next year, changes to Swedish law would have to take effect before Pirate Bay could possibly be brought down. Even if they could, after the raid last year of their Swedish servers they have been cautious. There are servers they do not even know about that can be activated across the country. They are even working on their own file sharing model which would increase throughput, and increase anonymity over the already protective BitTorrent.

While they come off fairly confident in the interview, one has to think that at least somewhere in the back of their minds they know that they run the possibility of going to jail for some time over this. As of the moment they can be considered the primary target of media advocacy groups worldwide. Still, the Internet has proven itself to be a multi-headed hydra in the past. When one cuts off one head, three more emerge. The legal battle over the rights of the parent companies have only gotten murkier and murkier since the days of Napster, which almost seem archaic now by Internet standards. I do wish them the best of luck though, the Internet would be a lot more boring without the plucky pirates.

Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 30 Nov 2007

Getting Lynched


The above review by Jeff Gerstmann is, one must admit, pretty stark. Though his review gives the game a 6.0/10 overall, he speaks in great lengths as to the poorly constructed plot, the poor AI, and the overall shoddy construction of the game. This was to be his last post though, as CNET, parent company of Gamespot, fired him not long after this review went up due to the “unprofessional reviews and review practices” he used.

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Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 22 Nov 2007

Hitting where it hurts

MPAA Warning

A new 747-page bill is being given a run in Congress concerning budgeting for college aid.  I’m not exactly the type of person who reads government documents literally the size of airplanes, and a new version of this bill comes up pretty routinely as this is a $100-billion dollar expenditure and Congress does not take large a sum that large lightly.  However, embedded within this document is a little bit of nefarious wordage, which the MPAA could not be happier about.  The essential of this is that schools would have to prove that they are trying to subvert illegal file-sharing or run the risk of losing financial aid.  What constitutes an attempt at subverting illegal file-sharing can be anything from putting up a botnet that scans each package for copyrighted material, or simply subscribing every student a subscription service like Napster.  The MPAA’s stance is that college digital networks are the highest source of government expenditures and end up being one of the highest sources of file sharing practices.  Those who do not comply, according to CNET:

…If universities did not agree to test “technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity,” all of their students–even ones who don’t own a computer–would lose federal financial aid.

You can imagine the ramifications of such a thing are pretty terrible.  Students of lower income, those that have likely never owned a computer, are the most likely to be effected by this move.  Especially as those of lower income are more likely to aim for cheaper colleges that might not be capable of affording or even knowing how to install a botnet.  Of course, schools are not happy about this.  A letter signed by the chancellor of the University of Maryland scolds the bill for just this reason.  A representative from the MPAA Angela Martinez stands fast, at first, to this, and warns:

“Because it is added to the current reporting requirements that universities already have through the Secretary of Education, it would have the same penalties for noncompliance as any of the others requirements under current law.”

Later though, when this bill begins to get more media attention, they seem to almost try to pull a 360.

The MPAA vice president emphasized that there’s technically no requirement under the bill that universities actually sign up for such “alternatives,” namely subscription-based music services like Ruckus.com and Napster, nor that they actually activate the filters they’re planning to develop. Committee aides close to the bill-drafting process have denied that schools would see their funding yanked if they didn’t come up with satisfactory plans, even if Attaway seemed to suggest that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Whether or not the bill is intended to be used to deny funding, leaving the ability to do so is a bit strange.  Why even write a bill if it’s not planned on being put to use?  The chance that this might be used to deny otherwise innocent students the chance at a higher education is of paramount importance.  Congress will review the bill when they return from their Thanksgiving break in December.

Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 20 Nov 2007

Flogging a dead horse, as well as other things

Manhunt 2

Generally speaking, when someone comes to me and blames the problems of our nation’s youth on video games, I tell them they are misinformed. When they bring up “Grand Theft Auto” and refer to it as a “murder simulator”, I casually explain that the game implements one of the best scripts this side of Hollywood, taking cues from such ground-breaking movies as “Scarface” to “Menace II Society”. The games are voiced by such noted actors as Ray Loitta and Samuel L. Jackson. The average gamer these days is well into their late twenties even by the worst estimates and these games are distributed explicitly for an adult audiences. Most retailers, especially retailers primarily devoted to video games, know better than to sell to children: it can cause them both financial and political problems. As such, these games are not murder simulators, but well written stories intended for adults. The fact that they include death is roughly as meaningful as mentioning that “Casino” includes murder, and more f-bombs than I used after falling off a three-story building.
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Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 13 Nov 2007

My website has a first name, it’s “I-R-O-N-Y”


It wasn’t exactly all that long ago that I posted on clips from The Daily Show that finally saw the light of the Internet again after Viacom forced YouTube to remove all copyrighted content. Something about Viacom posting thousands of clips from the show, hand picking the selection even, seemed pretty cool. Of course, they have ads at the end of the clips, but it could easily be worse. Then, the WGA strike occurred. I’m currently not feeling that pain, as my copy of “I Am America (And So Can You)” is keeping that warm spot in my heart reserved for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report warm, but eventually I will be done with this book, and rereading “America (The Book)” will eventually get tiresome. As a side note, Comedy Central book writers, I am on to your naming scheme.

Still, I see these videos with direct advertisements posted on their webpage and I have to wonder how much they’re making per clip. I can imagine a world where they might be doing little more than breaking even on these clips, but honestly that is hard to swallow, especially as YouTube itself has very little in way of advertisement yet manages to give residuals for popular clips.
That said, the cooperate take on Internet content is as follows:

“New media has proven to be an effective and cost-effective promotional and marketing tool for both films and television but there is not enough marketplace data to judge its true potential, ultimate impact on traditional media or viability as a business.”

Is that so? So, the billion dollar lawsuit, the half billion expected revenue, the time and effort spent developing a website to raise past episodes from the archives for the joy and pleasure of netizens…these are all promotional tools to be used by the company. Clearly this whole Internet thing is a fad, and traditional media is going nowhere. The fact that CD and DVD sales are dropping as downloadable content continues to rise is just a fluke and has no correlating data to show that it is a potentially continuous trend. After all, there was a dot com bubble burst before, who’s to say it won’t happen again?
I’m sorry, I believe I just choked on my own sarcasm. I suppose, after all, we have to back up our claims of profitability with actual proof, after all we can’t just take the words of a bunch of pissed off writers. After all, they’re paid to tug at our emotions. Perhaps it would be better to hear it all straight from the horse’s mouth?


I present to you, your noose.

[For more interesting facts on the WGA strike, check out United Hollywood]

Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 26 Oct 2007

Selected clips from “The Daily Show” posted by Viacom

You may remember the lawsuit that nearly brought down YouTube. Viacom threatened legal action against YouTube if they did not take down all content owned by Viacom. YouTube took giant strides to meet these needs, and today YouTube is a bastion of legality. In fact, they are going beyond content screening, and are now using Antipiracy Video Identification Software to ensure this problem never happens again.

It’s been a while, but Viacom has recently posted thousands of clips from The Daily Show on the website, easily navigable by time and content. It’s a strong move by Viacom, and shows they are willing to give users what they want. Of course, it’s chock full of advertisement, but the adverts are loaded into the back of the clips and are not as annoying as one might think.

To celebrate, I want to share with you my favorite Daily Show clip of all time. Jon Stewart is not known for having a dramatic flair, and he is not acting in this clip. If he is, he deserves…well, another Emmy. Still, his emotion in this video is pretty authentic. The clip features a very shaken Jon Stewart telling his audience why the show must go on, and what it means to him. It is extremely powerful, and a rare moment of total seriousness for the show. Perhaps it is due to this juxtaposition that every time I have ever watched this clip, I have been moved. His statements are just as powerful today as they were when I first saw it six years ago. This clip is the definition of what it means to be free. This includes the freedom to say what we want to say, and most importantly, the freedom to laugh about it.

Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 04 Oct 2007

David Banner on being fake

banner-with-white-guy.jpg

You may remember the article, I got 99 problems, but the elected officials presiding over the House Energy and Commerce Committee ain’t one that I published last week. In it one of the main quotes is provided by David Banner, who along with Master P spoke in defense of their medium. Rolling Stone did a follow-up interview with David, and found him to be in a rather chatty mood. He had five major complaints he wished to air, which are listed in this article. I’m not here to copy/paste the material of the interview, but I do want to focus in on a few of the more interesting points he made.

“One of my top three groups in the world is the Police. I love the old Police with Sting and the drummer holding the drum sticks the old-school drumline way … I happen to fall upon ‘Murder By Numbers.’ [Sings] ‘Murder by numbers, one, two, three … easy to learn as your A, B, Cs.’ He said in the song the best way to kill a man is put poison in his coffee. You look at ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger,’ that was a stalker song. Johnny Cash said he wanted to kill a man just for the sake of killing him. But that’s ‘art.’ So basically what you’re telling me is that [rap is] not art because we’re black.”

The statement starts out as being rather brilliant. He makes several juxtapositions to songs outside of his genre, showing he has respect for a wide variety of musical stylings. Then he goes in for the race card, and you can hear the collective intake from the audience. Granted, being from a certain demographic makes you filter information differently. However, this is not necessarily a racial issue. People take up arms against what they consider to be a loss of morals in entertainment regardless of race. Perhaps he’s forgetting the controversies over such artists as Elvis, The Beatles, Twisted Sister…the list can go on and on, and these artists conveyed their message to a predominantly white audience.

What is at the heart of this case is not the message, but the culture associated with it. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this is an issue of whether art influences society, or whether society influences art. It is important for rappers and hip-hop artists to be true to themselves in order to sell to their audience. Fans can pick up on a fake in a second I can’t help but agree with him wholeheartedly on the issue of language in music when he says

“Why is it that if we talk about ‘Fuck tha Police,’ people concentrate on the ‘fuck’ and don’t concentrate on police brutality against young back men? [...] That’s how we fucking talk. ‘Shit, man, fuck, man, fuck the police, man. Yo, what up, what’s going down in the ‘hood today, shit is fucked up where I’m from.’ “

What is important is not the words and imagery that constitute the song. What is important is the social value of the message. If we’re talking about an angry young man and a response to police brutality, statements like “I really don’t like what the police are doing and I think there should be a reform.” just aren’t socially relevant. Any artist worth his salt will tell you that you have to be authentic to deliver a message with real impact. What I’m trying to say here is, fuck that uppity bullshit. Keep it real.

Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 02 Oct 2007

You can’t steal what you can’t buy

13.gif

Radiohead dropped what could be considered the biggest bombshell in some time. Now, releasing an album for free is nothing new. Heck, Harvey Danger already put out their album “Little by Little” for free via BitTorrent. Or, there is my personal favorite DIY speed punk band, Bomb The Music Industry!, which puts out ALL of its music for free. Even The Charlatans have announced they will be putting out their next album for free. The problem is, Harvey Danger fell off the map everywhere but Seattle after their smash hit “Flagpole Sitta”, everyone knows punk is dead, and nobody has heard of The Charlatans outside of the UK. It will take a radio darling to break the cycle, and show that the prediction of the end of the modern music label may come true. Enter Radiohead. The recording industry is preparing to crap itself.

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Miscellaneous Travis Hite on 25 Sep 2007

I got 99 problems, but elected officials presiding over the House Energy and Commerce Comittee ain’t one.

congress_hip_hop_dcsw106.jpg

Chances are, the people in the above image are not exactly the target audience for the Hip-Hop video being shown. Members of Congress, music industry executives, and rappers gathered for a meeting, titled “From Imus to Industry: The business of stereotypes and degrading images”. The title is derived from the Don Imus scandal. After Imus was fired over his “nappy headed hos” comment, a question reverberated: if the members of the Hip-Hop community are allowed to use such slang and slander in their music, then why was his usage such a problem?

The meeting was a lot of what you might already expect. Prominent rappers, including Master P, were paraded on stage and spoke of being true to their culture. The important question in the debate seemed to be, is this creative expression, or is it corporate exploitation of black culture? It seems as if this debate will never come to a true closure. The corruption of youth culture has been on the tongues of parents since the days of Elvis. This comes down to the age old question of the chicken or the egg, does the culture generate the content, or does the content generate the culture? As quoted in the Yahoo News coverage:

“If by some stroke of the pen hip-hop was silenced, the issues would still be present in our communities,” rapper and record producer David Banner, whose real name is Levell Crump, said in prepared statements to a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. “Drugs, violence and the criminal element were around long before hip-hop existed.”

If nothing else, one agreement can be made by all in attendance. While there is a problem with the culture that throws around offensive words such as “bitches, hos, and nigger”, words that are demeaning and derogatory in nature, government censorship is not an option. If a change is to come, it is from the music producers, or from the culture itself. Of course, even if this culture leaves, another self-destructive culture is likely to take its place. Consider the following comparison made in the previously mentioned Yahoo! News article:

The hearing was reminiscent of, although tamer than, a similar event in 1985. At the earlier hearing, lawmakers where exposed to Van Halen‘s “Hot for Teacher” and Twisted Sister‘s “We’re Not Going to Take It,” and the late rocker Frank Zappa hurled insults at Tipper Gore, wife of then-Sen. Al Gore, and Susan Baker, wife of then Treasury Secretary James Baker, who were urging the recording industry to voluntarily police itself on song lyrics.

The cycle is likely endless, and the debate rages on.

[See the video webcast of the hearing here]

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