Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Open-Letter to Leland Yee and the US Supreme Court Regarding Schwartzenegger v. EMA

Hello Mr. Leland Yee

My name is Kevin Wong, an independent high-school student blogger and gaming enthusiast from the Sunset. It has come to my attention that California Assembly Bills 1792 and 1793 will be challenged in a November 2 Supreme Court trial Schwarzenegger v. EMA. A gamer supreme-courtsince four, I was deeply perturbed by news of this possible threat to not only the First Amendment rights of game developers, but also to video games as an artistic and entertainment medium. Should the Supreme Court side with California, any video game depicting violent action between human characters would be cordoned off in a separate area of a store and bear a large warning label, essentially placing games on the same level with pornography and cigarettes. As a longtime video-game consumer, writer and aspiring developer, I cannot allow this to happen for the following reasons. 

  • Passing laws calling for the special treatment of video-games as a medium essentially makes them taboo. By treating them similarly to pornography and cigarettes, future consumers could begin to treat them similarly. By making gaming a taboo hobby, gaming may become socially frowned upon.
  • The state lacks substantial proof towards the conviction that virtual depiction of violence causes real-world violence. A Texas A&M study concluded that there was no explicit link between violent game consumption and school shootings. (1)
  • By restricting sales of violent games, video game sales will ultimately dip. Developers and publishers must alter the content of their games in order to comply with sales restrictions and remain profitable. This ultimately lends the government indirect control of the content of all video games everywhere.
  • The case is ultimately disrespectful to games as an artistic medium by labeling them as a societal threat and a negative influence.
  • Even if the Court sides with California, young people will always actively seek out ways to circumvent the system through piracy, online stores or simply borrowing from peers.
  • In essence, video games are a conglomerate of other forms of constitutionally protected media. Music, narrative, digital visual art and voice-over are ubiquitous in modern games.

In the past few decades, video games have grown exponentially with changes in technology, design, commercial viability, perception and development. Understanding that games like Postal are unrepresentative of the gaming industry as a whole, video-games hold many redeeming values and maintain legitimacy as a form of First Amendment protected media. Notably violent games such as Bioshock and the maligned Grand Theft Auto should not be taken by their first-impression. These games convey traditional narratives of utopia and crime through the distinctions that their medium affords. The indie and alternative game circuit is very well known for their advancements in video game narrative and art-gaming through works such as Braid, World of Goo, Machinarium and Limbo, all of which convey narratives that cannot be replicated through any other medium.


While media pundits such as Jack Thompson may deride games theatrically, their arguments convey a distinct lack of understanding of the nuances of the medium. For one, their conviction that violence is the primary draw to video games is wholly flawed. Should this be true, than notably violent games such as Postal, MadWorld and Rapelay would not have been commercial failures. Gamers are attracted to refined games exhibiting mastery of mechanics and dynamics, evoking the desired aesthetics. Hence, the success of the Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty games is not attributed to their graphic depiction of violence, which is mild in comparison to other games, but their refined marketing and design.

Ph.D student Vanessa Gorely said, “Video games are extremely prevalent in our culture, but they haven’t been paid much attention as a cultural phenomenon. Most attention has been paid to the negative aspects of gaming and not the good aspects of it (2)”. Given the highly negative attention that the media gives games, the vast majority of older people hold condescending views towards gaming, acknowledging them as either a waste of time or a societal threat (3). However, recent intellectual approaches to gaming have portal been made by the modern intelligentsia, thereby proving wrong the notion that gaming is a waste of time. For one, Wabash College in Indiana has as part of its required material for incoming freshman, Valve’s 2007 puzzle game Portal. Portal, frequently compared to Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, was chosen for its use of NPC characters that intend to deceive the player while subtly hinting at their true intentions, thereby addressing “fundamental questions of humanity” (4). Another school with gaming programs is The University of Calgary, which has recently laid out plans for the addition of video games to its research library (5). Like film and comics before it, courts are impugning the societal relevance of video games. Given the recent advances of intellectual circles into gaming, as well as indie gaming circles into intellectualism, I wholeheartedly support the EMA in the upcoming case. Thus, I sincerely implore you, Mr. Lee, Governor Schwarzenegger, California and the Supreme Court to develop a deeper understanding of the nuances and distinctions of the video game medium and afford them the artistic respect and the First Amendment protection that they deserve.

Thank You

Kevin Wong and the Ensigned (We collected over 70 signatures in two days! Thank you!)


1. http://www.tamiu.edu/newsinfo/7-08-10/article5.shtml

2. http://www.uc.edu/profiles/profile.asp?id=11648

3. http://www.gamespot.com/news/6275813.html

4. http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/08/portal-wabash-college/

5. http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/utoday/september23-2010/games/

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Sites 64

My friend Daniel sent me some links that I thought would be interesting and relevant to this site. Enjoy

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/business/26ping.html?_r=1 The Defenders of Free Software, a watchdog movement to monitor software corporations

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/us/28religion.html?bl Atheists know more about religion than believers

http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/debategod-audio-podcast/id367717543?i=82313394 An excellent podcast regarding atheism, religion and misinformation.

http://wonderfest.org/ An upcoming convention on November 6 and 7 regarding science and technology. Some excellent lectures are coming up. Its free and at both Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lord of the Rings Online Review

Turbine recently released its 2007 MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) as free-to-play. The entirety of the game and its Mines of Moria expansion has been made free for download and registration. Adopting a business model similar to that of Nexon’s Combat Arms and MapleStory, real-world money can be exchanged for rare items, classes, mounts and quests. By adopting this business model, Lord of the Rings Online is not only the cheapest MMORPG out there, but also one of the best.


The Lord of the Rings license is insanely popular within mainstream and nerd culture. The Fellowship trilogy is by far the most influential work in modern fantasy, influencing works from Dungeons and Dragons to Eragon. The richness of the universe shows in the game, LOTRO is perhaps the most faithful derivative work from Tolkein yet.  Chronicling the events of the entire saga, LOTRO is more cohesive than an affair like WOW, ultimately feeling less a sandbox and more a campaign. The game is very rich in lore and backstory and that honesty to the original works shows itself in gameplay. LOTRO is a very co-op/solo oriented experience, with PVP restricted to only one zone. The leviathan number of quests, instanced or otherwise, available makes experience acquisition a rather easy task and grinding for elite titles, equipment and abilities is ultimately rewarding.

LOTRO also includes a number of innovations that set it apart from other MMOs. One such mechanic is conjunction attacks, which allow parties to perform very powerful moves by carefully coordinating attack types. Crafting also returns in LOTRO and is as accessible as ever, with resources being easy to find and systems accessible. Also interesting is the Deed system, which allows elite traits to be unlocked by completing specific tasks in an area.

LOTRO has excellent graphics and music for an MMORPG. Character models are exquisitely detailed and environments are firmly grounded in the series distinct art style. The music and sound effects characterize LOTRO’s lore very well, transporting the player to Middle-Earth and making the universe feel immersive, rich and alive.

Unfortunately, heavy PVP buffs must look elsewhere. PVP options are rather limited, restricting combat to a single zone and a minigame called “Monster Play”, where a group of players play powerful Monster characters and other players fight them with their own characters. Monster Play is unlockable only through purchasing it with real money. the-lord-of-the-rings-online-siege-of-mirkwood-20100617115054231_640w

The extent of content locked is also a considerable problem with the game. For one, players are capped at having 3 bags and 2 gold. Auction-house access is limited and three quest-packs are available. Crafting guilds are locked, Rest XP is reserved for VIP members and customer service is restricted to the forums.

Despite the many limitations that the Free-to-Play model provides, the free version of LOTRO is one of the best MMOs on the market with its rich and interesting universe, accessibility and character customization options. Those who can afford to pay monthly subscription fees get access to the VIP version of LOTRO are in for a real treat. Highly recommended, 4.25/5