The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions

Jonathan McCalmont @ 12-10-2011

 

  1. Context, Dear Boy… Context

Here is a common complaint:

‘One of the problems facing video game writing is a systemic failure to place games in their correct historical context’

What this generally means is that writers fail to open their reviews with a lengthy diatribe on the history of this or that genre. While I think that there is definitely a place for that type of opening and am quite partial to it myself, I think that the real problem of context is far more local and far less high-minded. The true problem of context is that how you experience a particular video game is likely to be determined by the games you played immediately before. For example, if you move from playing one version of Civilization to the next then the thing that is most likely stand out is the developers’ latest fine-tuning of the game’s basic formula. Conversely, if you pick up Civilization V after Europa Universalis III, you will most likely be struck by the weakness of the AI and the lack of control you have over your own economy. Aesthetic reactions, like all reactions, are highly contextual. This much was evident in the reaction to Eidos Montreal’s recent reboot of the Deus Ex franchise entitled Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Continue reading “The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions”


Crashvertising, or “why I don’t watch exploitative shit like the X Factor”

Paul Raven @ 17-12-2010

It’s a tip o’ the hat to Chairman Bruce for bringing this to light: Crashvertising. I’m pretty sure it’s a subversive art prank rather than a real service, (although, as the months pass by in the weird weird world of the intertubes, I get less and less confident in saying that about… well, about anything). But the basic premise is this: you know how everyone rubbernecks at road accidents, right? Well, the folks behind Crashvertise will hang around by road accidents with banners and placards advertising your product or service, getting full commercial value out of that captive audience. Genius, right?

Part of me is reluctant to spell out the subtext, because I’m sure you can all see it anyway. But nonetheless I’m going to take this opportunity to climb onto one of my little soapboxes, because my circle of friends both online and off contain a depressingly large subset of people: people more than smart enough to see (and deplore) the subtext of Crashvertise, but seemingly unable to make the logical leap to identifying the grotesque exploitation of shows like The X Factor, America’s Got Talent and their ilk. This frustrates me greatly. They are the same thing.

The most common response I get from people when I call them out on watching those shows is along the lines of “oh, I know it’s dreadful, but it’s car-crash TV, isn’t it? You can’t help yourself but watch!” My counter-response has always been something remarkably similar to Crashvertise: sure, we all instinctively rubber-neck at car-crashes, but are you still morally comfortable with looking at car-crashes which have been staged with the express purpose of attracting your attention toward the billboards just behind them?

Oh, I can hear what you’re thinking. Believe me, I’ve had every possible counter-response to my counter-response that there is: “it’s just entertainment”, “no one’s forced into doing it”, “no one gets hurt”. Well, to tackle those three in order:

  • if The X Factor is just entertainment, then we should start encouraging and monetising bullying at schools and in workplaces rather than trying to prevent it (heck, it might help make up the funding shortfalls in the education systems, right?);
  • sure, no one is physically forced into doing it, but the cultural forces that encourage people to debase themselves so thoroughly for the chance to “become famous” (read as “be exploited even more publicly, thoroughly and systematically for the profit of others”) are insidious and incredibly powerful nonetheless, not to mention indicative of something deeply cruel, selfish and objectifying in the way we see the world;
  • and as for no one getting hurt, well, if the tabloid headlines chronicling the wrecks and burnouts on the hard shoulder of the fame highway aren’t stories of people being deeply hurt by a machine that makes money from selling their pain, I don’t know what they are.

“Oh, Paul, don’t take it so seriously; it’s just a bit of fun for Saturday night! I’m not harming anyone!” Well, I’m sorry, but yes, you are.

And the “I’m watching it ironically!” defence is bullshit, too; in fact, that annoys me even more than the people who believe it’s a genuine competition rather than a rigged open-air market research focus group. You know it’s fake, you know it’s scripted; you know, then, that everything you see is done with the intent of maximising viewer appeal, and that while the public votes themselves may not be rigged, the way the candidates are portrayed to the voting public most certainly is. You know that the poor schmucks who audition for the shows are either too ignorant to understand what they’re letting themselves in for, or foolish enough to gamble against the house and think they can win in the long run. And you still encourage that debasement and exploitation, simply by tuning in every week.

By watching these shows, “ironically” or otherwise, you are complicit in a form of public cruelty to other human beings. You see the ads that support the shows, see the brands that co-promote with them, watch performances by the ailing glove-puppet entertainers that are the only things left the big record labels know how to sell; your eyeballs not only validate that cruelty, but monetise it as well.

You are voluntarily staring at car crashes that were deliberately staged in front of billboards, and you are calling it entertainment.

Ballard would be proud of his prescience.

Rant over.


Who owns the dead? Guitar Hero, Kurt Cobain and publicity rights in a digital era

Paul Raven @ 16-09-2009

Screenshot of Kurt Cobain avatar from Guitar HeroI’m guessing you’ve probably caught wind of Courtney Love’s lawsuit against Activision regarding their reanimation of the image of Kurt Cobain in the latest edition of Guitar Hero. I’ve not seen it myself, but friends have told me it’s a bit tasteless, and this particular lawsuit may be one of the more sane things Love has done in some time (even though there are protestations from Activision that she actually signed off on a contract that gave them permission to do it). [image ganked from Kotaku post under Fair Use terms; contact for immediate takedown if required]

Specifics aside, though, this raises the spectre of an issue that is only set to become more complicated – the use of someone’s image for marketing purposes when they’re no longer around to give their permission. Take it away, TechDirt:

[…] that issue is getting more and more complicated as technology gets better and better. In the last few decades, for example, there’s been a growing trend to use famous dead people, such as John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Fred Astaire in commercials. But those mostly involved taking clips of those actors from existing films/TV and splicing them into a commercial (with permission from their estates). However, as some lawyers have been noting, with better and better digital technologies, this issue is becoming more important as it’s now possible to digitally recreate someone for the purpose of film. Or, say, a video game.

Or, say, a life-size photorealistic face-mask. I’d be the first to concede that making money from the dead is a bit crass – especially from as tragic a figure as Cobain – but is Activision being any more crass than Love and the Cobain holding companies she controls? Who gets to decide what’s appropriate, what’s tasteful?

There’s always going to be a price at which someone’s moral stance becomes less rigid, after all, and the dead can’t hang around to complain… not until we’ve cracked personality uploads or Turing-compliant simulations, anyway. And even then, would the electronic personality be considered legally the same person as the no-longer-living meat-machine?

And just to add an extra fillip of weirdness, consider the results of a recent experiment at Warwick University here in the UK, which shows that doctored video footage can easily persuade eyewitnesses that they saw something which never actually occurred. [via FuturePundit]

The legal implications are a bit nasty – especially in a country as saturated in CCTV cameras as this one – but let’s look at the light side: how much fun would it be to convince your best friend that he was so steaming drunk at his own birthday party that he missed Kurt Cobain wandering through the front room trying to bum cigarettes from people playing Guitar Hero?


The truth about Somali pirates

Paul Raven @ 17-04-2009

Jolly Rodger pirate flagWell, what do you know – there’s more to the Somalian piracy stories than meets the eye. Far from being the eye-patched privateer chancers that the term ‘pirate’ conjures up, they’re desperate people trying to make a living and protect their homeland from exploitation by more developed nations who’ve seen fit to take advantage of the political instability of the area.

Sure, their methods are rough (and definitely illegal), but what are a people without a government to defend them supposed to do when foreigners start trawling their waters for fish and dumping nuclear waste?

This is the context in which the “pirates” have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence”.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas.”

There are two sides to every story, as the old saying goes. That said, it’s interesting to note that this article is by the same guy who did the hatchet-job on Dubai the other day… [via BoingBoing; image by Paul Keleher]