People Power

Our voices are more audible than ever, but are we doing more harm than good? Microsoft’s backflip on the Xbox One, oddly similar to Labor’s failed Mining Tax, would indicate yes.

I’ve always been a PC gamer. I never had a console or handheld as a child; the first and only console I’ve ever owned was a Wii. But I don’t live under a rock, I play Xbox/Playstation at friends’ houses and I keep myself reasonably informed in the gaming world. So naturally I’ve heard all about the Xbox One and witnessed the uproar on social media.

I didn’t pay too much attention at first since I don’t plan on buying one. But people’s main issues with it were:

  • No backwards compatibility with old Xbox/360 games
  • Constant/regular internet connection requirements
  • Account-bound gaming to restrict sharing and resale of games
  • “Always on” Kinect mandatory

Account-bound licenses would effectively prevent owners eBaying their disks and stop stores like EB and JB selling preowned games at ridiculously upmarked prices. Game developers make no money from these sales so DRM restrictions would only feed money back into the gaming industry, which I’m completely fine with. Yet the public were not happy. The Xbox One’s “always watching” feature also caused a stir. especially among conspiracy theorists who thought the CIA would monitor everyone’s living rooms using the Kinect’s camera and microphone, or some bullshit like that. The catch-cry “invasion of privacy!” rapidly spread across social media. But seriously, nobody gives a fuck about what you do in your living rooms. I’m sure the CIA has enough on its plate without adding “24/7 Xbox monitoring” to staff job descriptions. Are people worried this might be the start of the slippery slope to Minority Report? I don’t think you’ll need to worry about whispering phrases like “I downloaded the latest Kanye West album” when your Xbox is in the same room.

But regardless, the public outcry was massive. So massive that Microsoft completely backflipped and removed most of these features from their upcoming console. Quite an unprecedented result. The immediate response from gamers was positive, and it was decent of Microsoft to listen so close to public feedback. However articles like Gizmodo’s The Xbox One Just Got Way Worse, And It’s Our Fault quickly started to gain traction and made gamers reanalyze their initial issues with the console. Have they, we, made a big and irreversible mistake? Gizmodo’s Kyle Wagner says, rightly, that account-bound purchasing would have been the next evolutionary step in console gaming, allowing for a Steam-like ecosystem. Steam is basically a gaming iTunes, where games are cheaper and more money goes to the devs so they can in turn make more/better games. These systems also reduce reliance on disks.

Social media is powerful and gives a genuine voice to those who would normally have none. But, in circumstances like the Boston bombings for example, is it better to leave these decisions to the experts?

Microsoft knows more about the gaming industry than you do, armchair warrior. It’s a fact. And while they are undoubtedly a big corporation whose main aim is to make the most money possible, how do you think they achieve that? By designing the best possible console, that’s how. They do have the gamer’s best interests at heart, because a happy gamer is one that will hand over bundles of cash. We should have left this stuff up to the experts instead of thinking we know better.

This struck me as quite similar to the Australian government’s policy backdowns, the main one being the mining tax. I know I rabbit on about the mining tax, but it really was a case of a misinformed public putting pressure on Labor until they backed down from what was ultimately a good thing. Just like Microsoft is an expert in gaming, Labor is an expert on policy. Yes, they want power, just like Microsoft wants money. But the best way to go about that is making people happy, which millions of extra dollars in the budget would’ve done. It’s a shame that both these groups have become scared and abandoned something quite revolutionary, and I wish they’d have had the backbone to weather the storm for the people’s own good.

It would be wrong to place the blame entirely on the shoulders of the public. Of course, there were a few other factors involved in both these circumstances. Microsoft/Labor were planning big reforms and needed the public on their side. Their campaigns were logical but lacked transparency; with a little explanation they could have gained the support of the public and brought about change. However I’m sure they did attempt to explain themselves, the message just didn’t get through to the public, largely due to poor media. The media beat-up of the “Xbone” after the E3 announcement was brutal. Very few news sources bothered to understand and explain Microsoft’s choices, instead opting to hype all the perceived negatives. Shit media in the political sphere has been a problem for years, something I’ve touched on in a few recent posts, particularly here. Bias, bullshit and a failure to report on the real issues is resulting in a misinformed public. But with 22,000,000+ people in Australia alone, our voice on issues holds incredible weight.

We, the public, need to recognize that experts are better educated and at least give them the benefit of trying to understand their point of view. I’m not saying we should assume governments or corporations are always doing the right thing. If a product or policy is genuinely bad news, it is our responsibility to speak up and voice concerns. But we should dig a little deeper and avoid selfish desires (a la borrowing friends’ game disks so we don’t have to buy our own copy) getting in the way of positive progress for the greater good. Advocating the construction of a road because you drive a car is selfish when that money could be spent on a new train line that is greener and transports more people. If the policy or product is still horrible after close inspection (a la Abbott’s Fibre-to-the-Home) then go nuts, take it down! But it’s important to analyse what you are told and come to your own conclusions, because you can’t trust the media to have your best interests at heart.

In the grand scheme of things, DRM on an Xbox is a minor issue. But the same thinking can be applied to a state, national and global scale.

Think before you post, because your words are more powerful than you may realise.


Are FPS Games and Intelligence Mutually Exclusive?

Bioshock Infinite

Today I read a fantastic article by Daniel Golding on whether new Irrational Games title Bioshock Infinite was able to bridge the (as yet) unspanned gap between intelligent games and FPS games. A link to the article is below and I highly recommend reading it, but if you don’t, the short answer is no. Infinite purports itself as an intelligent game, but falls disappointingly short.

While I haven’t played Bioshock Infinite, Golding’s experience reminded me strongly of my own playing Spec Ops: The Line. This is another game that wants to be taken seriously.

Spec Ops The Line

Again, set in a well-known real world location with a twist, The Line takes place in sandstorm-devastated Dubai. While not strictly a first person shooter (more a combination third person slash over-the-shoulder cover shooter) there is definitely a large “shooting people in the face” element. The ‘thoughtful’ aspect of The Line comes from the player’s relationship with civilians. Residents in the ruins of Dubai see the protagonist as yet another US invader trying to administer peace, often at the cost of innocent lives. The player is not welcome, and is treated with hostility by unarmed men and women. I interpreted this as a metaphor for the current day US presence in Iraq, and its intention is noble. Playing the game you will have rocks hurled at you, be swarmed by angry crowds and have to negotiate various other situations thrust upon you. What do you do when a mob of unarmed civilians threaten to overwhelm you? Do you try to push through their barricade? Do you fire shots in the air to scare them? Shoot one as an example, or start spraying bullets into the crowd? In fact, these options are illusions. The game railroads you into using force and the outcome is the same. Similarly, the player is presented with two men hanging from a sign, one a soldier and one a civilian, both of whom have committed crimes. The player must kill one to allow the other to be freed. But again, regardless of the decision, the outcome is the same.

There is also a scene, similar to the Call of Duty airport civilian massacre sequence, where the player uses white phosphorus to burn alive an entire battalion of enemy soldiers. Once again, there is no real choice; if you want to progress the game, you must commit mass murder. The storyline carries on. After all these moral decisions, the game ends with a (spoiler alert) classic ‘Is he crazy? Was it all in his head? Did it even happen at all?’ type ‘however you interpret it’ finale which I’m sure left a lot of players fuming.

Spec Ops: The Line isn’t a perfect game. The moral dilemmas are obviously designed to guilt the player and don’t affect change anyway. But it did make me think. I wouldn’t say I ‘enjoyed’ playing it, much the same as I wouldn’t say I ‘enjoyed’ visiting Dachau. But, similar to the concentration camp, I do not regret the experience and it invoked thought and reflection. I’m not sure if Golding would define The Line as an ‘intelligent’ FPS. However I’m glad it was developed regardless, and I’m glad Bioshock Infinite attempts to deal with bigger issues, even if it does fall short. Golding questions whether a shooter could ever successfully tackle deeper issues. I say absolutely. And while attempts like these may ultimately fail, better than never trying at all.

In truth, I’m still going to play Bioshock Infinite. I can look past the lack of depth and still enjoy the storyline and gameplay. Sometimes it’s nice not to play against other people, quest endlessly for ever-improving gear or navigate an open-world, non-linear epic. Sometimes it’s nice to be told a story.

Not to mention the architecture… Dubai buried in a sandstorm…