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Renting Music December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Morality, music, Perception, Tech, TV.
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As previously stated, I have a short, circular kind of attention span. Games come and go for me in an arc, which starts with mild curiosity, builds to an earth shaking hunger, then blazes into triumphant addiction for varying lengths of time, before sputtering out into ash and disdain 75% of the way through. Thus, a huge collection is not necessary for me, but getting ripped off by high-end pawn shops isn’t an appealing alternative. Gamefly (or any forthcoming competitor for that matter) is a great solution, because I get to play any game I want, basically when I want. I adopt a similar philosophy for music.

As someone who digitally came of age in the golden years of Napster and Kazaa, well, let’s just say we all did things we weren’t proud of back then. They were simpler times, what can I say? Now, I’m legit, though still short on means. The middle ground is a subscription to what I think of as music on demand, in the form of Rhapsody. I’ve used iTunes, of course, hasn’t everyone? But still, a dollar a song is pretty steep, regardless of what Doug Morris says. Anybody can do the math to see that for the 15 songs you buy in one month you could have gotten (mostly) unlimited downloads from any of the current competitor music stores, with the caveat that you don’t explicitly own the song. This is pretty much the future of entertainment, however, as most major networks have followed this model for their most popular shows (ad-supported rather than subscription based.) When bandwidth undergoes another paradigm shift over the next 10 years, and the line between computer and TV is blurred by the invention of new set-top boxes, consoles, and designer desktops, we’ll be getting all of our media this way.

Crime and Punishment November 19, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Law, Morality, Perception, Tech.
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A politely incredulous anchor read this story on last Thursday’s Morning Edition:

Morning Edition, November 15, 2007 · A teenager faces charges of stealing furniture that doesn’t exist. The youth in the Netherlands was on one of those Web sites where you create virtual people to wander around virtual buildings spending what amounts to real money. You pay cash for credits to spend online. The 17-year-old allegedly stole $5,800 worth of imaginary furniture. Real police arrested him. They suspect other teens of receiving the stolen goods.

It’s a safe bet we’re talking about Second Life here. My own appreciation of Second Life has increased a bit since my last comment on the not-a-game, due mostly to a lecture I attended by The Tracer, a Second Life architect. So of course when I heard the wording of this story I was rather appalled by the seemingly “lighter side” slant of the reporting. What listeners will fail to realize, due in part to the sloppiness of the writing, is that “stolen goods” in SL are the valuable products of individuals, and that theft is not a part of gameplay, as a layman might assume from the tone of the story. I’ve heard some cool stuff on NPR about games in the past, but I guess they’re still alright with catering to the non-gamers in order to get a chuckle in between the real news.

Zero Tolerance November 5, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Comics, Games, Morality.
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I just finished reading Watchmen, and the ending is heavy. Spoilers ahead: it basically boils down to the heroes choosing whether to pardon a great evil for the greater good of humanity. I found myself siding with the heroes who were in favor of allowing this evil to go unpunished, because the alternative was certain Armageddon in a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. I was disappointed, then, when Rorschach couldn’t lay down his absolute version of justice for once in his life for the sake of the world.

In Half-Life 2, which I also just finished, Gordon Freeman is your silent alter ego who has a lot in common with Rorschach. While many humans become complacent with an alien empire that could (possibly?) wipe out humanity by proving themselves a valuable resource, the cost is too high for the freedom fighters that the player leads. Why, then, when faced with (basically) the same dilemma from Watchmen do I make the opposite choice for myself? Why do I sympathize with the Black Mesa guerrillas whose actions may jeopardize the survival of the species?

I think that it’s as simple as this: I know, despite the odds, there’s a very good chance that at the conclusion of Half-Life’s story, humanity will triumph. In other words, with the advantage of knowing there is a fourth wall there in front of me and that the events of the game are orchestrated by writers who want you to succeed, I am able to make the correct choice without having to contemplate the ramifications.

Maybe if I were Gordon Freeman I would surrender myself to the Combine to prevent further atrocities. But maybe if I were playing a game I would have followed Rorschach outside and joined him as a martyr for truth. In this way, contrary to my previous statements, playing a game can bring out the best in people, their heroic side, just as often as it does their worst.

Good and Evil September 26, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Morality, TV.
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This morning my mother asked me if I had seen the Heroes season 2 premier yet. When I replied that I had not, she asked me in a conspirator’s tone of voice if I had known that George Takei’s character was “evil.” I informed her that I did not consider anyone on Heroes to be evil, and not just because the writers delight in revealing the hidden motives of seemingly monstrous characters. The series deftly avoids clichéd super villain archetypes* but rather shows morally vacant individuals making abhorrent decisions that they see as necessary.

Story telling in new media can take this concept to their highest heights by allowing the reader/viewer/player to make their own shades-of-gray decisions. Or at least, they can potentially do this. It seems that far too often, games that feature morality systems take the easy choice of doing something obviously noble, or taking said noble thing, getting it piss drunk, tying it to a chair, and beating it senseless with it’s own mother’s cane. This is just a branching play style for people who know whether they are playing good or playing evil. In traditional story telling, I love it when it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad ones. What I want desperately from new media is to face the same conundrum when examining myself.

*Sylar is not evil. He’s a force of nature, trying to become king of the jungle because he just doesn’t know any better. He has sentience but no remorse, but I don’t think he even knows right from wrong in the first place.
**Check out the first episode of NBC’s Chuck for the first (and likely only) reference to Zork in prime time network TV history.