Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Portrayal of Games in Films

I am interested in debunking some of the myths that have arisen around videogames, and I'm looking to tackle news articles that state things without backing them up. However I am also interested in how videogames are portrayed in non-news media too, so I will be looking at films.
There have been many films made using the stories of videogames, but I am not generally interested in these, as they are almost all action/horror films, and I don't feel that they tarnish the reputation of games so unfairly as do films containing games as their main theme. I am also not looking at films that have game spin-offs or merchandising.
Several films that contain games as a central theme have been released in the last few years, most recently Gamer.
The plot of Gamer (2009) revolves around one star "slayer" who is trying to save the world and enslaved humanity from a giant Virtual Reality MMO, by the looks of it a giant Gears of War MMO. It is set in the future, and contains your usual paranoid fare of population control, endangerment of minors, corporate bosses removing our basic rights to freedom etc. Having not seen this film, I cannot tell you the details or the ending, so more may follow on this particular film.
Going back in time, there was Stay Alive (2006), where teenagers play a videogame and then start to die in real life as they did in the game. The game appears to be based on the life of a murdered noble woman, and is in some way posessed. The teenagers have to fight the Countess, or in some way be killed.
Avalon (2001)
This film (by the director of Ghost in the Shell) is set in the future, where people play an online Virtual Reality shooting game. The games are illegal and addictive, and can also result in your death within the game if you lose. The main character Ash is highly talented, and plays the game at the highest level formoney. At the start of the game she is trying to break out, but then gets sucked back in as she learns the game can be played at an even higher level by following a glitch. She assembles a team of people to go into the game with her to track the hidden character down to play at the higher level, but finds out along the way that winning this task will result in a privilaged position as one of the administrators. She ends up killing one of her old friends (and sort of rivals) for the position, and possibly ends up trapped within the game.
eXistenZ (1999): A film by David Cronenburg about a virtual reality game. In the not to distant future, people have ports in their bodies allowing them to be part of a network to play games. This has the classic twist "game within a game, is this reality yet?" ending. The tone of the film was that you couldn't tell what reality was, but more than that, the game was being run by some corporation, and people were against it because it was being used as a form of control.
Tron (1982): An arcade owner breaks into a computer to proove that someone is stealing his programs, but is transported into the system, where he has to defeat the Master Control Program.

There is a list of other films containing videogames on this Wikipedia page, but after looking at the list and reading the synopses, it is impressive to see how many are paranoid films about the dangers of networks, or online computer games, how they will control us, make us lose control or kill us.

I wonder if this is because people really do think that games are dangerous, or because there is no evidence either way and this makes the better story.
Addmittedly fewer than half seem to be actively negative, (and I have not watched many of the ones that aren't), but there are more than one or two. I do not know how popular any of these films were, or how I would go about testing that, but it makes you think doesn't it!
In reality, Virtual Reality is a very useful tool that can be used sucessfully in the treatment of several mental illnesses and disorders. After I return from my holiday, I will be submitting my article to UK Health Informatics newsletter on current uses of VR in treatment, and future expansions to the area, as well as reviewing some papers that look at videogame violence.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Bento Cafe, you fell off

On to the primary reason for my blogs existence: Green Tea Ice Cream. Yum.
Each time I go to a new restaurant that serves it I will give a small review here. Firstly I will start with Bento Cafe, in Camden Town, as that is the first place I ever ate it.

The first time I had Green Tea Ice Cream here, it was delicious. It tastes a bit like green tea, slightly bitter quite a flat taste, but also has lots of sugar, so is incredibly sweet, and also is very cold, totally unlike green tea. It is an acquired taste, and I know may people who don't like it. Bento's GTIC was clearly not machine made. It usually had very small ice crystals in it, so was very smooth, but was not mixed well, so although very dark and uniform in colour, sometimes there would be very bitter lumps of powder that had not dissolved. I loved that.
Sadly recently, it has not been so good. Last two times I had it there, it has tasted sour, like it had been made from off milk. It made me feel so ill, I'm not sure why I finished it. I think this is representative of a more general decline in the quality of Bento. The service started getting terribly about a year ago, the waiters and waitresses were very rude, and the free tea refills more and more sporadic. I have been going there regularly (Sometimes more than once a week) for over 4 years now, and my partner even longer than that. We are recognised as frequent customers, but still, they have been curt to say the least.
The sushi is still quite good, but the length of time that the food takes to arrive seems to get longer each time we go, so I have decided not to go back. As a delivery place, they are still quite good, and if you are only going in for a quick (although that may not happen) sushi then I still recommend it, but it is sadly not the best Japanese restaurant in London any more.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Lost Gamespot Review: Bully (Canis Canem Edit)

This got pulled from Gamespot because (apparently) it was seen as "Trolling". I had to look that up at the time. Despite the fact I am a big fan of both Charlie Brooker and Yahtzee, I had not come across that term before. Well, we live and learn.
Here is what I wanted to write, although this has been reconstructed from memory, so may not be exactly the same:

Summary: Bully is a vacuous borefest that forces you to relive the choices of the game designers in their days at boarding school to justify their sordid actions.

Bully is (or was at the time of writing) the latest installment from Rockstar, the company behind Grand Theft Auto. The game's design is similar to that of any of the latest (3D) GTAs: You control a character who can take a number of missions from various characters. You start as a young boy, roughly in the middle of Secondary School, in Bullsworth academy. You are befriended by another boy who convinces you to do a number of tasks to get you noticed around the school, ultimately to gain the respect of both teachers and pupils. Your aim is to become the head Bully at the school. The plots of GTA are usually intricate and convoluted, following the main character through many twists and turns, betrayals and uneasy alliances. Bully's plot was so paper thin, it was obvious from the first 5 minutes that this "ally" of yours was going to make you do many things at the start of the game, and about half way through turn on you, becoming the final enemy. One of the missions that tipped me off was where you have to locate this homeless man who is living on the school grounds in order to beat him up. I appreciate the morality of many of Rockstar's games is poor at best, but something about this did not sit well with me. You end up not hitting him, and ignoring the suggestion of your friend, but honestly I would have preferred to make that decision for myself, rather than take some back seat in the event. It made me feel dirty, like I was watching some cut price stripper pretending to be underage. I have no qualms about selling drugs to kids in ice-cream trucks, murdering prostitutes for the money or kidnapping homosexuals clinging to the back of mopeds, but this is just wrong. If I am going to be bad, let me be bad! I want the choice, I want the control, and ultimately I want the responsibility. I didn't like the half-hearted morality the game tried to force at you, like only giving punishment (from the monitors) for hitting a child younger than you, or striking a girl. And this game (Canis Canem Edit) was supposed to be the "cleaner" version. I hate to think what the eventual re-release in the form of Bully was like - perhaps you are supposed to be seduced by the school nurse? Or even the Headmaster? There were some clear overtones of that in the few hours I played of it.

In all honesty, I don't blame people for thinking (misguidedly) that this was a good game, in any of its forms. It was new, and dangerous, particualrly when it was up for being banned. But where GTA was engaging, Bully was insipid, spoon feeding you moral dilemmas. GTA gives you sympathetic characters, and Bully gave you some superficial twerp trying to get even. When you ignore the hype and the "broken boundaries", Bully isn't a good game, it is a washed out sensationalist piece of crap, with poor game design, non-existent plot and terrible graphics. If you want to be bad, then be a man and make the choice. Don't just tag along for the ride.