Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Trippy Games

Back in the good old days of computer gaming (we’re talking late-80’s to mid-90’s here, folks), one thing that could be said about the games market is that it was a crap shoot. Before the advent of the Internet, the few dead-tree review magazines couldn’t keep up with the number of newly-released titles, and computer game companies didn’t seem to take advertising very seriously. This meant that the chances of knowing the details of a game before purchasing it were pretty slim. Usually, all a gamer had to go on was the box copy, and whatever word-of-mouth could be picked up while hanging out at the local Babbage’s.

Buying a game could be a gamble, pure and simple. Sure, Origin was a safe bet for action or role-playing, and Sierra was the uncontested king of the adventure genre, but so many smaller companies were trying to make it big that it was impossible to know exactly what would be on the shelf on any given day. Sometimes, a search though the $5 rack would reveal an unlikely-sounding game written by two guys in a smelly basement, only to be unmasked later as a true gem of programming skill. More often, a slick-looking box with beautiful images and promising descriptions would turn out, when unboxed at home, to fall somewhere between maddeningly dull and outright unplayable (I’m looking at you, Rocket Jockey). But rarely, very rarely, a game would crop up that would cause an immediate and almost-universal reaction among gamers: “What were those guys smoking, and where can I get some?”

Continue reading over at Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Political gaming?

Turns out that a possible presidential candidate made an appearance in an online multi-player game. New World Notes (linky) reports that former Governor of Virginia Mark Warner in held a conference in the popular open-source online game Second Life. And while he hasn't announced any plans to run, the gossip is that he's been sending out feelers along those lines.

So what does it mean when a political candidate shows up in an MMO game? Is it just a gimmick, or is it for real? And what are the implications if it is for real?

For one, it means that at least one person on Capitol Hill has come around to the idea of a new form of media, and is reaching out to a demographic that is largely ignored in the political arena. Most often, the only politics these folks get involved in have to do with DRM fights against large corporations. Now, we have what appears to be a good-faith effort on behalf of the politicos to bring them into the fold. But will it be enough to turn these folks to change parties, or even to become merely interested in the process? Or will gamers view it with the cynicism they seem to be born with?

Beyond that, what does this say about a candidate who would use it? Is he outside the 'clique' of politicians? Too modern and new-fangled? Will he be able to maintain the support and respect of the veterans of his field, or will they view it as a simple gimmick as well? Will he be taken seriously by his peers?

One thing I feel is that it is a long-overdue shift. Perhaps the first step will be stumbling, but as a younger generation moves into office, their hobbies and interests will necessarily be reflected in the way they do business. If nothing else, this is a sign that a changing of the guard is in progress, even if it is a slow, step-by-baby-step process. And perhaps, if I put my own cynicism aside for a minute, it can be an effective way to get in touch with a whole demographic that has been raised on-line. Rather than watching TV or listening to the radio for our information, we now get a large percentage from the internet. And if a politician can take advantage of that, he will be well positioned to move forward with the growing young-adult population.