Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Why the Supreme Court should rule that violent video games are free speech

By Daniel Greenberg (Washington Post)
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 12:00 AM

On Election Day, everyone in Washington will be focused on the polls. Everyone except the Supreme Court justices. They'll be busy with video games.

Tuesday is the day that the court has agreed to hear Schwarzenegger v. EMA, a case in which the state of California says it has the power to regulate the sale of violent video games to minors - in essence, to strip First Amendment free speech protection from video games that "lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."

Since I express myself through the creation of video games, including violent ones, I'd like to know how government bureaucrats are supposed to divine the artistic value that a video game has for a 17-year-old. The man who spearheaded California's law, state Sen. Leland Yee, has not explained that. We've had no more clarity from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the bill into law.

Yee argues in his friend-of-the-court brief that since the government can "prohibit the sale of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, driver's licenses and pornography to minors," then "that same reasoning applies in the foundation and enactment" of his law restricting video games.

As a game developer, I am disheartened and a little perplexed to see my art and passion lumped in with cigarettes and booze.

The U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the law as unconstitutional, just as other U.S. courts have struck down similar anti-video-game measures. California appealed to the Supreme Court, which surprisingly agreed to reconsider the lower court's rejection of the law.

So while everyone else is celebrating their constitutional right to vote, the Supreme Court will ask: Does the First Amendment bar a state from restricting the sale of violent video games to minors?

It seems clear to me that violent video games deserve at least as much constitutional protection as other forms of media that would not be restricted under this law, such as violent books and violent movies. Books and movies enable free expression principally for their authors and makers. But video games do more than enable the free speech rights of video game developers. Games - even those incorporating violence - enable a whole new medium of expression for players.

Gameplay is a dialogue between a player and a game. Reading a book or watching a film can also be considered a dialogue, but the ability of the audience to respond is far more limited. Books and movies rarely alter their course based on the emotional reaction of the audience. (One exception would be those old Choose Your Own Adventure-type books, some of which I wrote before I started working on video games.)

The exploration and self-discovery available through books and movies is magnified in video games by the power of interactivity.

A new generation of games features real changes in the story based on the morality of a player's decisions. Mature-rated games such as "BioShock," "Fable 2" and "Fallout 3" go far beyond allowing players to engage in imaginary violent acts; they also give players meaningful consequences for the choices that they make. In "BioShock," the player meets genetically modified people who have been victimized by a mad ideology. The player can help the unfortunates or exploit them for genetic resources. The game's ending changes radically depending on the player's actions. In "Fallout 3," players can be kind to people or mistreat them, and the people will respond in kind. In "Fable 2," the player must make a painful choice to save his family from death or save thousands of innocent people - but not both.

In games such as these, gameplay becomes a powerful meditation on the nature of violence and the context in which it occurs. Some of the most thought-provoking game design is currently in Mature-rated games (similar to R-rated movies). This is because, in order to have a truly meaningful moral choice, the player must be allowed to make an immoral choice and live with the consequences.

And that's just in single-player mode.
The expressive potential of video games jumps exponentially when players take interactivity online. Players can cooperate with or compete against friends, acquaintances or strangers. They can create unique characters, build original worlds and tell their own stories in multiplayer online universes with a few or a few thousand of their friends.
Video games, even the violent ones, enable players' free expression, just like musical instruments enable musicians' free expression. No one in the government is qualified to decide which games don't enable free speech, even when that speech comes from a 15-year-old. The courts settled the question of the First Amendment rights of minors long ago. Those rights are so strong that, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that school boards do not have the power to ban books from school libraries, even if students can obtain those books outside of school (Board of Education v. Picoin 1982). In that case, the justices said that "the right to receive ideas is a necessary predicate to the recipient's meaningful exercise of his own rights of speech, press, and political freedom," even when the recipient is a minor.
The people allowed to limit a minor's free speech rights are his parents or guardians. And maybe his grandparents and aunts and uncles. But not Sen. Yee and Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Most developers of video games will admit that we have barely begun to tap their vast potential to enable player creativity and free speech. In this early stage in the history of video games, the range of expression that we provide to players is too limited. We've done a good job of creating imaginative ways to attack our imaginary enemies, but we have not done nearly as thorough a job exploring all the other forms of human (and nonhuman) interaction.  Fortunately, many of the best developers are tackling new ways to increase players' in-game actions. I've seen some amazing early work in this field, from the biggest video game companies right down to one-person indie developers.
For example, the seemingly simple but emotionally complex online game "Darfur Is Dying" lets the player try to survive in a refugee camp without being killed by militias. "Infamous 2" promises a much richer, open-ended world to help or harm. In "Epic Mickey," Mickey Mouse will have the ability to misbehave.
One of my current projects is a game system that lets players shape and reshape the moral and spiritual development of the game world and the people in it by their actions and alliances.
If California's law is upheld, it is likely that far more onerous measures will appear all over the country. Some stores may stop carrying Mature-rated games. Game publishers might be afraid to finance them. Developers would not know how to avoid triggering censorship because even the creators of such laws don't seem to know. The lawmakers won't tell us their criteria, and their lawyers have refused to reveal which existing games would be covered, even when asked in court.
Such censorship is not only dangerous, it's completely unnecessary. More than 80 scholars and researchers from schools such as George Mason University and Harvard Medical School have written an extensive friend-of-the-court brief in opposition to the law, noting that California failed to produce any real evidence showing that video games cause psychological harm to minors. And even if there was harm, the law's supporters have not shown that the statute could alleviate it.
The game development community has worked hard on creating a rating system that clearly discloses games' content. Even our critics, such as the Federal Trade Commission, have praised our efforts. The FTC's own survey shows that 87 percent of parents are satisfied with the rating system.
Parents have good reason to be concerned about their children's media diet and to ask what possible good can come from blowing out the brains of a character in a game. Make-believe violence appears to have many benefits for minors, such as relieving stress, releasing anger and helping children cope with difficult feelings such as powerlessness and fear of real violence. A recent Texas A&M International study shows that violent games could actually reduce violent tendencies and could be used as a therapy tool for teens and young adults.
There is no small irony that the man helping to spearhead the charge against violent video games is Schwarzenegger, the Terminator himself. He, more than anyone, should understand the thrill of a good fake explosion.
Even when video games contain graphic violence, and even when the players are minors whose parents let them play games with violence, picking up that game controller is a form of expression, and it should be free.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Every day is Halloween

This morning I was looking at the people on my crowded blue line train.  Typically, I have my face in a book and barely notice the mass of humanity orbiting around me.  But this morning I watched faces - and pictured their unsmiling, dreary mouths kissing.  We all put on our train faces every morning, but these faces do not represent us.  Inside we're kissing.  We're hugging.  We're fucking.

We love our briefcases and our smart phones and our free newspapers, but these are merely accessories for the costumes and masks we wear every day.  Occasionally, kissing happens on the train or metro stations and strangely it seems foreign and out of place, like a soldier wearing a clown wig in the jungle.  But we're so used to maintaining that wall of conformity, that facade of neutrality that we lie to ourselves.  None of us wanted to be robots when we grew up, but that's the costume we wear on a daily basis.   

When Al Jourgensen of Ministry sang "Everyday (is Halloween)" he wasn't talking about the freaks and punks and oddly dressed people in our society - he was talking about The Normals.  The people who hide behind suits and haircuts who deny themselves the freedom of identity.  We are not couches.  We are not frappacinos.  We are not iPhones.  We are husbands and lovers and artists and dreamers.  I am going out of my way to find these qualities in every person I see.

The Walking Dead Opening Credits (for realsies)

Sunday night!  Sunday night!  Sunday night!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Geek Is...

Blizzard's senior vice president of creative development, Chris Metzen, delivers a rousing dissertation to a packed audience at BlizzCon about what it means to be a geek.

Seriously, I want to play D&D again.  No, really, I'm being serious.  Shut up, I'm not kidding!  Back in the day I was one heck of a Dungeon Master.  Boom!  Best days of my life B.B. (Before Boobies)

Why the Jon Stewart Rally is my generation's Woodstock

By Alexandra Petri (Washington Post)

We don't go to rallies.
Drag races? Men in heels.
Once we were in a protest, but only because we had to walk through it to get to a Lady Gaga concert.

Sign petitions? Please. March for a cause? Only if by "march" you mean "walk in a determined fashion" and by "cause" you mean "to buy that new frozen yogurt that is so popular these days."
Call us Generation I. I for irony, iPhones, and the Internet. I for instant gratification. I for idiosyncratic, inventive, impertinent. We're all these things.
Recently, Charles Murray accused us of being a "New Elite." This might be overstating our case a bit. What binds us is not a common experience or similar eugenetic stock, as he claims. It's our mindset -- a staunch and unstinting refusal to take anything seriously.
It's not that we don't believe some things are serious. We'll make It Gets Better videos or perform comedy for jazz relief, or whatever the occasion is. But sum up our lives in a phrase? The Importance Of Never Being Too Earnest.
We know what happens to people who take themselves seriously. They become bent and broken with care and develop arterial plaques. Sometimes they're elected to political office. "In America, any boy may become president," Adlai Stevenson once noted. "And I suppose it's just one of the risks he takes." We don't like the sound of that.
Forget the 1950s, which we picture as an entire era of people in conservative sweater-sets earnestly pushing towards the front of the class. These days, the whole class wants to sit in the back row and lob spitballs. Our icons are the class clowns, not the overachievers in near the blackboard. Raise our hands? Make a statement? Please. What is this, a Norman Rockwell painting?
After someone discovered the mystical secret of doing things ironically, we felt a great weight lift from our shoulders. Now, we dwell in thickets of inverted commas. Commit to fashions, opinions, favorite beverages? Why bother, when you can take someone to prom ironically as a commentary on beauty, or move to Tibet and spend three years living ironically in a monastery?
Want us to come to a rally? Better make it a "rally." Want us to testify before Congress? Can we do it in character?

Continue reading this post »
By Alexandra Petri  | October 26, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This ain't the beach.

Make up your mind, Media:

Are the Cowboys a good team or not?  Because their 1-5 records kinda says, "We blow."  But "pundits" (aka TV execs worried 'America's Team' won't make it to the playoffs) keep telling me that ON PAPER they're the greatest.  Shoulda woulda coulda.

Also, Jon Stewart.  Is he a comedian or a legitimate source of news?  Because the Washington Post (among others) are worried that his upcoming Rally to Restore Sanity here in DC is going to be detrimental for Democrats, liberals, etc.  I guess it depends on the weather.  Hey, America, if you don't give us a spokesperson for the Moderates we will appoint one.  His name is Jon Stewart.  You snooze you lose. 

One more thing... Why are we bombing villages in Afghanistan? According to the military (as reported yesterday), our presence there ain't doing jack shit.  The Taliban is getting stronger and innocent people are getting killed on both sides!  War is not the answer.  Or if it is then level the region and be done with it.   

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peter Jackson Speaks

As you know (I'll assume you know even though I know you don't) The Hobbit is having some trouble getting started.  A labor dispute has made things quite complicated in New Zealand and Peter Jackson is pissed. 

Giant Rangers

People who don't watch baseball:  First, I pity you and your lack of taste. Second, you missed some great baseball recently.

The Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees (of all teams) to make it to the World Series for the first time ever.  (Ever!)  I can only imagine how the people of Arlington, Texas are feeling right now.  And then the San Francisco Giants beat the Philadelphia Phillies in one of the most intense bottom-of-the-ninth innings I ever watched.  And now the World Series which begins on Wednesday night will be some of the best baseball that no one will watch.  No superstar Yankees.  No down on their luck, sappy Red Sox. No Brett Favre.  Just two teams that would sacrifice a testicle to win. 

I'm pulling for the Rangers because I was thoroughly impressed that the team used ginger ale instead of champagne during their celebration because one of their own is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.  That's respect and those guys get my vote.  

The Rule

Logic is a gift.  Like a shiny new Craftsman hammer.  But like that hammer, logic is merely a tool.  If it's a house you're trying to build you're going to need more tools. 

When it comes to God and Christ and the Bible I am merely a student.  A learner.  I understand faith and feel myself moving closer to it every day, but it's not like a light switch for me. I wasn't able to just turn it on.  Sure I went to Sunday School, etc., but that kind of faith is like choosing between milk chocolate and devil's food cake.  As an adult beginner there's a new level of intellectuality that factors into my decision making process.

Recently, there's one aspect of Christianity that has been a challenge for me:  Loving people.  I don't mean Mom and Dad and Lynette and your Aunt Tilly.  I mean PEOPLE.  How do I truly love people as I love myself?

I live in a heavily populated region of the country.  I ride public transportation.  I stand in line at grocery stores.  How in the world am I expected to love these annoying people?!

Is empathy the same as love?  Probably not.  I can empathize, but that's not enough. I'm not asking a rhetorical question here... How do I love the people that annoy  me?  How do I love people that do me wrong?  How do I love people that scare me?  How do I love the person riding my ass in the car behind me?    

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Bears 76, Redskins 3

The Tree of Life, by Mark Ryden

Mark Ryden, one of my favorite contemporary painters. LINK

This is his latest.  I think I like it because it has a bear in it.  And bees. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I loathe when people tell me about dreams they had.  So here's mine from last night!

I was arrested at the childhood home of Loretta Lynn for stealing a piece of the wall that had a doodle on it. 

Interpret that, you weirdies!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


If you stick your head out your window you might be able to hear me squealing like a little girl over this picture.

The Hero is Still Only a Sandwich

Why are we so in love with the bad guy?

Gratefully, my dad took me to see Star Wars in 1977 and I left the movie theater with a desire to be Darth Vader.  I loved Darth Vader.  Of my various Star Wars action figures, Darth Vader was my favorite.  I even had a Darth Vader belt buckle (which I still own today).  Looking back I can say with confidence that Darth Vader was a real dick.  But I still loved him.  Why?

Tony Soprano was a murderer, an adulterer, a terrible father, and a real dick.  But I loved him.  Why?

The Joker (as recently portrayed by the late Heath Ledger) was a psychotic mad man.  But I dare you to go to a Halloween party this year and not run into at least five of them.

And most recently, Don Draper.  Initially, I was captivated by the cool stylings of a sauve, swingin' 60's hipster like Draper.  But lately I'm feeling a Don Draper hangover.  Does television have a bigger douchebag?

Don't get me wrong, I love the show.  But cheese and crackers Don Draper is such a dick.  At this point I can't figure out if the show is trying to get me to feel sorry for him or cheer on his downward spiral.  Either way the character leaves a wake of hurt where ever he goes and we can't seem to get enough.  Why is that?

Are we at the zoo peering in on the strange man and his strange family?  Or are we in our bathrooms looking in the mirror?  Too many of us have felt the pain left behind by men like Don Draper.  In some form or another.

Or maybe it's a good sign, our morbid curiosity.  Maybe it means we're so fascinated by the dark, mean, evil spirits of these villains because it's so foreign and most of us are good, faithful people. Also, shows about an upstanding, faithful father is dullsville, man.    

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mashed Mad Men

Nature Boy/A Beautiful Mine mash up.  A Beautiful Mine (by RJD2) was used in the Mad Men theme.  Also, this video was shot in one take. Also, it's awesome.

Post Anger

Not that Hank Stuever reads my blog, or anyone who knows Hank Stuever, or anyone who has ever heard of Hank Stuever, but this morning's Washington Post review of last night's LIVE episode of 30 Rock was a travesty.

Firstly, I'm not saying you have to be a fan of 30 Rock. (But usually people who say they don't like 30 Rock are people who don't "get it.") (Kidding.)

I knew his review was headed for the shitter when Mr. Stuever (if that's her real name) mentioned the cameo appearance of the "much-missed" Rachel Dratch.  Seriously?  Dratch was the first season's weakest link, you dolt!  Then Mr. Stuever said for people not fascinated by the behind-the-scenes goings-on of Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock seems like a pre-Office chore.  A pre-Office chore!  Has this dude been stuck in a mine for the last three years? (Too soon?) 30 Rock has always aired AFTER The Office until this season, AND everyone knows The Office has been steadily (slowly) sucking these last few seasons.  30 Rock has only been getting better.  Then Stuever said "some of our DVRs have a few unwatched episodes of 30 Rock in the queue."  Look, folks, I'll let you in on a secret... If 30 Rock gets DVRed it's the first thing that gets watched the moment you get back from where ever you felt was more important to be than at home watching 30 Rock.

I know I'm being a tad bit dramatic.  I know I don't sound very objective right now.  But come on, they did the episode live last night!  Holy shit!  And it was great!  If a small child approaches me and proudly shows me some artwork crafted with beans and pipe cleaners my response to that kid isn't going to be, "Nice. Hey, didn't you shit your pants last week?" 

Here's the funny thing: I work across the street from the Washington Post.  I probably stood behind Hank Stuever this morning at Jack's Deli.  If I had known it was him would I have the coconuts to disagree with his lame review of 30 Rock?  Probably not. 

You don't have to like what I like, but if you're going to criticize it at least know what you're talking about. 

Trivia Question:  How many years in a row did 30 Rock win the Emmy for best comedy?  (Boom.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Since Feeling is First

By E.E. Cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

BttF Trailer Remake


"I was with God, and I was with the Devil."


Fortuitous things are going to happen to you. Good news will occur in your life. Are you able to read the signs? As I type this, thirty-three miners in Chile are being pulled from the depths of the Earth after being trapped for more than two months. Amazing.

What grabbed me most about the story of the trapped miners is that after the accident seventeen days passed before anyone knew they were still alive. Seventeen days. Can you imagine not existing for seventeen days? Would you want the people who love you to think you were dead for seventeen days?

Don't tell me there ain't good news in the world. Don't tell me fortuitous things don't happen in our lives. Don't tell me the signs aren't there for us. We just need to know how to see them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Banksy Meets Simpson's

Proof that The Simpson's is the most culturally and socially aware show on TV:

UPDATE: Fox has blocked the video from being viewed on YouTube. I highly recommend searching it out and watching it before it's gone forever.

Hockey Town?

I'm no hockey expert. Heck, I didn't even start watching hockey until two years ago, but I'm afraid DC is not a "hockey town" as the above video purports.  (BTW, this video plays at the Verizon Center at the beginning of every home game.)

Considering DC sports and the people who make up a lot of its population, it's difficult to determine what kind of town it is.  Baseball is way too new and the Wizards have a stupid name.  The United is soccer (no explanation required).  Then there's the Redskins... From the outside looking in I can't even say this is a football town.  In defense of football and its sudden rise in popularity in recent decades there's a whole lot of Redskins fans here.  Normally, that would be a duh statement, BUT this town is so full of transient people that often you might run into more Cowboy fans than Redskin fans.  Or Bears, or Steelers, etc.

My point is I think it's sad that more people who live here don't back the home team. Back in Chicago, there are no options.  The sports teams are like family and we loved them no matter what.  Even in the losingest of losing seasons rarely did a "fan" get too down on the beloved Bears.  Every family has that weirdie loser who can't seem to do anything right, but we loved 'em anyway.

I live in DC now.  I am a Nationals fan.  I am a Capitals fan.  I am a Bears fan.  (Sorry, blood is thicker than water!)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, John

John, This world has suffered without you.  My eyes well up just thinking about what could have been, yet eternally grateful for what was.

Kill Anxiety

Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

Ecclesiastes 11:4

I have a huge problem with anxiety and uncertainty.  Christianity has helped me retain perspective on what is truly important in life.  Our lives are full of meaningless trivialities. I worry about everything, but mostly I pretend that I don't because I have learned that the key to success is acting like you know what is going on.  Play the part - that was my mantra.  And so far it has worked.  But I'm pretty sure I haven't given credit where credit is due.  I'm a resourceful man, not an actor.  I don't believe in accidents.  Random acts merely tip over the first domino.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Clip for The Walking Dead!

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Sometimes you forget your hat in the morning,

other times your hat forgets you.

Today feels different... aside from being hatless, I feel... different.

Whatever - Here's The Smiths:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two of my favorite things! Combined!

May the wind take your troubles away

Listen to this album and there ain't nothin' you can't do and there ain't nothin' that can get you down and there ain't nothin' that can keep you from getting past difficult situations in life.  This album holds the answers to all of life's questions.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Buses, Subways, and Hot Air Balloons

The bus was crowded this morning - Tuesday is the new Monday.  I was sitting next to a man who didn't yield much of the seat to accommodate the both of us.  I chose to endure the four minutes of discomfort and think happy thoughts (...pancakes, boobies, video games...) And then the man spoke.  To me. 

Startled because no one speaks to anyone on the bus lest they be categorized as a weirdie, I said, "What?"

And he said, "What's up with this music?" 

Then I realized the bus driver was listening to classical music.  (As opposed to being screamed at by blowhards opining on the trivialities of politics.)  And it was good.  In fact, I've never had a more relaxed four minute ride to the Metro station in my life! 

Noticing that my large seat companion had a slight southern drawl to his dialect, I said, "At least it ain't country." 

The man never spoke to me again. 

Lesson learned: One stupid opinion does not beget another stupid opinion.  A wise man would have kept his mouth shut.  I'm weak, yet satisfied with my cleverness. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Under Pressure

End Homelessness

The History of Rap

The Obscene Angel

There's a sticker on my car that says, "Virginia is for Lovers."  I'm no expert, but based on my experience, 'tis true.  But the other day while walking the three city blocks to the Metro station I spotted a small, black sticker affixed to a lamp post at 15th and K Street that read, "DC is for Fuckers."

That little, inconspicuous, vulgar sticker made me smile.  Sometimes humor finds us.  Sometimes funny moments occur when we least expect them.  This ain't no special revelation, I know, but I appreciate the reminder and therefore felt compelled to pass it along.

I think there are times in our lives when we search for novel, shiny ideas when an oldie-but-goodie would suffice.  I think there are times when hearing what you already know is comforting.  I know this sweater vest looks good, but it feels great to hear someone else confirm it.  I know everything will be okay, but doesn't having someone else affirm it feel like we're all going to win the Super Bowl?

I am grateful for moments that lift me away from my daily walk to the Metro station.  My only wish is that we all come across something in our day that makes us smile when we typically don't.  Imagine the wars we could have avoided if we would have covertly infiltrated faraway lands with funny stickers.