January 20th, 2006

Little Johnny Won't Be Playing 25 to Life (if he reads GameSpot)

Dateline, June, 2005: The world has not yet heard of Hot Coffee. The biggest scandal in video game land is Eidos' cops-and-robbers shooter 25 to Life. The game is still in development, with release scheduled for October. Many gamers are not especially aware of the title until U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (left) blasts it, saying, "Little Johnny should be learning how to read, not how to kill cops. The bottom line is that games that are aimed and marketed at kids shouldn't desensitize them to death and destruction."

CNN's Nancy Grace took up Schumer's crusade, bringing in guests like Jack Thompson and Jerry Falwell (who blamed the September 11th attacks on "sinners" in America) to flay 25 to Life during two programs in June. Ultimately 25 to Life will spark protests by survivors of slain police officers in Utah as well as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's call to boycott the game. As the game neared release earlier this week, Jack Thompson called on police officers to seize copies of the game, a Gestapo solution that is approximately one million times worse than any potential harm that 25 to Life might cause.

Was it all much ado about nothing? As GamePolitics noted earlier this week, IGN gave 25 to Life a miserable 3 out of 10 review. Now GameSpot's highly-respected Jeff Gerstmann has weighed in with another awful score, 5.7 (out of 10), concluding "25 to Life is a lifelessly generic shooter that, at times, feels like Max Payne without the fun... Dull presentation; unexciting gameplay; tired subject matter; hokey attempt at an endgame message.

1UP was even less forgiving of 25 to Life's flaws. Andrew Pfister gave the game a 3.7 score, saying, "It's not that 25 to Life is offensively bad (which it assuredly is), it's that one would be pressed to think of a recent game that is more unnecessary. Pandering to every college student and aspiring rap artist's deep-seated Scarface fantasies, 25 to Life is a 3D action-shooter that not only fails to innovate on any level, but rolls back design and technological advancements to the early PSone era."

GP: Three major review sites, three horrendous reviews. If there is a lesson here for game critics, it is this: Raising alarms about games still in development only provides free publicity to products which may not gain acceptance on their merits. We've seen this several times recently: NARC, True Crime New York City, and now, 25 to Life.

UPDATE: The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund today issued a press release urging parents to boycott 25 to Life.

Tivo Alert: RPG Gamer's Murder Plot Chronicled on Dateline NBC

Tonight's episode of Dateline NBC will detail a 2003 murder investigation in which one killer was an RPG fan while the other was an aspiring filmmaker.

According to the Carlisle (PA) Sentinel, Dateline will air its investigation of the murder of Randi Trimble (left), who was stabbed to death in a plot hatched by her husband Brian Trimble (the gamer) and his friend Blaine Norris (the would-be producer). Both are serving life sentences for the crime.

The newspaper report says "...(Brian) Trimble was living a double life steeped in Dungeons and Dragons, violent video games, and the murder plot he was hatching."

The Harrisburg Patriot-News adds more, saying Brian Trimble resented his wife's intrusion on his RPG time and her refusal to allow him to purchase high-tech gadgets. Norris needed money to complete a film project he was working on. They pair conspired to kill Randi for her life insurance money. In fact, the murder was planned to occur on the night of a role-playing campaign that Randi made Brian cancel due to other obligations.

"This is a tough case," said Dateline correspondent Dennis Murphy. "There were no forensics. (the police) knew that Brian Trimble was the link, the video-game player locked forever at 16 years old. Blaine Norris had the nerves to do the killing. And they had to get one guy to flip on the other."

FLA Game Bill Sponsor Forced to Pay Fines; Poverty Claims Rejected

Is Alex Diaz de la Portilla, sponsor of Florida's pending video game legislation, a man of his word?

GamePolitics has previously reported on some of Diaz de la Portilla's past baggage. Now comes news that the powerful State Senator claimed he is too poor to pay $8,750 in fines levied by the Florida Elections Commission for 1999 violations of Florida campaign law.

Despite Diaz de la Portilla's claim to poverty, he owns two homes (including one valued at $800,000); drives a leased Lexus; maintains an investment account; and made a $15,000 personal loan to an aide.

"No reasonable explanation has been offered for his ability to maintain his lifestyle," wrote Administrative Law Judge Jeff Clark. "(Diaz de la Portilla's) net worth will allow him to pay any fine appropriate for the 17 violations of (election) law."

Gamer Commits Suicide Online. Here's the REAL Story

This is one of those tragic stories we wish we never had to write.

Reports - and a lot of misinformation - are circulating concerning the death of a 21-year-old hardcore gamer who killed himself while talking online in a gaming forum. Surprisingly, the U.S. mainstream media hasn't picked up on the story, although it has been reported in France, Bulgaria and Australia. Friends of the victim, however, take issue with the European coverage, claiming it is inaccurate, insensitive and sensationalizes the tragedy.

The story began on the evening of January 2nd on a private forum at Metal Gear Solid: The Unofficial Site, an MGS fan site created by a Bulgarian designer but hosted in the United States. The site is known as "TUS" among devotees. One of TUS' regular users was "Kuja105", real name Mitchell Lee "Mitch" Steukerjuergen, a journalism major at Western Illinois University.

Mitch, apparently beset by financial and housing problems, posted a message with the subject line "Bye guys." He related that he could no longer go on living, had chosen a painful way to die, but would continue to post on the board as long as he could. Apparently the troubled young man had consumed a combination of anti-freeze and pills. He concluded his message with, "It was a blast knowing you guys. I'm getting kinda scared about it, so it would be great to see some good things posted."

While the Bulgarian Sofia News Agency reported that other users made fun of the dying young man, a GamePolitics review of posts in the TUS forum reveals that to be untrue. Much concern was shown as well as increasingly frantic offers to help. Some TUS users even reached Mitch by phone, advising him to call 9-1-1 and induce vomiting. The online friends of the victim are especially outraged by reports in the French AFP news service suggesting that Mitch was in live chat with a webcam turned on.

GamePolitics spoke at length with "Nitroid," an admin at TUS and an online bud who tried to help Mitch during that terrible night. Here is an edited version of the AIM log:

GP: ...sorry to hear about your friend.
Nitroid: Yeah.. We just found a message from his sister a bit ago, and we've talked to his dad some more... They're all taking it pretty hard, but are supporting our endeavor to clear this up.
GP: his sister posted on TUS?
Nitroid: No, on Digg
GP: have a link, by any chance?
Nitroid: http://digg.com/gaming/Gamer_Commits_Suicide,_Media_Misreports ...near the bottom.
GP: cool... did I understand that you spoke with him that night?
Nitroid: I spoke with Mitch over the phone, yes... Only for a short while, though, but I tried my best to convince him to get to a doctor... To my knowledge, he did with help from his roommate, and died shortly after in the hospital.
GP: was he at home or school when this happened?
Nitroid: Apartment, apparently. he went to school out of state
GP: did you know Mitch on a personal level or just via TUS?
Nitroid: I knew him for a couple years. We talked almost every day, and I originally met him through an old site that I used to run. He was one of my first moderators.
GP: this must have been pretty traumatizing for you.
Nitroid: well, we all panicked pretty fast.
GP: horrible way he chose to do it.... are you getting over it, or still too soon?
Nitroid: really, it's only now starting to register. we got a lot of unwanted drama and attention over this. all we want is for people to know that he wasn't some attention monger. he didn't kill himself over a webcam, and he wasn't trying to make a spectacle of himself.
GP: yeah, the foreign press really screwed that story up... let me ask you what games Mitch was into.. MGS series, obviously... anything else?
Nitroid: He was a big Star Wars fan... Loved Calvin & Hobbes, hence, the Calvin & Hobbes images on our tribute page... the image at the end of the tribute was his avatar... We really just wanted a quiet rememberance for him -- not some crazy gamer-slandering story.
GP: ok... and did you say there is a thread up on TUS now, like a memorial?
Nitroid: www.metalgearsolid.org ...top left
GP: okay... thx much. take care of yourself...
Nitroid: Thanks again, man. Really.

Here is the TUS tribute to Kuja105. Mitch's obituary is also available online.

May you find peace, gamer friend.