March 21st, 2006

Gold Farming - Get Used to It

Gold farming. Love it or hate it, it's likely here to stay.

Maclean's columnist Andrew Potter looked at the controversial MMO issue this past week, and explored the love-hate relationship between subsets of MMO gamers: those who tolerate gold farming, and those who decry it as the worst thing to vex online gaming since microphones were first used on Xbox Live.

Potter distills the never-ending argument over gold farming to a basic conflict of the real world - the quest for status. Whether it be gaining a castle, purple armor in WoW, a mount, a new addition to your secret hideout, or having a Lexus in your driveway, status symbols are the way society judges how well a person has performed in the big game of life. The more sucessfull you are, the more toys you have. The difference in online games is that the status symbol is not supposed to represent how rich you are, but rather how dedicted you were to the journey that the game represents.

The conflict arises between those who "earned" these status symbols through hard work, persistence, and long hours of gaming, and those who bought them. Those who put in the hours understandably feel that those who did nothing more time-consuming than swipe their credit card are somehow "cheating" the system. This isn't much different from the real world, as Potter notes:

"Sound familiar? Strip away the trappings of Tolkienism, and what you have are variations on the ancient positional joust of original inhabitants versus the nouveau riche, who in this case, are violating
the virtual social code by buying their way in, rather than getting there through hard work..."

Potter takes care to examine the oft-heard question from non-MMO players, "Who cares?"

"Any place," he writes, "where thousands of people can move about trading goods and building property and killing people and so on is not a game, it is a world, and its residents are not players but members of a community... For better and for worse, it will be just like the old world, but more so."
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Oregon Prison Uses Video Games as Positive Reinforcement

Hey, Oregon prison inmates - keep your nose clean for 18 months and the warden will let you buy the Dreamgear, a plug-and-play video game system with 50 pre-loaded titles.

"It's a hot item," said Randy Geer, administrator of the Department of Corrections' non-cash incentives program. "Inmates want one, and it appears to be motivating them."

A report in The Oregonian explains how Geer has been working to expand the list of incentives for positive behavior among the prison population.

"They're human beings," he said. "They need some variety."

The spice of life approach seems to be paying off. Despite the state's prison population increasing from 12,000 to 13,000 over the past three years, misconduct reports, assaults on staff and inmate fights have declined.

Contrast Oregon's enlightened use of games as a positive motivator with last year's blatant politicizing of the issue in Missouri. There, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt ordered PS2's removed from prisons.

"Video games are a luxury that inmates should not be allowed to enjoy," said Blunt "...Our penitentiaries are punitive institutions where those who have committed crimes against society are sent to pay for their actions. They are not meant to be arcades."

But one Oregon prosecutor balances punishment against the practicality of running a safe, orderly prison.

"If you know the facts of what [inmates] Marco Montez and Timothy Aikens did to [murder victim] Candice Straub," said Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, "you have a hard time wanting them to have anything but bread and water."

Despite his feelings, Foote told The Oregonian he understands why jailers are offering video games and other incentives. Prisons are overcrowded. Time off for good behavior has been negated by mandatory sentencing laws. Budget cuts have removed recreation and education programs. While he acknowledges that allowing prisoners to have games and CD players will be unpopular with voters, Foote said, "Sometimes the realities of running a prison aren't obvious to people who don't see it."

-send Dreamgear systems to GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen, reporting from San Diego

Delaware Paper Zings Video Game Bill, Thompson's Testimony

For such a small state, Delaware has received much scrutiny of late in the video game world.

The unusual level of attention is explained by a controversial piece of video game legislation now before the Delaware House. In recent days GamePolitics has extensively covered the efforts of Rep. Helene Keeley (D) to legislate sales of violent games to minors. The issue has also drawn the attention of local news media.

An editorial in this morning's Delaware News-Journal comes out squarely against Rep. Keeley's bill and calls into question the testimony given by Jack Thompson on behalf of the proposed legislation. Here is an excerpt:

"A proposal before the House would stop anyone under 17 from buying the more violent games. Most responsible people agree children should not be allowed near them. In fact, no one should. But do we need a law to enforce good taste and common sense?"

"There's no doubt that these games are gory, disgusting and degrading to women. It is reprehensible that police officers are targets in some of the games and that ethnic stereotypes are exploited in others. But should the state government get involved in what really is a parental responsibility?..."

"It is also a little too much to blame the tragedies at Columbine High School on video games, as one witness [Thompson] did. Not too many years ago critics were blamed teen violence on rock and roll. Plenty of children have played these video games without any effect -- other than wasting time. To link an argument about the proper way of raising children to a claim about brain waves does a disservice to the argument. Human beings, even young ones, are more resilient that that."

"The responsibility belongs squarely on the parents... And if the state takes over this function, what kind of police powers would be involved? Will the state be supervising play dates? ...Video-game supervision belongs in the family, not in the halls of the legislature."

Flint, Michigan Sues Take-Two

Troubles continue to pile up for Take-Two Interactive.

The latest bad news is a class action suit filed this morning in federal court by the City of Flint (MI) and its pension fund. The suit alleges securities fraud and insider stock trading. According to allegations in the suit, Take-Two deceived the city's pension fund as well as other investors, by misrepresenting the assets of the corporation and hiding the financial damage done by the Hot Coffee scandal.

The suit also alleges that while the Flint pension administrators were buying TTWO in hopes of raising the value of its portfolio, insiders dumped $18 million worth of shares based on knowledge that Hot Coffee would cause the stock to tank.

Mayor Don Williamson (left) said, "Fraud against the taxpayers of Flint and our retired Flint police officers and firefighters will not be tolerated. Not only was the city pension fund deceived as to the value of the stock, but the true nature of what this company was selling was being concealed too."

The Associated Press has more on this story, including word that Flint invested $524,000 in TTWO, ultimately taking a $176,000 loss.

"This is the kind of investment you did not want to make," city attorney George Peck told retirement board members Tuesday. "The bottom line is you were deceived."