April 21st, 2006

PBS Model for Gaming?

Does gaming need an alternative to its traditional commercial funding model?

David Rejeski (left), Director of the Foresight and Governance Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, says yes, citing another pop cultural whipping-boy, television, as the prime example of how such a system might work.

"In 1967, President Johnson signed legislation to establish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), asserting that 'we have only begun to grasp the great promise of the medium' and noting that noncommercial television was reaching only 'a fraction of its potential audience - and a fraction of its potential worth.'"

"As part of the legislation,
" Rejeski continued, "the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was to launch major research on instructional television in the classroom. The $9 million investment in CPB in 1967 (about $47 million in today's dollars) has grown to over $300 million in annual funding today."

There is a growing call for non-commercial games. In recent times GamePolitics has reported ourselves on documentary games, games used in health care and even corporate and political satire - but these are very much the exception.

Public funding of games would, in Rejeski's view, be workable.

"A Corporation for Public Gaming (CPG) could be established that would operate on a model similar to its broadcasting equivalent, providing grants to develop a diversity of games for the public good."
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Russian Politician Blames Games for Crime Rate

Are Russian politicians immune from the video game bashing which has become so popular with their American counterparts?

Definitely nyet.

By way of Kotaku comes word that Alexander Gurov (left), a member of the Russian Duma (parliament), has announced that Russia has the world's highest crime rate, especially when it comes to murders.

In the best political tradition, Gurov blames his country's horrendous crime rate on... (drum roll)... video games.

"The spread of violence into all the pores of social life is evident... The Internet is awash with violence and computer games have gangsters and killers, Nazis and Japanese militarists as main characters."

Gurov likewise fingers the rise of nationalist and extremist tendencies in Russian society on the spread of information technology. Despite being born just after the end of World War II, Gurov seems mired in a Stalingrad mindset:

"In Russia, only games where the Nazis always lose should be available, but so far the opposite is happening."

Unfortunately, Gurov isn't the only influential Luddite in Moscow these days. Earlier this year GamePolitics reported on a bloody rampage in a Moscow synagogue, describing how the media initially focused on the video game Postal even though the suspect was apparently a fan of anti-Semitic literature.

CM: Can't figure out why Gurov thinks the Nazis always win. I guess Gurov never played any of the Wolfenstein or other WWII-themed series...

-Reporting from an isolated Saskatchewan gulag, GP Comrade Colin "Jabrwock" McInnes

That's Gotta Hurt... Sleeping With Duke Nukem Improves Your Mind

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, kid, practice - and sleep.

BBC News is reporting that a 2004 Belgian study used a video game to examine whether a good night's sleep improved one's ability to successfully navigate from point to point. The game of choice? Duke Nukem 3D.

AE: Go figure. Duke Nukem 3D, released in 1996, was eight-years-old at the time of the study.

Conducted by the University of Liege, the study examined volunteers' brain activity while they made their way through one of DN3D's sprawling environments. Given time to explore the level, participants were then asked to navigate to specific landmarks as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, researchers mapped their brain activity via MRI. Results showed that the hippocampus, a portion of the brain dedicated to memory and direction, was the most active.

Volunteers were then split into two groups: those who were allowed a good night's sleep and those who were not. Further MRI data showed that while the sleep-deprived group continued to do most of their mental work in their hippocampi, the other extracted information from the striatum, making navigation more automatic.

"If you have slept, you use a means of navigation that is less thoughtful," explains Pierre Orban, one of the study's authors. "You somehow know that you have to turn left, or right or carry straight on."

The study concluded that sleep helps transfer memory from the hippocampus to the striatum, facilitating less work when recalling spatial facts. However, despite the increase in mental efficiency, both memory retrieval methods produced effective navigational results, indicating that sleep deprivation affects mental function but not behavior.

AE: Having trouble navigating alien-ravaged L.A.? Try taking a nap. Having trouble sleeping? Try reading the full study. And say, will extreme vaporware sequel Duke Nukem Forever ever get released? Don't bet a good night's sleep on it.

-Saving San Diego babes from the alien bastards, GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen

Crime Files.... Would-be School Shooters Said to be Gamers

It's probably, almost certainly, potentially possible that maybe the video games perhaps made them do it.

Or not.

Numerous GP readers wrote in about the brief mention of video game playing by five boys accused of plotting a Columbine-style massacre at a high school in Kansas. A widely circulated Associated Press report contains but a single line relating to games:

"(Cherokee County Sheriff Steve) Norman also mentioned bullying and said investigators had learned the suspects liked violent video games."

...and that's it. No info on which games, or much of any news about the suspects beyond the characterization of one as an "oddball" who was also a victim of bullying.

It's frustrating that we never seem to get to a bottom line with the alleged relationship of video games to these situations. GP believes it would be highly unusual these days to find an American male, 15 to 18, who hasn't played at least some violent games, whether it be the relatively gore-free shoot 'em up action of Halo 2, the fantasy violence of World of Warcraft, or more hardcore titles such as GTA San Andreas.

Naturally, the game critics will jump all over this one. They have almost certainly started already - never mind that the facts aren't known. Ever since the revelation that the Columbine killers played Doom, video games have become fair game for media sensationalists, game violence critics, and culture cops.

The Columbine killers, of course, didn't shoot up the school with copies of Doom, but rather with guns, purchased illegally.

Stupid Parent Tricks... 8-year-old GTA Fans Steals Van

Forget the kid. Lock up the mom.

It seems this 8-year-old boy in Modesto, California swipes his third grade teacher's car keys from her purse and then steals her minivan. He makes it all the way home without crashing.

When the police arrive, they can't even arrest the kid. He's too young. In most states a juvenile can't be charged with a crime until they are ten or older, the theory being that children aren't emotionally equipped to judge right from wrong much before that age.

As for the boy, who has had prior police contacts, he gets suspended from school. The teacher says she won't let him back in her class.

Understandable.

What's mom have to say? GTA - where players take any car they want, any time they want - is the kid's favorite game.

Even a foolproof game rating system won't help when the parent is a fool.

GP: Thanks to many GP'ers who submitted this one...

GP Goes Hollywood

No, they're not making "Close Encounters of the GamePolitics Kind."

But GP did show up in a just-published piece in the The Hollywood Reporter.

THR video game columnist Paul Hyman interviewed ESA boss man Doug Lowenstein and yours truly while compiling his "Games industry battles new legislation." Paul surveys the current legislative landscape and examines the role of the newly-established Video Game Voters Network.

Doug was obviously worked up about the political football that the video game industry has become, saying, "This is one of the biggest red-herring issues I've seen in my 35 years of public life. The notion that there are hordes of 12-year-olds swarming around in malls buying M-rated games is nonsense."

Unfortunately, Paul couldn't persuade any of the U.S. Senators (Clinton, Lieberman, Bayh) sponsoring the Family Entertainment Protection Act (FEPA) to be interviewed for this excellent report.

What's up with that, senatorial types?