Politics and Law Feed

And Now, A Very Special Interview Reenactment Theater

There's a neat recurring feature over at Defunct Games in which classic interviews from old video game magazines are produced as little audio plays.  I'm featured in the most recent installment which reenacts a 1995 interview from Next Generation magazine discussing horror elements in video games and how far is too far when it comes to digital scares and gore.  I read the part of Jay Wilbur, former business manager at iD Software who is there defending Doom.  It was a fun lark to do and I hope you all enjoy listening to it.


Thrill At Negotiation Simulation In World Of Peacecraft

Late night talk shows have been mining video games for humor for a while now, but I believe this is the first instance of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver tweaking the medium for a laugh.  Here's a clip from this past weekend's episode which advertises the new alternative to war-based video games.  Why fight on the battlefield when you can fight in the conference room?  Prepare for World of Peacecraft. It's a parody now, but give it time. Someone will create this game and put it up on Steam Greenlight before too long.


Stephen Colbert Is Right About SimCity

Perhaps you've seen this clip of Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert discussing potential gun control legislation and how/if video games can influence human behavior on The Colbert Report.  It's been making the rounds online through the gaming community in the past day (the gaming material is near the end of the clip).  At one point, Colbert points out that games do influence children by pointing out how many children played SimCity years ago and have since gone on to become urban planners.  I had a good laugh at that notion until I realized that I'm a perfect example of Colbert's theory.  I played a lot of SimCity as a kid.  I had the Super NES version of the game and spent many, many days off from school laying out the familiar residential, commercial, and industrial zones.  I placed power plants around the landform like there was no tomorrow.  Airports?  Seaports?  No problem.  Over the years I shifted my SimCity habits to PC and picked up SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, and SimCity 4 along with all of the expansion packs (and I still play them; over the holiday break last month I created another thriving city in SimCity 4).  Do you know what I do for work when I'm not writing about video games?  I work in urban planning.  For nearly fourteen years now I've designed construction concepts in a large community of over 50,000 people to maximize building relationships and encourage efficient design.  I am the culmination of Stephen Colbert's gaming nightmare.  Somehow, I think I can cope with that.


Election Day In The Mushroom Kingdom

Mario for presidentIt's Election Day in the United States of America once again, so if you're eligible to vote, be sure to grab your ID, charge your portable gaming gadget's batteries, and get out there to the line at your local precinct. Tonight we can all come together as a nation and celebrate the great news (by which, of course, I mean that we've finally come to the end of the glut of political advertisements and automated telephone calls stumping for candidates and policies for another few years). Whether you support Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for the presidency, I think there is one thing on which we can all agree: it would be more fun to vote for fictional characters for the office of Commander-in-Chief. Here's a conversation that the Evilcast's Chris Nitz and I had yesterday morning on Twitter in which we debate the policy issues and scandals surrounding two third-party candidates from distant lands.


Here Comes Another Attempt To Legislate Video Games

Phoenix WrightYou'd think that after all of the court cases that have found in favor of the video game industry when it comes to restricting the sale of games with a poorly written, slippery slope of a law that government officials looking to pander to voters would have moved on to a new target.  Nevertheless, today brings word that Congressmen Joe Baca and Frank Wolf have proposed the Violence in Video Games Labeling Act that would require all video games rated E-for-Everyone and up to carry a warning label.  Game Informer explains:

"The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families and to consumers — to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products," Baca said, as reported by The Hill. "They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility."

"Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior," Wolf said. "As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games."

If the bill passes, it would require any game with an ESRB rating of E (Everybody) and above to carry a warning label regardless of whether or not it was actually considered "violent." The only games that would not have to carry a label are ones rated EC (Early Childhood). Previous attempts to pass the bill occurred in 2009 and 2011.

All of the usual poor logic and slimy weasel words are in Baca's and Wolf's statements.  There's blessed mentions of families, responsibilities, the comparison of video games to tobacco, identifying oneself as a parent and a grandparent, and the usual rhetoric about people having a right to know information.  I've grown very tired of legislators dragging games down into the mud just for the sake of attracting the votes of an ill-informed public.  Video games are protected free speech.  Leave 'em alone.


Demonic 3DS Brain Age Could Be A Localization Nightmare

Demon TrainingNintendo struck gold with its Brain Age titles for the Nintendo DS, so it only makes sense that a new installment of the brain trainer series is in development for the Nintendo 3DS.  This one, however, might pose a challenge when it comes to North America.  See, the hook this time around is that the new puzzles are devilishly difficult, so friendly floating head Professor Kawashima has become a red-skinned horned demon.  I'm sure that'll go over well in the Bible Belt.  This seems like a localization nightmare when it comes to bringing the tentatively titled Demon Training abroad.  Nintendo will never be able to sell this game in highly religious communities.  I can already envision the local television news running a story about how Nintendo wants to corrupt your children with its devil game.  Stances on religious instances in video games are laxer in Japan than in the states, and while Nintendo of America has censored little aspects of games in the past as part of the translation process, it's also outright passed on games in which the religious iconography is too central to a game's main theme to remove.  Remember Devil World, for example?  Brain Age was too profitable for the next installment not to come to America, but I wouldn't be surprised if Demon Training were given an exorcism and entirely rethemed by the time it inevitably lands stateside.


The Daily Show Invokes Floridal Kombat

Mortal KombatThe Republican presidential primary is happening in Florida today, and as the election carnival rolls through the sunshine state in advance of today's voting, The Daily Show is covering the back-and-forth snipping and tripping between GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.  The fun part comes from the use of gameplay clips from last year's Mortal Kombat for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 to illuminate the conflict between the two potential nominees.  Watch Jon Stewart annotate the debate in advance of a political finishing move.

What I find most interesting about The Daily Show using Mortal Kombat clips as a punchline is that last July when the show reported on the Supreme Court decision that extended free speech protection to video games, the show used clips of this same Mortal Kombat game to argue that based on its gory and unsettling content, games should not enjoy such protection.  The show purposefully called out that the Mortal Kombat footage was disturbing and not easy to watch.  Now the program is using clips of the same game in a humorous way to punctuate the political report.  I'm not against the use of Mortal Kombat footage for hilarity purposes (and I thought that this "Floridal Kombat" segment was very funny), but I do think it's odd for The Daily Show to cite Mortal Kombat as an example of a game that is so distasteful that it should invalidate the medium's free speech protection while also using the same game for its comedy needs. 


Power Button - Episode 74: Squashing SOPA And Poking PIPA

Power ButtonThe Internet rose up as one this week in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills that have been working their way through the United States Congress.  In this episode of Power Button, Brad Hilderbrand, Joey Davidson, and I get a bit political as we discuss the bills and how the video game journalism side of the business covered the protests and/or participated in them.  Was it appropriate for news sites to black out their publications for the day?  Should websites owned by big business be held to the same standards as independent publications?  We hash it out and get to the bottom of things. Remember that even though both bills have now been shelved, we haven't seen the last of legislation that impacts the Internet.  I'm sure we'll see bills like SOPA and PIPA again.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.  Next Week: Now that the politics are handled, we're going to let our sociopathic tendencies shine as we discuss Saints Row: The Third.  Call the hotline and tell us what you think of the game!


Power Button - Episode 74: Squashing SOPA And Poking PIPA


Wash Your Hands Of SOPA

Generic imageThe Internet has transformed our civilization on a scale not seen since the printing press, but nothing important and essential goes unlegislated forever.  You may have noticed that a number of your favorite websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, and Wordpress have gone dark today in protest of something called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).  These bills currently working their way through the United States House of Representatives and Senate respectively would gut the fair use and safe harbor provisions that allow people to legitimately quote articles, post images, and share music and video clips online (among other things).  Wikipedia explains these overly broad and poorly written bills currently working their way through Congress (although Wikipedia is offline today, SOPA-related articles remain accessible):

[SOPA] would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

Opponents say that it violates the First Amendment, is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech actions. Opponents have initiated a number of protest actions, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and planned service blackouts by English Wikipedia and major Internet companies scheduled to coincide with the next Congressional hearing on the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on November 16 and December 15, 2011. The Committee was scheduled to continue debate in January 2012, but on January 17 Chairman Smith said that "[d]ue to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February."

Opponents have warned that SOPA would have a negative impact on online communities. Journalist Rebecca MacKinnon argued in an op-ed that making companies liable for users' actions could have a chilling effect on user-generated sites such as YouTube. "The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar," she says. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) warned that websites Etsy, Flickr and Vimeo all seemed likely to shut down if the bill becomes law. Policy analysts for New America Foundation say this legislation would enable law enforcement to take down an entire domain due to something posted on a single blog, arguing, "an entire largely innocent online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority."

Additional concerns include the impact on common Internet functions such as linking or access data from the cloud. EFF claimed the bill would ban linking to sites deemed offending, even in search results and on services such as Twitter. Christian Dawson, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Virginia-based hosting company ServInt, predicted that the legislation would lead to many cloud computing and Web hosting services moving out of the US to avoid lawsuits. The Electronic Frontier Foundation have stated that the requirement that any site must self-police user generated content would impose significant liability costs and explains "why venture capitalists have said en masse they won’t invest in online startups if PIPA and SOPA pass."

The potential abuse of this prospective law is staggering.  As Gizmodo points out, "The resources it would take to self-police are monumental for established companies, and unattainable for start-ups. SOPA would censor every online social outlet you have, and prevent new ones from emerging."  Today's Internet strike may inconvenience you for a few hours, but if either of these bills become law, then today's efforts are just a sample of what you can expect.  Many of your favorite websites will have to shut down or drastically censor themselves in order to comply with the law.  Small independent sites like Press The Buttons would cease to exist in their current forms.  Even large sites like Facebook and Twitter would have to drastically alter their policies in order to continue to do business.  I urge all of you who live in the United States to contact your senators and representative today and voice your opinion on the so-called Internet blacklist bills.  Take a break from Steelport, head away from Hyrule, and come out of Karkand in order to make those calls, write those letters, and send that e-mail.  Spread the word to your friends and family, too.  While stopping piracy is important, crippling the open Internet to do it is about as counterproductive and outright harmful as things get.


Please Don't Pirate Donkey Kong Country 3

Donkey Kong Country 3Two years ago we had a look at how Nintendo's EarthBound handles illegal copying and other such modifications.  As you'll recall, the game makes things increasingly difficult and frustrating in an effort to throw software pirates into agonizing situations.  Most video games aren't that inventive or devious.  Consider Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble also for the Super NES that occasionally checks to ensure that the proper amount of SRAM is available to the game.  If it doesn't like what it finds (say, too much or too little which would indicate the presence of a copying device used to backup and pirate games or some other modifier), then the action comes to a halt and this ominous screen appears that combines the Game Over image with the boss battle theme and some brief explanatory text.

Donkey Kong Country 2 pulls a similar trick, but without the background music.  Most Nintendo games of the era displayed similar errors and warnings when the integrity of the system was compromised, but few of them went to this level of detail.  Titles such as Super Mario All-Stars, Super Metroid, and Super Punch-Out!! merely display a black screen with simple text citing copyright statute, for instance.  EarthBound still wins the prize for most inventive copy protection, but DKC3 has to score a few points for the basic effort and creepiness factor alone.