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CURRENTS
Issue #56
June 28, 2007
Lo-Fi Edition
Front Page

Wahoo! It's been quite a week, hasn't it? Summer has officially begun and the videogame industry has officially started to slow down. Not too much to report on from the system standpoint, but a whole lot happening within the industry as a whole. I had my wonderful birthday this past weekend, which was not beneficial for column writing (especially when coupled with the obligatory summer job search and a computer crash X_X), but I managed to tough through it and put a bit of reading together for everyone. Aren't I nice? I can't believe I actually pulled myself away from my beautiful new guitar and amp (swoon!) to write this little thing, but I have to keep you updated, now don't I? Let's start off this special Saturday edition of the Currents column the right way, shall we?

Is this...is this the news first? What is the world coming to? Oh forget that. On to victory!
Are You Addicted?
Studies find that researchers are overzealous in classifying addictions.
Title

One of the more...interesting...tidbits of news to come out in the last week came from the American Medical Association, who decided to look into videogames as an actual form of addiction (a la alcohol, heroin, etc.). While Everquest and World of Warcraft fans the world over have experienced levels of dependence and immersion within their virtual world that is greater than say, Tetris, does it really mean that there is some truth to the token analogy between videogames and crack?

According to doctors (gasp!), the idea of aligning virtual videogames alongside addictive substances such as alcohol, smoking, and other narcotics is a bit far fetched. While we here at RPGamer were mentioning such things way back in December, Dr. Stuart Gitlow from the American Society of Addiction Medicine had this to say about the link between videogames and addiction:

There is nothing here to suggest that this is a complex physiological disease state akin to alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders, and it doesn't get to have the word addiction attached to it

In addition, Dr. Louis Kraus (from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) noted that "it's not necessarily a cause-and-effect type issue [between videogames and addiction]. There may be certain kids who have a compulsive component to what they are doing," and proceeded to mention one of the more documented and obvious ways in which children can be harmed as a result of videogames:

The more time kids spend on video games, the less time they will have socializing, the less time they will have with their families, the less time they will have exercising...[the kids] can make up academic deficits, but they can't make up the social ones.

However, some doctors still believe there are observable ties that make videogames seem like an addictive substance. "Working with this problem is no different than working with alcoholic patients. The same denial, the same rationalization, the same inability to give it up," noted Dr. Thomas Allen of the Osler Medical Center in Towson (not Twoson), Maryland. These problems may result in a new classification if the problem continues to increase by 2012 (when the journal is next updated with new addictions and such), but you shouldn't worry too much. I highly doubt you'll have to worry about getting your gaming fix anytime soon.

Sources: GameDaily | 1up
New York Game Bill Passes In Senate
Looks like those crazy Republicans and Democrats finally agreed on something...
Title

Remember those two kooky little New York Senate videogame bills that were discussed a few weeks ago? The bills, which aim to criminalize the sale of Mature games to minors and establish an independent ESRB oversight committee to check on game ratings, were finally put on the floor and passed in the New York Senate this past week. The bill was passed with surprisingly few problems from the Reds or Blues, so what kinds of controversy will this mean for our beloved videogame industry?

Nothing yet. The Senate has to reconvene in July to give the bills their final stamp of approval. But when this happens, there is the possibility of some serious controversy on the horizon for blockbusters such as Grand Theft Auto IV, which fit into the "violent game" category set up by Senators in the very worst way. Republican Senator Andrew Lanza, one of the strongest proponents of the bills, notes that his legislation aims to prevent "games that, for instance, reward you for shooting and murdering New York City police officers," which will cause some serious problems for the Liberty City fuzz found in GTA IV. Here's to hoping that the "oversight committee" notices that killing police officers in GTA IV makes the game more difficult through increased pursuit and chance of death, and as such, does not reward the player (which is highly unlikely).

On top of all of this, the folks over at Lower Hudson Online have noted that, in addition to the oversight committee, "manufacturers would have to equip game consoles with parental-control devices [while] retailers would have to label games that are violent and obscene." While we all remember the lockout features present on our PS2s and Xboxs, it will be worth watching to see if this creates problems for the systems themselves further down the road. All in all, this will continue to be an interesting period for videogames. While the law restricting sales of Mature games to minors seems understandable (if not a bit late), here's hoping that the oversight committee doesn't end up censoring violent games altogether.

Sources: GamePolitics | NY News
Sony: Approximately 380 New PlayStation Games By March 2008
Now that's a goal!
Title

According to Reuters, Sony has some serious plans to bring the PS3 to the forefront of the next generation. Toting a grand total of 380 games worldwide for the newfangled system (approximately 200 retail, 180 online released), Sony's Chief Executive Howard Stringer noted that "attractive game software is the key to accelerate PS3 growth over the next year."

In further clarification, Sony noted that 145 of those games are on their way over to the United States (105 boxed, retail games, 40 PlayStation Network online exclusives). According to the same report, heavy hitters such as Heavenly Sword, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, and Metal Gear Solid 4 are all set for release during the 2007 fiscal year. PlayStation fans should get ready to be excited for this holiday season, because if Sony can manage to put out some of these blockbusters by the holiday, hundreds of thousands of people will have some sore thumbs to attend to.

Sources: GamesIndustry | Reuters
WiiWare Set To Change Industry Next Spring
Sure, it's not new. But it's neat!
Title

Homebrewers and closet coders, rejoice! Nintendo has finally unveiled its own online-exclusive game channel, and opened the door to indie/smaller developers to make their own Wii games. The slightly hidden and ingeniously-titled WiiWare section has lain mostly dormant for some time now, with one small voting application and the Opera browser being the only two reasons worth paying the little nook a visit. But next year, things will be much different, as the banal WiiWare section will grow into something more akin to Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade and Sony's PlayStation Network.

According to Newsweek (who broke the story a day early), the WiiWare section is set to be revamped and filled with games created by smaller and independent publishers that can be purchased for Wii Points (just like their Virtual Console counterparts). When the plans were officially released last Wednesday, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime seemed very excited about the channel's new developments and plans for smaller publishers, saying that "independent developers armed with small budgets and big ideas will be able to get their original games into the marketplace to see if we can find the next smash hit." In other words, Nintendo sees the channel as a win-win for developers and Nintendo alike, given the way that "the reduced barriers to development provide developers the freedom to create and [provide] an inexpensive, clearly defined path to reach consumers who will ultimately determine which game will become the Next Big Thing." The games will receive their ultimate approval from Nintendo and will (of course) be rated by the ESRB before they see the light of day, so if you were thinking of throwing some sort of offensive venture together, you may have to look somewhere else (don't worry, there's always Newgrounds).

Big gaming companies allowing for publishers to take risks while simultaneously allowing for industry outsiders to bring their ideas to the mainstream? Sounds like a great plan to me. In this era with multi-million dollar budgets for almost every videogame that's released stateside, Nintendo's plan to allow developers to try out new ideas in a relatively inexpensive manner will hopefully give rise to some truly innovative and awesome gaming ideas. Let's just hope that we see some truly original and awesome games come the Wii's way next spring, rather than just more ports that don't really bring anything new to the table.

Sources: Newsweek | Nintendo
Nintendo Briefly Overtakes Sony
Mario & Co.'s plan to take over the world seems to be succeeding!
Title

Nintendo, the little company that could, is continuously making strides in the right direction this generation. With (relatively) low priced software and a marketing schematic that grabs grandpas by their dentures, Nintendo has certainly got off to a great start this year with its DS and Wii. How successful exactly? So successful, in fact, that Nintendo has managed to inch towards (and even pass!) Sony's market value.

This little nudge past their videogame adversary makes Nintendo one of the most valuable companies in Japan. According to GameDaily, Nintendo is up there in the top ten with the likes of other Japanese giants such as Canon, Honda, and Toyota to name a few. While Nintendo's stock fluctuations meant that it ended up below Sony at the end of the day (about .10 trillion yen behind), Nintendo's brief victory shows how its consoles have helped them push into new territories that few could have forseen.

Currently, Nintendo and Sony are at 6.39 trillion yen and 6.48 trillion yen respectively. Both companies still have a very strong presence on the Japanese stock market, and will probably fluctuate for the tenth place spot on the market charts. It will be interesting to see if Nintendo's momentum can keep their success going, or if Sony's late bloomer will steal the show in a year's time. Either way, Nintendo is making some serious strides that no one could have seen by solely looking at their blocky last-gen counterpart.

Sources: GameDaily | 1up
RANDOM: Special Manhunt 2 Edition!
Slow news this week, but Manhunt 2 is still causing enough fuss to warrant its own updates
Title
  • According to Take Two (via Gamespot), their controversial game revolving around an insane person's murder spree out of a mental institution is "a fine piece of art" that is "actually pretty tame" in comparison to most horror movies out there. Take Two's Chairman Strauss Zelnick also pointed out how Manhunt 2 is a horror game (much like horror movies), and is intended for audiences over 17. In an intersting twist, Zelnick noted that "banning the original version of Manhunt 2 may be a good way to demonstrate that the industry can police itself," which is what many people think the ESRB might be doing. However, he further noted that "side by side, though, movies seem to be way ahead of games in delivering top-notch gore." The controversial game's production is currently on hold, since neither Nintendo nor Sony will release an Adults Only rated game.

  • Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime finally took a shot at Manhunt 2 last week, marking the first time that the company had made any official remarks towards the game aside from their recapitulation of policy with "Adults Only" rated games. Fils-Aime noted in an interview with Newsweek that the game simply lies outside of their rating spectrum, and will promptly be released if it can get a Mature rating. He further noted that the realistic controls, which have spawned even more controversy due to the way that the player actually "acts out" the murders with the Wiimote and Nunchuk, should "not be an issue" with the current ESRB guidelines.

  • A handful of people have actually played Manhunt 2 and have posted their responses to the charges made by the British Board of Film Classification and the Ireland censors. One of the best accounts of the game comes from Newsweek's N'gai Croal, who recently took the game for a spin through four of the game's levels to get a feel for it. In a discussion with MTV's Stephen Totilo, Croal reported that the criterion by which the BBFC decided to censor the game, namely due to its "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing," seemed to be correct; however, these things were no more gruesome than the average horror movie such as Saw III or Hostel, or other controversial movies of the past. Ultimately, Croal concludes that "unless [the censors] have good reason to believe that this game is an imminent threat to the public order, or that it will in and of itself incite adults to violence, [the BBFC and IFCO's] decision seems to me to be based on taste, and I will never believe in substituting anyone else's tastes for my own." Well put. Take a look here for the full article.
Sources: Newsweek | Gamespot | Joystiq

And that just about sums it up. I suppose I should get back to shopping for things for my upcoming four-year anniversary (!) with my girlfriend, or playing some guitar to pass the time. Anyone else face the dilemma of replaying old games or starting up new ones? I've had Twilight Princess on my shelf for a while, waiting for me to get sucked into its lush and wondrous world. But then there's Earthbound,Final Fantasy VII, and all kinds of other games I have either beaten, need to beat, or just want to play again for no real reason.

.MUST.PLAY.MORE.GAMES.

Cole Jones

 

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