Nov 24 2005

Essential Purchase

In April 2005 I spent five days in Seoul, South Korea, investigating the local games culture. The results of that expedition are in this month’s PC gamer (issue 156), which is out now. Part travelogue, part culture commentary, the 12-page feature (designed by expert pagesmith Mark Wynne) is one of the strongest pieces of videogame writing with my name on it and, I hope, one of the more insightful articles on the South Korean games phenomenon.

That issue of PC Gamer also contains a two-page report from one of Eve’s most annoying battles.

PC Gamer: It’s Got Me In It, Again.

Nov 22 2005

Eat Electric Death

Because fish is good for you:

“A fish of this species occasionally raises its frequency but never lowers it, Tallarovic says. She suspected signal jamming when she noticed upward frequency shifts as one fish attacked another. “Everybody just told me, ‘No, it’s got to be an artifact,’” she says.

“So, she and Zakon monitored fishes’ electric fields in several scenarios, the team reports in an upcoming Animal Behaviour. When researchers put two fish in an unfamiliar tank or used a field-emitting dummy to mimic an intruder in a fish’s home tank, both males and females tended to raise their electric-field frequencies as they attacked. The changes’ timing and context convinced the researchers that the attacking fish was jamming the other’s signals.”

LINK: Electrical Fish Jamming

Nov 22 2005

Worth Noting

The opposing law firm in a current Jack Thompson vs games case is called ‘Blank Rome’.

Well, it amused me.

Nov 21 2005

“I Was Trying To Escape”

Me. Too.

Nov 17 2005


Strange nostalgia, via Wonderland.

Nov 15 2005

Dishevel The Average Gamer

The Escapist rolls out the goods.

The griefer is a player of malign intentions. They will hurt, humiliate and dishevel the average gamer through bending and breaking the rules of online games. But their activities are hardly extraordinary. Indeed, they only exist at all because of normal, human urges, albeit the ugly and reprehensible ones. They want glory, gain or just to partake in a malignant joy at the misfortune of others. But does griefing always mean overcoming the rules of a game? Can the intentions of the griefer be satisfied by something totally within the bounds of a game?

And yeah, it’s about Eve, again.

Nov 12 2005

A Fringe Community of Paranoids

“On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets:
An Empirical Study
Ali Rahimi1, Ben Recht 2, Jason Taylor 2, Noah Vawter 2
17 Feb 2005

1: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, MIT.
2: Media Laboratory, MIT.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.”

Nov 12 2005


At about 5pm on the 11th of November the tube station at Victoria was packed with silent passengers. Amid the crowd I spied a small fat man in a baseball cap, who gave off the agitated aura of those who are mad. He was carrying a bottle of strawberry Yop and moved with darting eyes. He went to stand next to a smart and moderately attractive businesswoman in her mid-thirties. He then began to sing at the top of his voice, in a rising scale: “M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E, Mickey Mouse!” With the spelt name being yelped excitedly in increasingly strangled fashion as his vocalised madness looped in public, for all to ignore.

After perhaps five spellings he got aboard a District Line train. As it pulled away an exhausted-sounding Asian man began to announce train details over the Tannoy. I vaguely expected the microphone to be snatched form his dull lips and “M-I-C-K-E…” but it was not to be.

“At least he was having fun,” I said to my friend, after the madman had gone.

“He had his Yop,” my friend agreed.

Nov 9 2005

The Poison Fish Juggle

I don’t think I ever wrote about New Games Journalism. I try to avoid this kind of meta-commentary, because I’m happier on the shop floor, making stuff, writing about games and so on. But with the book sent and my best piece of writing ever about to be published in PC Gamer I thought I’d step into the quagmire and slosh about. Maybe build a small pillar of mud.

So there was this thing a while back when Keith wrote a piece about ‘Ten Unmissable Pieces of New Games Journalism’. It got a lot of traffic. I still get referrals from it all the time, which is a shame because my piece is one of the less interesting things I’ve written (And look how just today a Planetside man has commented. I shall return there soon).

I think Keith wrote that article because people were bashing games journalism and a few of us made a fuss and said ‘hey, there is good stuff, and you need to tell them, Keith, you big mainstream journalist.’ And there was stuff. And Keith made a list. Looking at it now it seems that there wasn’t an underlying theme at all to Keith’s list, except that none of it fitted with the preview/review/Top Ten Shooters templates that we’re all familiar with from traditional web/mag games journalism. They were feature writing. Writing about certain subjects, in a variety of styles.

Quite a few people didn’t like A Rape In Cyberspace, which came top of the list. I’m wondering if that didn’t colour every single piece of critical commentary on the idea since. Given control over the flow of the universe I’d have put Chick’s piece top, and seen how that changed things.

It seems as if a couple of pieces of writing that had nothing to do with Gillen’s manifesto have, by virtue of Keith’s excellent list, created an independent concept of what Gillen was trying to say with his ludicrous phrase-mongering.

Simply, I took it to mean ‘we need to write more pieces that aren’t just reviews/feature lists/marketing spiel’, which was basically the theme of what a group of games journalists talk about down the pub every night. But take RAM Raider’s summation of it:

Think of it like The Longest Journey. Stark was the world of science that took itself very seriously, while Arcadia was a parallel world where fantasy and magic existed, but was being threatened by the balance. Think of NGJ as Stark (clinical, joyless, overly existential and self referential) and OGJ as Arcadia (more basic and earthy, but tingling with magic and fantasy). Imagine there’s a King of Arcadia and a Queen of Stark. Both are arrogant, and have a belief that they are always correct (characteristics of every good critic), but the King of Arcadia’s style upholds the balance between arrogance and criticism, and self-referentialism and critique. The Queen of Stark, on the other hand, threatens the balance by forgetting the fantasy world of wonder exists, and focuses too much on reading between the lines like a sixth-form A-Level English Literature student until all traces of fun have been analysed out of the equation.

The moral of the story? The balance has to be maintained. Forget the fact that you’re writing about games that are there to entertain and be fun, and you’ll end up with some bollocks about being raped in cyberspace.

That seems representative of a lot of what folk had been talking about, but it doesn’t seem representative of Keith’s list. I am wondering, now that we’ve finished the book, whether someone will describe it in a similar way. In some ways I hope they do, because it’d sort out those stuck in their own ideological/personal reactions from those who realised that Gillen’s warbling and Keith’s list were just an attempt to point out that there’s a lot of variety in games writing. There is no NGJ ‘style’, and to say so implies Gillen’s manifesto was a style guide or some equally useless piece of classificatory analysis. There are simply new ways of talking, and new things to talk about.

For the last year, from the Korea investigation to editing the book, the job has taught me a lesson that I hope I’ve packaged in those pages we just sent to the publisher: that there is new games journalism, without the capital letters, and it speaks with a multitude of voices. And you’re not going to like all of it, but why should you? There is no ‘balance’, no status quo needs to be maintained, because people will just write about what they’re interested in. And they’re interested in some very different things, from the words they use, to the games they play. Imagine if they weren’t. Hideous homogenous nonsense would result.

We’re really all cultural omnivores. As this blog shows, I don’t just think about games, or just write about games. But even when just thinking about games I’m concerned with variety. The book has been a superb exercise in demonstrating just what a huge terrain games writing now covers. Having Tim Stone’s delirious 1950s parodic simulation interests next to Stuart Campbell’s energised rants, next to O’Connor’s lunatic Katamari review, next to my Eve evangelising, next to Chick’s hilarious and human Saving Private Donny, next to Remy’s classic developer inteview… it all just goes to show that games journalism is a juicy, evolving heap of ideas, many of which you won’t like or agree with. But they’re simply not falling into any brackets of convenience. Classifying these pieces of writing in sections was almost impossible, as we discovered.

Anyway, you’ll make your own judgments, and I’m looking forward to compiling a Wasp Factory of positive and negative comments on its release.

In other news: the piece I wrote on Korea has finally been sent to press. It’s coming out in PC Gamer on the 17th of November. It has some big problems (ha) but it’s the best piece of games journalism (proper honest-to-paper travelling to Far Away and talking to the people there) I have ever written and, I hope, one of the best things written about gaming this year. Please buy PC Gamer next week, read it, and tell me what you think.

I’ll write some more about it on the day of publishing, probably.

Nov 8 2005

Attack Messages

“In its early days, the rioting appeared to spread spontaneously, but law enforcement officials said it was also being abetted by exhortations on the Internet. Worse, said Patrick Hamon, the national police spokesman, “what we notice is that the bands of youths are, little by little, getting more organized” and are sending attack messages by mobile phone texts.

Some sites on the Internet mourned the two teenagers; others issued insults to the police or warned that the uprisings would only give the anti-immigrant far right an opportunity.”