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by L.B. Jeffries

9 Jun 2009

From gamespot.com

From gamespot.com

The release and poor sales of SEGA’s Madworld is just another notch in what is becoming a very real gap between the different groups of people who play video games. Often blamed directly on Nintendo’s Wii, the poor sales of a highly rated game by mainstream gaming websites is just another indication that the people buying Wii Fit are not going to be following up that purchase with Call of Duty 5. Even articles making the claim that video games are responsible for torture, violence, the housing bust, traffic, bad breath, etc. are now qualifying their criticisms with statements like, “While I happen to enjoy the ‘G’ rated Wii…” Despite the fact that there are games for stalking and murdering people on the Wii, it is consistently seen as something safe for children or as something okay for the everyday person to claim they enjoy but not for that “other” stuff. The question is…what does that make all of these hardcore gamers?

From www.latfh.com

From www.latfh.com

Part of the problem with the hardcore gamer is that the meaning of “hardcore” is such a nebulous concept to begin with. You can’t exactly claim that it revolves around playing games excessively because people regardless of gender or social background do this. The person who plays Bejeweled 2 for hours is, despite the fact that they’re both playing video games, not considered the same animal as someone who plays Halo 3 for hours. The definition doesn’t exactly revolve around violence or subject matter either because the hardcore demographic will readily enjoy The Sims or Super Mario Brothers despite the cute graphics and low amounts of violence. It doesn’t revolve around game design depth or quality because there are numerous challenging games with complex systems labeled as casual. At the core of either group is that same problem with people thinking the Wii only has casual games on it: perception. The company creating the game has to start marketing it towards one group or the other from the very beginning. Tom Endo over at The Escapist wrote that the division is so intense that games that appeal to either groups are no longer possible, “The business models and the audiences for the two gaming segments are so fundamentally different that attempting to force the two under one roof just doesn’t make sense. While it’s already started, the bifurcation in the largest publishers between business units devoted solely to core and casual game interests will only grow more distinct in the future.” In this way, the division of the hardcore gamer from the casual player mostly becomes an exercise in what they are not: they are not whatever casual gamers are.

From gamespot.com

From gamespot.com

The practice of being counter-culture, to actively define yourself by what you are not, is only fairly new to video games. Absent a political agenda or purpose like other counter-culture movements, there is a comparison to the division that exists between casual gamers and hardcore gamers that seems a bit more apt. They are the cultural equivalent of hipsters.

From www.xoryst.com

From www.xoryst.com

Like the hardcore gamer, the hipster is a nebulous concept to define. These are the people wearing random thriftstore shirts, engaging with the latest indie band, or perhaps just carrying with them a pervasive sense of the ironic. One of the strongest articles on the subject is by Adbusters, which defines hipsters as indicative of the death of culture. The article opines, “Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group—using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.” The article goes on to explain that they are a mirror of the shallowness of mainstream society, a failed youth movement that doesn’t even challenge the decadence of their elders. Instead, the hipster is just a counter-point to Gen-X, an identity based on meaninglessness instead of brand names. Rob Horning here at the Popmatters blog Marginal Utility has done excellent coverage of the topic drawing in a wide variety of opinions. In one piece he provides an excellent quote from Dara Lind who wonders why a generation of typically privileged people with opportunity are ending up in such a cultural state of zombification. In the post “The Death of the Hipster”, he points out, “The problem with hipsters seems to me the way in which they reduce the particularity of anything you might be curious about or invested in into the same dreary common denominator of how “cool” it is perceived to be. Everything becomes just another signifier of personal identity.”

From www.current.com

From www.current.com

On the surface, these two groups could not be more alien. A post by PixelVixen707 discussing the comparison points out many of the flaws in the analogy. She writes, “Gamers accumulate knowledge; hipsters move through it, consuming and relinquishing it daily. Gamers accumulate years’ worth of garbage and trivia, and never let it go. They are still making Portal jokes. A hipster is judged by what’s now; gamers, by what they were playing in 1993.” Easily the most popular critics of video games is Penny Arcade, and as she points out, they accomplish this through a sense of inclusiveness. But past these social difference, they are technically performing the same cultural activity. Both identities are self-created and enforced by the community’s own tastes.

Consider how a game becomes “high art” in gamer culture. The means by which we judge which ten year old game is significant is mostly artificial. Critics just choose games that they will then discuss in a more complex fashion. Using Shadow of the Colossus as an example, a blogger named Vanderblade explains how gaming websites elevated the game’s status. He comments, “Whether or not a videogame is highbrow depends largely on if the gaming community positions it and defines it as such. In the case of Shadow of the Colossus, the discourse surrounding the game clearly identifies it as culturally superior to most other games.” Although that specific example deals with the vagaries of highbrow video games, it also explores the same mechanism by which gamers select whether something is casual or hardcore. We just make it up.

From www.latfh.com

From www.latfh.com

Video games have very recently attained their moment in the mainstream spotlight and the reaction is just starting to turn hostile. An example of a typical hardcore rant against casual games at Good Gear Guide places the blame squarely on Nintendo and the Wii for the downfall of video games. The author rants, “Call it a fad or a gimmick if you will, but this is exactly what the masses want — and they’re gatecrashing the party in their millions. Nintendo’s “come one, come all” approach to gaming has revolutionized our once-insular industry, with grannies, girlfriends and non-gamers all getting in on the action.” The hipster tone begins to set in once the article defines anything as hardcore that is not a “casual/party” game or put more colloquially, whatever is not mainstream. The symptoms of this do not just relate to Nintendo games either. The Halo 3 backlash is taking on somewhat mythic proportions as posters and message boards continue to complain that the game is not worthy of its popularity. Whatever your opinion on the game, a title doesn’t host over one billion multiplayer matches because it’s doing something wrong. Ultimately, the hardcore gamer will probably fall into the same cultural cycle as the hipster as it repudiates what is mainstream for the sake of remaining against such a culture. As Horning at PopMatters dryly jokes, “One can’t be against hipsters. Hipsterism consists of its own repudiation. Recognizing the existence of hipsters to a certain degree makes one a hipster.” One could easily say the same about hardcore gamers.

by Colin McGuire

9 Jun 2009

Twelve votes.

That was the difference Monday night when The Boston Newspaper Guild voted 277-265 against a new contract with the New York Times Co. that would have, if nothing else, guaranteed The Boston Globe a lifeline for a little while, at least. Instead, the paper now stares at the possibility of shutting its doors more intently than ever, considering the Times Co. said it needed at least $20 million in annual savings from Globe unions — half of that number slated to come from the Guild.

From the Associated Press:

The Times Co. demanded the concessions amid an increasingly dire financial situation at the Globe. The newspaper like others has struggled as readers migrated to the Internet, advertising revenue declined drastically and circulation fell. The Globe had $50 million in operating losses in 2008 and had been projected to lose $85 million this year.

Six other Globe unions have approved concessions — but they hinged on the Guild’s ratification of new terms.

The Times Co. had said that if the Guild rejected the proposal, it would try to impose a 23 percent wage cut. It also has threatened to close the newspaper, which would require giving 60 days notice to employees and the state.

In a statement released after the vote, the Globe said it was disappointed with the outcome and had no “financially viable alternative” but to declare an impasse and impose the deeper wage cut to achieve the necessary savings.

“This evening we have sent a letter to the Guild stating that as a result of the rejection of this proposal, we have reverted to our alternative Final Record Proposal which provides for a 23 percent wage reduction for all Guild members,” the statement read.

The cut would take effect next week. The Globe said the newspaper would be willing to meet with the union this week to review implementation of the cut.

The story continues to quote a bureau chief who makes the obvious point by saying a 23 percent decrease in pay would cost the paper “a lot of very talented journalists.” Another reporter is quoted as saying the Times needs to “take away the gun pointed at our heads.” Naturally, he voted against the contract. 

This is rough, but monumental nonetheless. If The Globe goes down, having already seen the Rocky Mountain News fold and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer move to online-only content over the course of the past year, the demise of The Boston Globe might just be the proverbial white flag the newspaper industry has been trying so hard to avoid through these incredibly hard times.

And it’s utterly impossible to point fingers at this point, too. Workers need to get paid and companies need to make money. Both of those things have become increasingly hard to achieve in the world’s flailing economy, let alone a business that has been doing all it can to simply keep its head from being completely submerged in water.

Is this the end? Can something be worked out for both the Times Co. and The Globe? Can advertising dollars rebound in the second half of the year? Even more so, when the global economy happens to be fixed, will the newspaper industry benefit from that at all, or will it simply be too late? Is there hope?

If nothing else, these two parties need to come to an agreement when they sit back down later this week in order to salvage the humungous hit the industry’s morale would take should The Globe have to go under. Because while this problem may seem to come down to the mere value of dollars and cents, there is so much more at stake here than simply money.

by Lara Killian

8 Jun 2009

This week I’m in the final throes of Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes (2007). That’s the title you’ll find it under in Canada, at least. In the US the book was released as Someone Knows My Name. Someone may know your name, but that title tells us little about the book itself. I like the original better, referring as it does to an actual historical record of blacks who emigrated to Canada in the late 18th century.

Hill has won several major Canadian book awards for his story, which shines light on a forgotten piece of Canada’s past, during a time when Africa was an unknown continent and the people who were abducted and forced into the slave trade in the Americas had little hope of escape. Even Canada was unlikely to provide a refuge, despite the hope that people who escaped to the Maritimes clung to.

Harper Collins’ Canadian website notes:

image

Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.

This is a great story for those who appreciate reading of human triumph during some of the grimier periods in history. Hill spins a wonderful tale, inspired by the real life Book of Negroes.

by Rob Horning

8 Jun 2009

I feel a weird responsibility, as though I am required to link to this New York Times story about the hard times trust-funders in Williamsburg are now allegedly facing. As you would expect, the story is a bit anecdotal, and full of contempt bait for those who have to work, and those for whom unemployment would be truly devastating. I’m surprised anyone ould consent to be interviewed for a piece like this, but I should stop underestimating the narcissism of people in the Facebook age.

It would be easy to languor in schadenfreude at details such as these:

Luis Illades, an owner of the Urban Rustic Market and Cafe on North 12th Street, said he had seen a steady number of applicants, in their late 20s, who had never held paid jobs: They were interns at a modeling agency, for example, or worked at a college radio station. In some cases, applicants have stormed out of the market after hearing the job requirements. “They say, ‘You want me to work eight hours?’ ” Mr. Illades said. “There is a bubble bursting.”


The photo caption is pretty amusing as well: Under a photo of a casting-call hipster, it reads: “Misha Calvert, 26, relied on her parents during her first year in Williamsburg. Such financial arrangements carry a ‘giant stigma,’ she said.” A stigma, you say?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with “relying” on one’s parents, but at the Atlantic’s business site, Derek Thompson highlights the problems with the parental subsidy. Regarding the report that parents are shutting off the tap, Thompson writes:

The upside and downside of this development is pretty clear. Williamsburg real estate prices have skyrocketed in the last few years—partially on account of incomes that weren’t earned in Williamsburg—so this should help the little ‘burg move toward the rest of Brooklyn in terms of affordability. It is, it must be said, unfortunate for anybody to have their lives shaken dramatically by the recession, but much as the downturn has fostered a culture of responsibility and savings, so too should the demise of trustafarianism make the sons and daughters of the affluent more cognizant of basic human things like bottom lines and debt. The ability to pursue your life dreams in your early twenties on the back of your parents’ earnings is a kind of awesome gig, but in the long term it insulates you from an understanding of what life costs.

The time spent “pursuing life dreams” on the parents’ dime is probably wasted if during that time one is hanging around with other trust-funders who are detached from the actual economy. Success in the “glamour” fields usually involves forming the right friendships when the opportunities arise. If trust-fund ghettos also included a mix of cultural-broker types, the time spent socializing together in the neighborhood might ultimately prove worth subsidizing. But it seems to me that the artists and creative types unsullied by the taint of employment have little in common with the realists who have managed to compromise with the way the economy works. Those compromises, for better or worse, may actually constitute the real skill of a creative person in a capitalist system—the ability to get paid for what you make, to convince other people that you should be paid for doing it, that you believe in what you are doing enough to subject it to the bottom-line criticism of those who mean to regard you professionally. But professionalizing is the main thing that I imagine trust-fund types are trying to avoid. The whole point of places like Williamsburg, I assume, is that they are insulated from that sort of impersonal, professional failure; they are romper rooms removed from the competitive grind, from the grim scramble to make a living. They are enclaves where people can scorn money and call it bread (to paraphrase Joan Didion paraphrasing Time magazine, circa 1967). Instead of adapting to capitalist compromises, the pseudoaristocrats of Williamsburg, and places like it, can feel haunted by inconsequential failures of trendiness, the vicissitudes of purely private life.

by shathley Q

8 Jun 2009

The X-Men have tasted defeat before, but never of this kind. “Feared and hated”, as their splash page introduction reminds readers, “by a world they have sworn to protect”, X-Men count their victories by stemming the loss of life and preventing the outbreak of racial violence. Their steely resilience has always stood in sharp contrast to more glamorous teams like the Fantastic Four who regularly save the planet from galactic-level threats and enjoy the adulation of crowds. More an emergency rescue and intervention team facing the growing species tensions between human and mutant, the X-Men resolve simply to train and prepare for the worst.

In a surprise inversion of the conventional rescue-mission genre then, writer Joe Casey presents a tale ending with the X-Men being simply outclassed. Adding insult to injury, their most humiliating defeat comes at the hands of the Vanisher, a relatively inconsequential villain relegated to the dust-pile of X-Men lore.

In 2001’s “Absolute Progeny”, the Vanisher returns, only to be exposed as the head of an international drug cartel. By harvesting mutant genetic material (in the process killing ‘donors’) and marketing mutant ‘designer genes’ as the latest fad at teenage rave parties, the Vanisher has cornered the market on billion-dollar illicit industry.

In the closing pages of a story where the usual narrative conventions of the superhero rescue story are readily deployed, Angel leads a team to confront the Vanisher in his ‘lair’.

But it is at this point that the conventional narrative is overturned. Instead of a hideout overrun by henchmen, the X-Men find a technologically sophisticated environment. Here is fully-developed corporate headquarters, complete with onsite genetics laboratory, located in a country with no extradition treaty. As the X-Men prepare to engage their target, the Vanisher pontificates. Stating simple facts, he points out the impossibility of physical conflict. Even with the dissolution of his corporation, even with his removal as figurehead, the designer drug and marketplace it spawned will continue to flourish. Yet removing the Vanisher as corporate officer will require lawyers not fists.

Shortly before his exit, the Vanisher himself momentarily yearns for the halcyon simplicity of physical confrontation. “You know, I remember your fist against my jaw”, he confesses to Angel. The Vanisher’s ostensible moment of weakness, although remaining unexpressed, is marked by artist Ashley Wood’s homage to the original artwork from Uncanny X-Men #2, where Angel won a victory by striking down an adversary he ultimately dismissed as ineffectual.

//Mixed media
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Moving Pixels Podcast: Our Own Points of View on 'Hardcore Henry'

// Moving Pixels

"Hardcore Henry gives us a chance to consider not how well a video game translates to film, but how well a video game point of view translates to film.

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