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Monday, September 27, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Random thoughts from a random access mind.

At work, I've recently been introduced to Microsoft's OneNote application. It's part of MS Office and may be the single most useful application Microsoft has ever created. It's extraordinarily free form, allowing for the placement of notes, document links, graphics, photos, audio and video files, and a host of other things all within the same "notebook." I can easily see the possibilities for a writer to use OneNote to help outline and organize his novel.

A "notebook" can be made up of multiple pages -- perhaps one for each chapter -- and information can easily be moves from one page to another or from one location on a page to another. A writer could put simple one-line notes, reminders, character sketches, and even fully fleshed out scenes all on the same page, allowing the writer to get a feel for the flow of the story. As I said, I've only recently begun playing around with OneNote at work, but I can imagine a writer finding a lot to like in the application. I'm even planning on using it to keep track of people, places, and events for my role playing games. If you already own MS Office, you may already have a copy and not realize it (I did). Fortunately, the application can be purchased separately and there are freeware programs that do approximately the same thing available if you search for them.

I'm going to get political for a minute. Remember back when the Patriot Act had just recently been passed and the newspapers and talking heads were up in arms over the possibility that the government might be able to find out what books you got from the library? We currently have an administration that is seriously considering assassinating an American citizen without the benefit of a trial, yet those same newspapers and talking heads don't seem to be nearly as upset about this as they were about library books.

The new Halo game for the X-Box 360, Halo Reach, was released on Tuesday. According to news reports, the total time spent playing the game online over X-Box Live has already surpassed 6000 years. Yes, years. And Halo Reach was only the second most played online game this week (the latest Call of Duty game was number one). Add in the release of Civilization V, the first new Civilization game in five years, and I wonder just how much productivity was lost to people spending time with these two games.

Staying on the gaming topic, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving a California law intended to restrict the sales of violent video games to minors. Rather than use a rating system similar to that already in place for video games, the California law would require game publishers to judge their work for various criteria and provide that information to prospective retailers for the game. Game companies could be fined for incorrectly labeling their games and game retailers could be fined $1000 per copy sold to someone the law claims shouldn't be allowed to purchase the game. The problems are many.

The law describes a violent game as being one in which "the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." By that wording, Lego Star Wars, a game that the current rating system rates E (for Everyone), could quite reasonably be considered a "violent game" unsuitable for sale to anyone under the age of 18. Further more, this law would only apply in California. Other states would be able to create their own laws and apply their own definitions of what constitutes a violent video game. It would simply be impossible for a video game publisher to adhere to so many different laws. Along the way, innovation within the industry would be strangled.

That brings me to a second point concerning video game sales. Where are the parents in all of this? There isn't a single video game retailer in my city who will sell a game rated M (Mature) to anyone under the age of 17 without a parent being present and specifically giving the store permission to sell the game to the minor. It's entirely possible a parent could simply just give their permission without paying attention to what the sales clerk is telling them. That is hardly the fault of the game publisher or the ratings board. I've heard people try to excuse parents by saying there are too many games and they simply can't keep up. That's nothing more than lazy parenting. As an excuse, it's a crock

There are many online sites which provide detailed reviews of video games, including details concerning why the game received the rating it receive. Many magazine reviews generally provide sufficient information to allow a knowledgeable parent to make an informed decision. I know this because I use both review sites and magazines to determine what games I'll allow the Boy to play. If I can't find out enough about the game to satisfy myself, the Boy doesn't get to play the game. It's as simple as that.

This issue with video game sales was inevitable. Invariably, the growth of new media (movies, comic books, TV, rock & roll music, and now video games) must go through growing pains and fight to determine just how much regulation the government may impose on the media. Now it's the video game industry. Who knows what will come next?

That's it for this week. I'll try to have a single topic next week.
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