Issue #69
January 22, 2008
Front Page

*Oliver enters the room, and cautiously looks from side-to-side*

*After determining that all is well, he settles into his usual spot, an easy chair next to a crackling fire*

Greetings my friends, and welcome to the January 22 edition of Currents. I apologize for the slight delay, but if you remember, I was rather viciously assaulted last week by our power-mad Interaction Editor. I have had to watch my step this past week, and so far it has paid off. Lusipurr has not attempted to roast me with a fireball for some time now, and I'm hoping that he's given up for good. But then, it's really too early to tell.

I must shamefully present you with a miniaturized column. Not because I wanted to, but rather because the industry seems to be in a state of stagnation. The way things work around here, I can't generate the news, just report it. I even asked my boss if I could, y'know, start a few rumors for the sake of taking up some space, but I was rather flatly denied permission. This being the case, I'm afraid the following was all I had to work with. It's still good stuff though, so by all means, read on.

PTC Threatens Politicians who Receive Donations from ESA
Come on... give us a break here

If you remember, I reported last week that the Entertainment Software Association was forming their very own Political Action Committee for the purpose of making donations to politicians friendly to the cause of videogames. According to the ESA's president, they hope to donate between $50-100,000 to politicians in 2008. Makes sense, right? The videogame industry seems to have more than a few interests vested in Washington these days, after all.

Well, there are some people who don't like this idea. To be specific, a media watchdog group known as the Parents Television Council has announced that any politician who accepts these donations will, for all intents and purposes, be branded with a scarlet letter "V". In the words of PTC president Tim Winter:

Let me be clear of our intentions: Any public servant who cashes a check from the video game industry will be exposed by the PTC as taking a stand against families, and his or her actions will be communicated to constituents in his or her congressional district.
Winter went on to speak about how easy it is for minors to purchase video games, and described the industry's attempts to self-regulate as "laughable." He also targeted the ESRB, claiming that they have "offered little to prevent companies like Rockstar Games from subjecting millions of children to sexually graphic material as they did with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." According to him, the industry appears "threatened" by any attempts at videogame regulation, and claims that such fear is the driving motive behind the forming of the ESA's PAC.

As is often the case, I'm afraid I simply cannot follow the logic that Mr. Winter and the PTC attempts to utilize. Politicians who accept donations from the ESA are "taking a stand against families?" Bit of a broad, generalizing statement there, wouldn't you agree? Mr. Winter seems to think that the videogame industry is out to ruin today's families, and I simply don't see that. Politicians that sympathize with the ESA are likely of the sort that oppose useless legislation, are interested in preserving the industry's freedom of expression, and most importantly of all, don't view videogames through the skewed lens that folks such as Mr. Winter seem to be peering through.

Sources: GamePolitics
Conservative Blogger, Fox News Bash Mass Effect
How many guys actually played as a woman?

BioWare's action-RPG title Mass Effect received quite a bit of attention from videogame critics and news outlets, most of it being quite positive in nature. Our own staff review gave it a very strong 4.0 out of 5, and the game has an average ranking of 91% on GameRankings. The game has been lauded for its deep, involved storyline, innovative combat system, and beautiful graphical presentation, among other things. The game also happens to be rated M for mature by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence.

Despite the game's widely-acclaimed excellence, there are those who would choose to focus on the fact that the game has an M rating. To be more specific, they would like to take especial note of the fact that the game's rating is due, in part, to "Partial Nudity" and "Sexual Themes." Perhaps you heard about the conservative talk show host/blogger Kevin McCullough who raised quite a few eyebrows with his oh-so-cleverly titled column, The "Sex-Box" Race for President. To make a long story short, McCullough lapses into all sorts of foolishness, referring to the (minimal) sexual content in Mass Effect as "the most realistic sex acts ever conceived" and claiming that it is one step away from "virtual orgasmic rape." In all, it's exceedingly clear in reading the article that Mr. McCullough has not even taken the time to research the game, much less play it. Now, he did issue a halfhearted apology at a later date after speaking with some gamers on his radio program. For that, we can halfheartedly commend him.

If that wasn't enough negative attention, now the ever-relevant Fox News network has taken a stab at the game in a news report on the network's Live Desk program. The segment was hosted by Martha McCallum and featured talk show host/author Cooper Lawrence and Spike TV video game expert Geoff Keighley in a brief debate. Once again, Mass Effect took an undeserved flogging from an "unmarried marriage counselor," if you will. Cooper claimed that Mass Effect doesn't "show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality... itís a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with." Keighly tried his best to defend the game, but the odds were stacked against him. mentioned it has full graphical nudity, that's completely incorrect. There's no full nudity... thereís the side of an alien boob... itís a small sexual situation in this game which is about two minutes out of a thirty-plus hour experience... you can actually play through this game without the sexual situation ever happening-
To which Lawrence, interrupting, replied:
Right, and a young boyís going to be choosing not to have sex. That'll be what they choose. I mean, letís be realistic here-
Keighly, interrupting back, said:
Cooper, it's not a simple choice. You donít turn on the game and it says, ďwould you like to have sex or not?Ē Itís through the evolution of a relationship with characters and the fact that this game has incredible artificial intelligence. You can actually fall in love in this game.
Keighly made the mistake of trying to make a point of the game's artistic merit. He should have known that such a tactic would be ineffective, considering Lawrence has likely never played a videogame in her life. Taking no note of his statement, she replied:
Darling, I gotta go with the research. And the research says there's a new study out of the University of Maryland right now that says that boys that play video games cannot tell the difference between what they're seeing in the video game and the real world.

Lawrence ends it by citing "research," of course. The whole problem with this type of debate is that there really is no conclusive research concerning the effects of media violence, so debaters on both sides tend to incite research, or lack thereof, whenever it's beneficial to them. I have to wonder at this research Lawrence is talking about here, though. The University of Maryland is claiming that boys who play video games can't discern between real-life and fantasy? Gee, nothing bold or generalizing about that statement. I can't really seem to find any information on this study, so I wonder if it even exists. If so, do we really think so lowly of our kids these days? I mean good grief, such insinuations seem to degrade their intelligence more than anything else. As for Lawrence herself, well, the fact of the matter is that she has no expertise concerning video game or media violence. According to GamePolitics, her profession seems to lie in the area of dating and relationships, as her several books on the subject would suggest. Why she is on Fox News commenting on Mass Effect is far, far beyond my comprehension.

To me, though, the issue isn't whether or not such content has a psychological effect on our children. The issue here is that Mass Effect is being so horribly misrepresented. We have here a couple of ignorant people who have (perhaps) watched the objectionable scenes on the internet, and to them, these snippets are representative of the entire game. Needless to say, this has skewed their vision, and they have subsequently felt the need to bring this skewed vision into the mass media. If the uneducated layman was to believe this rubbish, he would walk away with the impression that Mass Effect is some sort of perverted interactive porn. Anyone who takes five minutes to look up the game on Wikipedia will see that this is not the case. Am I saying that Mass Effect is for children? No, and I don't believe it's being marketed that way. It's an M-rated science-fiction story in the same vein as popular franchises such as Star Trek. But then, as we all know, the main demographic for videogames are children ages 14 and under, right? Of course. How we managed to staff RPGamer with adults is beyond me.

Sources: GamePolitics
Studios Such as Digital Praise Develop Christian Titles
What happened to separation of church and games?

I don't think there are many of us who play games hoping to receive some sort of "moral message," per say. Furthermore, I think it's safe to say that many of us are adults who are capable of choosing what games we wish to play without worrying too much about the so-called "objectionable" content therein. However, with the current craze concerning the effect of media violence and whatnot, what our kids are seeing in videogames today has become somewhat of an issue. There are many who try to solve this supposed problem through legislation, but there are also those who, perhaps, would take a different route.

Recently, Thomas Nelson, one of the largest children's publishers in North America, became a distributor for Digital Praise, which is a California-based game development studio whose goal is "to glorify God through the development of software for children, teenagers and families that spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ while entertaining, enlightening, and encouraging faith." They have been responsible for such titles as Dance Praise, a game that models after the popular Dance Dance Revolution but utilizes music from Christian artists. They have also published games based on such Christian franchises as Adventures in Odyssey and Veggie Tales.

We certainly can't fault Digital Praise for wanting to provide clean interactive entertainment for children. I'm just not sure that placing a Christian label on themselves is a very effective way of doing it. If their games are "Christian," per say, does that suggest that all other games are inherently "non-Christian" and should thusly be shunned by anyone belonging to that faith? I don't really agree with that way of segregating things, and I think that Digital Praise's talent might reach a larger audience if they didn't so sharply distinguish themselves from secular titles. Furthermore, and unfortunately, the fact remains that videogames with a Christian label have a severely limited audience, and thusly, severely limited sales. According to well-know game analyst Michael Pachter, "it... limits your audience when you insert any kind of message into a game. I think Left Behind had too much of an 'accept Jesus' kind of concept. I don't think that is the right message in a game." Further obstacles in the way of such titles include the fact that these games are not available on consoles such as the PS3 or Xbox 360, but instead appear only on the PC-which accounted for less than 5% of the gaming industry last year.

Allow me to make this clear: I have no problem whatsoever with a development studio that wishes to provide clean entertainment for children. At the same time, I really have to shake my head and wonder at just how effectively a studio like Digital Praise will be able to reach an audience outside of the little niche they already have.

Sources: The Tennesseean
Videogame Earnings Approach 18 Billion for 2007, 4.82 Billion in December Alone

We've been receiving bits and pieces of information regarding just how much the game industry brought in over 2007, particularly during the holiday season. Sony spoke of their PS3 sales, Microsoft touted the 17.7 million 360's they've sold to date, and word reached our ears of Nintendo's DS and Wii dominating Japan. Now, finally, a comprehensive report on the performance of the videogame industry's performance in North America over 2007 has been released, and it's far more lucrative than we could ever have expected.

2007 saw $17.94 billion worth of videogame hardware, software, and accessories sold in North America at retail, according to stat-tracker NPD. (NPD does not take PC software or hardware into account, by the way.) This represents a 43 percent increase from 2006's $12.5 billion take. Unsurprisingly perhaps, $4.82 billion worth of sales was generated in December alone, once again topping December 2006's take of $3.7 million.

According to analyst Anita Frazier, hardware sales saw the greatest growth in 2007. So, what system came out on top? You guessed it folks, it was Nintendo's little dual-screened handheld. The DS sold 8.5 million units in 2007, bringing its lifetime domestic total to 17.65 million. Right behind it was the Wii, which took first place in the home console race this year with 6.29 million units sold in 2007, 1.35 million being sold in December alone. Since its launch in 2006, the Wii has sold 7.38 million units in North America.

In second place came Microsoft with their Xbox 360 console. The oldest of the current-gen consoles sold 4.62 million units for the year, which brings its lifetime domestic total to 9.15 million. The system sold 1.26 million units during December. Last and... least, as it were, came Sony and their problem-child of a PlayStation 3. The PS3 sold 2.65 million units in 2007 and 798,000 for the month of December, bringing its lifetime total to 3.25 million units. The PS2 did quite a bit better with a very solid 3.97 million units sold in 2007, bringing its eight-year total to 41.12 million units. Sony's PSP also did quite will in 2007, selling 3.87 million units. The PSP has sold 10.47 million units since its debut in March of 2005.

On the software side of things, it should come as no surprise that Halo 3 was the top-selling game of 2007. Microsoft's aggressively marketed shooter sold a staggering 4.82 million copies during 2007, which represents an incredible 53% attach rate. This is especially impressive when you consider that the game has only been on store shelves for the past four months or so. Halo 3 sold 742,000 units during December. The top 10 best-selling titles of 2007 are as follows:

Rank Console Title Publisher Total
1 X360 Halo 3 Microsoft 4.82 million
2 Wii Wii Play Nintendo 4.12 million
3 X360 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Activision 3.04 million
4 PS2 Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Activision 2.72 million
5 Wii Super Mario Galaxy Nintendo 2.52 million
6 DS Pokemon Diamond Nintendo 2.48 million
7 PS2 Madden NFL 08 Electronic Arts 1.9 million
8 PS2 Guitar Hero II Activision 1.89 million
9 X360 Assassin's Creed Ubisoft 1.87 million
10 Wii Mario Party 8 Nintendo 1.82 million

Well if I haven't made it evident, the videogame industry had one heck of a year in 2007. I suppose we all knew it was going to be big, but wow, I don't think we anticipated quite this much. Some of these numbers are just staggering to me. $4.82 billion worth of sales in December alone? And good lord, I must be one of the fifteen or so Xbox 360 owners who hasn't bought Halo 3. In all, there were many factors that contributed to the success of 2007. It was the first year we saw Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft's consoles side-by-side on the retail shelves, and it contained an unusual number of high-profile releases. The question now is whether or not 2008 will be able to raise the bar.

Sources: GameSpot
PlayStation 3 Sells 1.2 Million in Europe
Good on them

It looks to me like Sony ended up with a pretty good Christmas overall. Sure, the numbers may not have wowed and shocked the way that Nintendo's did, but between their three contenders in the console race, Sony managed to have a fairly good showing. This fact is bolstered by the recent PS3 sales numbers that have come from Europe. According to Bloomberg, Sony shipped 1.2 million consoles in the five weeks leading up to January 1, which is quite close to the number they shipped in North America. Yes, I know this was short, and I know it would have fit into a Random slot. However, it concerns numbers, so it shall appear in number crunching. I trust this will not be a problem with anyone. If it is, please send any complaints to my secretary, Sean Kepper. Huh? No, he's not really my secretary. Just send him complaints anyways. He'll likely use them in Q&A.

Sources: GameSpot
RANDOM: Without Which These Relatively Obscure, Yet Inherently Awesome, Stories May Not Be Noticed!
  • Sony Still Interested in BC
    To me at least, backwards compatibility is a very important thing. That's why I was so happy when I received the full 80-gig backwards-compatible PS3 for Christmas. I mean sure, even the 40-gig version would have been great, but it's a pretty huge bonus to be able to play PS1/PS2 games as well, especially when they're upscaled to HD. But, while there are many people like myself, there are also very many who don't really care much for BC, and that often seems to be the trend that the industry is following. However, a recent Sony job listing has stated otherwise. What is the description? "Implementing and improving software emulation for the PS/PS2/PSP/PS3 for the PS3 and the next generation system." So, if that's to be believed, Sony is not only looking to improve BC for the PS3, but for their inevitable next-gen system as well. Furthermore, it seems they want the PS3 to be able to play PSP games. This is great news to me!

  • Jack Thompson Complains to UK Newspapers
    Hooray, a Jack Thompson story! This one's a bit short though; hence why it's in the Random section. Apparently, in a story concerning the PS2 quiz game Buzz: The Schools Quiz, the Telegraph and The Daily Mail quoted Thompson as saying that videogames have hurt far more people than they have helped. For whatever reason, Thompson took great offense to this, although it sounds like it would fit right in with his library of quotes. He says that he was never interviewed about Buzz, and went on to say that "I would never say what I am quoted as saying in any context, as the quotation, regardless of what it is applied to, is absurd on its face. How in the world could anyone prove and/or quantify that games have hurt more people than they have ever helped?" Well, good question, although by my reckoning Jack has never required proof in the past to back up his absurd claims. Yes, I realize that it is wrong for a newspaper to fabricate quotes, but at the same time I find it funny that Thompson is taking such great offense to this. It's certainly not a misrepresentation of the image he's built for himself over the last few years.

Sources: GamesIndustry

Yikes... I have way too much to do in these six hours before bedtime. Not much time for a long conclusion here, although I would like to mention the fact that I finished Baten Kaitos Origins! It was very good, and I plan on writing a review for it as soon as possible. My fool of a brother copied his file over mine when I was about to enter the final dungeon, so in order to finish the game I actually had to copy my other brother's file, which caused me to miss the entire first portion of the final dungeon, and all cutscenes therein. I was not happy, but at least I didn't have to restart. Anyways, goodbye for the present, and be sure to look for me next week.

Oliver Motok (Email Me!)


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