Transparent Seas

Mitch Bowman's internet domicile.

Doin’ thangs.

A quick update on what I’ve been up to: I just finished the editing process for a new Polygon feature, which I’ve been working on for the last couple months. It’s about some of the amazing stories the Steam economy has produced over the last couple years since it launched, and it’s got some killer interviews with scammers, sharks, victims, and a CS:GO developer. I think it’ll be going up in the next couple weeks – I’ll be sure to post a link when it arrives.

In the mean time, I’m starting to gather material for feature about Relic Entertainment and their multiple buyouts and regime changes. No real idea of when or where it’ll be published yet, but I’m working on lining up interviews and will be plugging away at it for the next little while.

What Happened to Blue Collar Pop Music?

When’s the last time you heard a song in the Top 40 charts that was honest about the nature of financial struggle? Honest about how much it can suck to be a person trying to do something creative with their life and realizing that there’s a million easier, safer paths; honest about how tempting it is to pack it all in and get a job at a bank or a call centre?

There’s probably a hip-hop track or two on the charts at any given time that comes close to satisfying those criteria. Beyond that, though, it’s songs about ordering bottle service in clubs all the way down. If you’re lucky, there’s a couple tracks about ex-girlfriends thrown in for diversity.

At this point, there’s no a discernible thematic difference between the handful of genres that exist within the highest echelon of chart-topping artists. The increasing homogenization of pop music has resulted in even the traditional bastions of blue collar music being usurped by folks flaunting their wealth. Mainstream hip-hop has largely abandoned the aspect of its heritage that focused on the struggle of coming up in bad neighbourhoods; rock and roll, similarly, has lost the Bruce Springsteen-esque blue collar attitude that defined it throughout the ‘70, ‘80s, and even into the ‘90s with the rise of grunge music. Read more of this post

I’m on Polygon now!

Welp, my first feature for Polygon went live today. It’s a big feature I spent like a month working on, and it turned out pretty great. Go check it out.

polyfront

Unwinnable’s Best Music of 2013

I wrote a little blurb for Unwinnable’s Best Music of 2013 list. Ultimately, this list is super disappointing, and most of the stuff that made the top ten is pretty crappy. But there’s some gems to be found in the Honorable Mentions section, so take a gander at that if you feel so inclined.

I’m on RPS!

RPSfrontpage

Much to my excitement, I’m on the front page of Rock Paper Shotgun today. I interviewed the developers of The Long Dark, an excellent looking survival game that’s currently on Kickstarter.

Check out the interview here.

It’s an honour to appear on that site, as I’ve always held them in fairly high esteem. Hopefully more of my stuff will land there in the future!

PAX Prime 2013

I got to go to PAX Prime this year, and had a generally great time. I played a bunch of games, and wrote some things about those games. Here’s all the PAX-related stuff I’ve published so far:

Enjoy!

The Fanciest of Pants

The Fanciest of Pants

My shoddy attempt at photography, along with an article I wrote about my local arcade, is on the front page of Unwinnable today!

New Stuff #2

Hey y’all. A couple more features of mine have shown up on the interbutts, so I figured I’d share them here.

First up, a thing I wrote for Gameranx regarding the whole Xbox One used game debacle: “Why Preventing Used Game Sales is Bad, and Why You Should Feel Bad” - Ben Kuchera of the Penny Arcade Report wrote a defense of Microsoft’s anti-used game stance that I felt was super off base, so this was more or less written in response to that.

Also, I wrote a thing about Earth Defense Force 2017, a super awesome Xbox 360 game. It’s the first thing I’ve written for Unwinnable, an Australian site that is always awesome and a pleasure to appear on. “The Little Things”

Enjoy!

New Stuff!

I’ve written a bunch of new things, of the type that would normally appear on this blog. Rather than appearing here, they’ve appeared on a gaming site called Gameranx instead, because they pay me for them! So for those who actually follow this blog, here’s some stuff I wrote this month.

I’ve updated the Off-Site page of this blog with links to all this new stuff, and will continue to do so. If you’re not seeing new posts on here, it’s probably because my words are ending up elsewhere on the interbutts.

Censorship At Its Finest: H.R. 287, The “Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act”

In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States of America, the question of how to reduce gun violence in the country has once again risen to prominence. While many have proposed fairly reasonable steps that could be taken to curtail the amount of gun-related homicides, such as increased mental health infrastructure and/or stricter gun control, others have taken the opportunity to attack all manner of things they don’t like. One of the guiltiest parties in this regard has been the NRA, who in their statement on the Sandy Hook shooting managed to blame all sorts of irrelevant shit, including – of course – videogames.

Due probably in part to the NRA’s nonsense, as well as the general hysteria surrounding gun violence right now, videogames have once again become a focal point for those looking to blame violence on something other than systemic problems in their government.  Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden met with industry leaders to discuss the issue of violence in games, and there was some serious debate amongst games journalists on whether this was a good idea.

Now, it appears video games will be forced to deal with the government and its attempts to stop gun violence in a far more direct way, and completely against the will of the industry. A new bill has been introduced in the American House of Representatives, titled the “Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act.” Essentially, it will require all games sold in the United States to carry an ESRB rating, and it will be completely illegal to sell unrated games.

From the body of this proposed legislation (which can be read in full here):

It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or otherwise distribute in interstate commerce, or to sell or rent, a video game that does not contain a rating label, in a clear and conspicuous location on the outside packaging of the video game, containing an age-based content rating determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

Now, it may be immediately obvious to many people why that’s a godawful idea. There is no other medium in existence that carries such a restriction, and for good reason; even movies, which have a similar content rating system to the ESRB, can still be sold without that rating if they so desire. Most theatres won’t show unrated movies, but the creators still have the right to distribute the movie in any way they please, whether that be through physical media or through a digital format.

This will no longer be the case for videogames, if this legislation passes. It will be completely illegal to sell any game, either physical or digital, without a rating from the ESRB. There’s no other word for it – that’s censorship, and should be rejected out of hand as a violation of the First Amendment. It prohibits the freedom of expression of game developers, and requires them to obtain consent from a private company before releasing their game on the supposed free market.

That issue of the ESRB being a private company also raises further issues. The House bill in question would give the ESRB – a self-regulated, privately controlled organization – the final say on what is and isn’t appropriate for children. The government is handing over the reigns of moral judgement to a private corporation, and not allowing any alternative ratings systems to even be considered. How can we be sure the ESRB represents the values of the majority of American citizens, when they’re a private company with no accountability to the public?

Some will be quick to point out that the MPAA, the organisation that rates movies, is also a private organization. The key difference between the two situations is that there’s no government requirement that movies receive MPAA ratings. The production houses control both the MPAA and the theatres to an extent that makes having an MPAA rating almost mandatory for a movie that wants to reach a mainstream audience, but there’s no government involvement whatsoever. If someone wanted to form an alternative ratings system and convince theatres to accept their ratings, there would be no law preventing that. Of course, there’s also the fact that the MPAA is in no way a system that we should hope to emulate in the games industry, because it’s a pretty broken system…but that’s a conversation for another time.

As if there wasn’t enough problems with this Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act already, there’s yet more issues beyond those of censorship. Even if your game has no content that anyone would find objectionable, and would pass any ratings standard in the world, there’s still the issue of actually getting it rated in the first place. If no game is allowed to reach the market without a rating, it forces even the most innocuous of games to obtain that rating, and that costs money. Not a particularly small amount of it, either; according to a Joystiq report from a couple years ago, the ESRB charges a $2500 fee when a game is submitted for rating. That’s not an insignificant cost for indie studios.

To summarize: the American government is trying to pass a law that will require you to pay money to – and be subjected to the moral standard of – a private corporation, if you want to release your creative work into the American free market. Every other medium is off the hook, and only videogames will be subject to this demand. If that doesn’t sound like crazy talk to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.

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