Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Kids are Firmly in Control

Julie and I went with two friends to Hershey the day after Thanksgiving for a short weekend trip. We've always enjoyed going there around Christmas time because there are always plenty of Christmas lights, fun activities, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

A favorite place to stop in the past has been the Hershey Lodge, which has a real nice upstairs lounge with chocolate martinis and cigars.

This time, however, it was a much different scene.

Ever see the movie Aliens, where the Marines first walk into the hive and the hideous beasts are crawling through every nook and cranny, bringing woe and mayhem with them?

Replace the aliens with children and you've got a pretty good idea of what the Hershey Lodge front lobby looked like when the four of us walked in.

There were so many kids running amok that I'm sure some kind of local zoning ordinance was being broken. I was afraid to take a step for fear of kicking a child.

Perhaps saddest of all were the forlorn looks of hopelessness on the faces of those parents still lucid enough to recognize the chaos for what it was. Other parents sat there quietly in a daze, perhaps hoping that death's cold embrace would take them to a more peaceful place. At one point I even saw a woman sobbing quietly in the corner.

Yes, the kids were firmly in control. If they had wanted, they could have set up their own government right there and the adults would have been powerless to stop them.

The children hadn't just conquered the Hershey Lodge, however. No matter where we went during our brief stay, children were oozing out of every pore in the landscape. Running, screaming, kicking, crying... they were there, like a swarm of locusts devouring everything in their path, leaving naught behind but broken dreams and memories.

Perhaps the most comical quip I heard was made by one of the waitresses, who made the following remark to her comrade in arms that I was fortunate enough to overhear: "I figured out what I want for Christmas. I'm getting my tubes tied."

Here's hoping the parents we left behind made it out with some shred of sanity intact.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Suicide by Warcraft

In China, a class action lawsuit is being brought against Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft. The suit is being filed on behalf of the parents of a 13 year old boy who they claim leapt to his death "imitating a scene from the game".

Most of the internet chatter you will hear about this is staunchly in defense of Blizzard, and falls back on the tried and true "Parents need to get more involved" argument. It is a legitimate argument, and any kid that throws himself out of a 24 story building to "meet his night elf hero" certainly has issues that go beyond simply too many video games.

But I DO think that people are writing this issue off way too easily. Video game addiction is a serious problem among the youth of China and South Korea, and it is easy to see why: in video games, ESPECIALLY RPGs (Role Playing Games for the truly uninitiated), there is a real opportunity to play in a world much better than the one you're living in.

It wasn't that long ago that a man in South Korea dropped dead of exhaustion and dehydration after over 50 straight hours of Warcraft.

The thing is, these are what appear to be reasonably normal, stable people up until their respective deaths. By all accounts, nobody really saw this coming.

Before anybody gets the wrong idea though, I want to make it clear that I do not feel that Blizzard is responsible for this. I don't feel that television or movies or music or any other media can be held accountable for the actions of somebody too screwed up to separate song lyrics from philosophical foundations upon which to build your lifestyle. If you need other people to tell you the right way to live, you'll find that in religion, political affiliation, or your workplace just as easily as you'll find it in mass media.

However, parents can't be held completely responsible either when a 13 year old kid does something this crazy. Should they have been more involved and monitored their son's video game habits more closely? Hell yes. But you can't tell me any parent can reasonably predict that a child is going to hurl themselves 24 stories to their death in the hopes of meeting their pixelated alter ego.

It is for reasons like this that I don't think the argument "It's the parents' fault" is entirely fair. When it comes to this, a LOT of people screwed up, not just the parents.

Parents need tools to be able to do their job. With TV, you can get a chip that blocks certain ratings of shows if you feel they are unacceptable. The shows aren't the problem in my opinion, but the option is important because its very availability makes parents think and talk about their child's viewing habits.

Similarly, Blizzard recently introduced parental controls (some speculate because of this incident) for World of Warcraft, whereby a time limit can be set on play time. This, too, is a good tool.. by itself it does nothing, but again its availability will make parents consider the issue.

The Chinese government is even talking about regulating online play time themselves. This is rife with a host of issues (economics being the least of them), but this would only cure the symptoms, not the problem. Remember, these people are dead because there wasn't happiness for them in the REAL WORLD. Without Warcraft, I would argue that the odds are very good they would have killed themselves some other way.

Which brings me (finally) to the real point: regulating online video games is no more ridiculous than regulating the radio airwaves, the television airwaves, or anything else that exposes people to content beyond their direct control. So it's time to stop chuckling under our breaths about how ridiculous China is for considering these measures and realize we do the exact same thing here.

And guess what? All the regulation in the world isn't going to stop a confused kid from making a really bad decision or an already depressed, recently unemployed guy with nothing to live for from ending his misery in whatever way he deems best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I knew I should've picked the video game.

Somebody get Ralph Nader on the horn. I need him to write a letter to the Eagles on my behalf demanding those 3 hours of my life back.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Football vs. Video Games

On Sunday I went to a bar with the NFL Sunday Ticket package. My girlfriend is a Bears fan, and since their games are not typically televised in our area, we decided to head out so we could watch them a bit.

I figured with 5 games on at once, it should be pretty entertaining. Odds should be pretty good that at any given point, football would be actively being played, right?

How wrong I was. Over and over again during the stay, all games would simultaneously be dealing with a stoppage in play due to penalties, injuries, booth reviews, or commercials.

And people call baseball boring.

On the other side of the entertainment coin, I took my first crack at Civilization IV over the weekend. I foolishly started a game at around 10 PM, figuring I'd just try the game out a bit before I went to bed.

"A bit" turned into 6 hours, and I went to sleep at 4 AM.

So now I'm faced with a real dilemma tonight. Do I watch the Eagles game, which has a real good chance of being somewhere between annoying and horrible, OR do I play Civilization IV and guarantee myself an enjoyable evening?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Windows Live

Microsoft is so huge and so wealthy that they can afford to make some big time mistakes.

I predict that Windows Live, unveiled earlier this week, will be one of them.

The stuff you can do with the latest DHTML/AJAX/whatever techniques is really cool. It looks sexy and it's a lot of fun to program. I'll admit that, like a lot of other developers, I tend to look at a web based solution to a problem far more often than I probably ought to these days.

But I just can't believe that the need for rich client applications is ever going to go away. Making a web version of Microsoft Office is, in my opinion, just silly. Why would I want to be at the mercy of my internet connection to do things like type up a letter, or punch data into a spreadsheet, or put together a presentation?

Also, Microsoft might actually be arriving to this particular game a tad too late. Google has been doing this sort of thing for awhile, and doing it reasonably well. The Microsoft Live page sure looks a lot like the customized Google home page, doesn't it? And guess what... Google's works in Firefox. I'm not ready to totally write off Microsoft just yet (after all, they've had a lot of success taking working models from other companies and improving/mainstreaming them), but I wouldn't put my money on them winning this fight.

And besides, win or lose, I just can't see this being worth the effort for Microsoft. They make successful rich client apps. They have a dominant operating system. They make the best developer tools money can buy.

I saw a comment from one tech reporter saying that Google is attempting to strike a blow at Microsoft by eliminating the need for an operating system. Sadly, what this reporter doesn't understand is that you need an operating system TO RUN AN INTERNET BROWSER. And Windows has a stranglehold on that market that, I promise you, they're not going to relinquish any time soon.

But for some reason, I think Microsoft might be LISTENING to all of this Google-loving media hype. Considering how often the tech media has declared the end of Microsoft the last decade, they should be dead several times over.

Microsoft should be focused on improving their rich client products by making them better follow standards so they can play well with other apps. THAT'S how they can best increase their already huge market share... more people are likely to use your app if it works with things they already have and like.

But hey, I've been wrong before.