Column: 'Blogged Out: Protests And Dreams'

The latest 'Blogged Out' column looks at the blogging highlights from around the games industry, including a report on MMOs and political protest in China from media academic Henry Jenkins.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the regular news column that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we hear from Henry Jenkins and the dreams of Noel Llopis. Ultimate Online Protest Henry Jenkins' blog is proving to be the most clued-in of all academic blogs. His understanding and perspectives on gaming issues are incredible informative and regularly result in lengthy, detailed posts. A recent piece by Jenkins illustrates the issues surrounding online protests in the Chinese MMO Fantasy Westward Journey. Chinese games had become upset that political posturing against Japan had been strongly dealt with by game administrators. The strong sentiments involved in the disagreement led to a huge online protests, which involved tens of thousands of Chinese gamers. "Around the world, multiplayer games are emerging as new public spheres where issues of national pride get played out. There has been strong backlash within the United States, for example, against the rising phenomenon of "gold farming," that is, the development and sell of in game assets for money, a practice closely associated in American discourse with China, where it is estimated that as many as 500,000 people make at least some of their living through playing computer games. (Of course, this debate about "gold farming" also plays itself out in a context of a national debate about immigration policy and a renewed nationalism following September 11.) At the same time, there have been a variety of political gatherings within multiplayer game worlds, mostly protesting various corporate policies, and in the wake of what some saw as homophobic policies in the World of Warcraft, in support of gay rights. One could argue, though, that even the gay rights march centered as much around issues of consumer rights as around any larger political agenda. There has been a fair amount of discussion of game worlds as sites for economic and political experiments but in the west, there has not been this kind of spillover between ingame and real world politics. And there certainly has been nothing on the scale of what happened in FWJ." This event, carefully reported by Jenkins, is illustrative of two important and significant aspects of contemporary gaming. The first is that China is fast becoming the most important online gaming community in the world, at least by virtue of size. And the second is that games cannot expect to separate themselves from the rest of life and culture, regardless of their subject matter. They are integral aspects of life and culture and are subject to political and social events. Their participants expect them to be treated as such by the people who run them and, just as in other spheres of human activity, they will fight to see them run as they see fit. Keeping The Dream Alive Over on Games From Within Noel Llopis posts about his experience of the inspirational moments in life, and how programming changed his perception of the future. He observes that the power of today's computers means that they do not connect with today's youth in the same way that a Z80 did in 1985, when it inspired him to become a programmer. "Today's computers might be a lot more powerful, but they're also a lot more complicated. Windows is very large and intimidating to a newcomer. It doesn't exactly scream "play with me, experiment!". Instead, it is a very closed system. It discourages experimentation, and you're in constant fear of disturbing any of the overly complex configurations (like the registry or system dlls), not to even mention dealing with viruses and other malware. Linux is much more transparent, but it's still far from an inviting system to play and experiment with for newcomers to computers." Llopis points out that although computers are increasingly important to our society the actual levels of enrolment in computer science courses is dropping. "Is the dream dead?" he asks. Llopis goes on to speculate as to whether the tech companies like Microsoft, who are putting tools out there for everyone to use, might provide the same kind of environment for inspiration as 8-bit home computing with its out-of-the-box programming languages did for him. As it is the proposed 'pay to develop' systems like that unveiled for the Xbox 360 are not ideal. As Llopis observes, the could go a lot further. "I hope that Microsoft learns some lessons from YouTube and Google Video and realize that the lower the barriers for people to browse the content, the more successful it is going to make the product. People have been able to share videos for a long time already, but it involved downloading them, getting a player that could decode them, and playing them back. Now it's as simple as clicking on a link, and that's why it has finally reached critical mass." [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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