Wired January 2013. "Great Expectations": "Here is an incomplete list of the things Ken Levine says have inspired BioShock Infinite: the presidential administration of William McKinley; the Spanish- American war; the blistering pace of technological change in the early 20th century, with the introduction of electricity, telephones, cars, airplanes, phonographs, and movies; the 1893 Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair; Eugene V. Debs; Emma Goldman; a black-and-white photo of young boys sitting next to a dead horse on a cobblestone street in turn-of-the-century New York; The Music Man; It’s a Wonderful Life; the sequence in Back to the Future when Marty McFly first arrives in the 1955 town square; that scene in The Shining where the two little dead girls appear; Blue Velvet; the chest-bursting scene in Alien; Roman Holiday; the cover of X-Men #141; the sun reflecting off a metal mailbox during a jog on a sunny day; roller coasters; an off-Broadway play called Sleep No More; and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 'Songbird' performed on Glee ('It’s so embarrassing that I’m almost tempted to say this has to be off the record,' Levine says)."
NewYorker.com October 26, 2011. "The Video Game Art of Fumito Ueda": "As video games have become more and more popular, the medium’s defenders have developed a misguided tendency to point to the ways that games are useful, practical, functional. I do not know if Ueda’s games will make you smarter, or improve your vision, or promote world peace. I very much doubt, in fact, that they will do any of those things. Emphasizing the ways that games are tools for instruction—whether intellectual, physical, or moral—is an unfortunate residue of their origins as children’s playthings. Abandoning it will be the sign, maybe the last one, that this new form of storytelling is all grown up."
Grantland July 7, 2011. "Hard Times on the Paris of the Plains": "The NBA lockout has begun, and 30 cities now fear the same sad prospect this fall: day after day of staring at a lovely arena built for the pleasures of watching grown men play professional basketball, with no actual professional basketball team around to play in it. Twenty-nine of those cities host actual NBA franchises. The 30th is my hometown, the place where I grew up and will always be from, even if I no longer live there."
The New York Times Magazine September 12, 2010. "War Games": "Unless you regard something like 'Iron Man' as a film about Afghanistan, the movies inspired by America’s contemporary wars have consistently been box-office flops. Even 'The Hurt Locker' grossed only $16 million in theaters. Video games that evoke our current conflicts, on the other hand, are blockbusters — during the past three years, they have become the most popular fictional depictions of America’s current wars."
Wired February 2010. "Game Changers: How Videogames Trained a Generation of Athletes": "The many hundreds — even thousands — of hours that athletes put into videogame football give them more game experience than Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, or Joe Montana were able to log in previous eras. And there’s the possibility, too, that all this electronic play is changing the structure of their brains, at least in some ways, for the better. For more than 30 years, sports videogames have been focused on simulating real-life athletics more and more perfectly. But over the past decade, games have moved beyond just imitating the action on the field. Now they’re changing it."
The New York Times Magazine December 24, 2006. "The Right Has a Jailhouse Conversion": "The G.O.P., the party of Richard Nixon's 1968 law-and-order campaign and the Willie Horton commercial, is beginning to embrace the idea that prisoners have not only souls that need saving but also flesh that needs caring for in this world."
Wilson Quarterly Summer 2006. "Playing With Our Minds": "The important thing to find out about video games isn't whether they are teachers. 'The question is,' as game designer Raph Koster writes in A Theory of Fun for Game Design, 'what do they teach?' "
Wired December 2005. "To Boldly Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before": On Star Trek New Voyages, Captain Kirk "is a professional Elvis impersonator, with muttonchops and a hornlike pompadour, who lives in nearby Ticonderoga. Spock works at a Virginia videogame store. And McCoy is an Oregon urologist." Chekov? Still Walter Koenig, the actor from the original series.
Radar Sept/Oct 2005. "Last Man Standing": "While some Democrats remain skeptical of candidate Hillary's chances in a general election, Republicans have grasped her biggest strength: The former first lady may be the only Democrat man enough to take back the White House."
Another late notice: Slate published my review of Gears of Warlast month, under the headline, "WHY A DERIVATIVE SCI-FI GOREFEST IS THE BEST VIDEO GAME OF THE YEAR." "The year," in this case, is 2006.
Shorter Slate: "The closest thing video games have to the Oscars are the annual 'Game
of the Year' awards handed out by the gaming press. This year, there's
a rough consensus that three games deserve the nod. The first two are
predictable, worthy selections: Wii Sports and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, games for Nintendo's innovative, you've-never-played-like-this-before Wii console. The third choice, however, is something of a surprise—a derivative piece of genre work for the Xbox 360 called Gears of War that somehow still manages to astonish and keep you up late into the evening."
The February issue of Men's Journal includes a short half-page item by me on why the new Democratic Congress could be "the greenest Congress in decades." The article's real claim to fame, however, is my use of the phrase "testosterone Democrats" (in a description of Montana's Jon Tester) weeks before Ryan Lizza used "Alpha Male Democrat" in The New York Times. (This is the kind of petty squabble over a conceptual scoop that you turn to Suellentrop.com for!) It's not online, so you'll have to part with $4.95 at your local newsstand for it, or just stand there and read page 39 before putting it back on the shelf.
Shorter Men's Journal: "The starkest transition will take place on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, where California's Boxer takes over for the outgoing chairman, Oklahoma's James Inhofe. In terms of policy direction, it's like Hunter S. Thompson taking over for Bill Bennett on drug policy."
Just what you need on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl: Discussion of the divisional round from mid-January! I've been late in posting this here, but Josh Levin invited Seth Stevenson and me to participate in an e-mail dialogue about the NFL playoffs, in advance of the divisional round games. Click here to start at the beginning, or here, here, and here to skip to my entries, which delve into Marty Schottenheimer's fondness for the Tropical Blizzard.
In the Independent Press Awards published in the Utne Reader's January/February 2007 issue, The Wilson Quarterly wins the "General Excellence: magazines" award. Utne hails WQ's "deeply researched, mind-expanding work over the past year," calls the magazine "decidedly accessible," and praises it for "reliably challenging its
readers to think outside the dogmatic lines that have been laid down
(and electrified) around almost every interesting issue of the day.
(For evidence, see the pro-video game essay "Playing with Our Heads,"
reprinted from WQ.)"
That essay is a slightly abridged version of "Playing With Our Minds," my essay in The Wilson Quarterly's Autumn 2006 issue. It's available online under the headline "Are Video Games Evil?" But head to your local newsstand and pick up a hard copy of the Utne Reader for $4.99.
The piece focuses on how the evangelical-Christian interest in prisoner mentoring and faith-based prisons has led more and more Republicans to embrace surprisingly liberal positions on more secular criminal-justice issues.
Shorter New York Times Magazine: "The G.O.P., the party of Richard Nixon's 1968 law-and-order campaign and the Willie Horton commercial, is
beginning to embrace the idea that prisoners have not only souls that
need saving but also flesh that needs caring for in this world.
Increasingly, Republicans are talking about helping ex-prisoners find
housing, drug treatment, mental-health counseling, job training and
education. They’re also reconsidering some of the more punitive
sentencing laws for drug possession. The members of this nascent
movement include a number of politicians not previously known for their
attention to prisoners’ rights. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a
former federal prosecutor whom The New Republic once accused of being
stained 'with the taint of racism,' wants to reduce the penalty for
possession of small amounts of crack. Referring to mandatory-minimum
sentences, Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, whose district
is home to Bob Jones University, declared on the floor of the House: 'I voted for them in the past. I
will not do it again.' Perhaps most remarkably, the outgoing
Republican-controlled Congress came tantalizingly close to passing the
Second Chance Act, a bill that focuses not on how to 'lock them up' but
on how to let them out. The bill may become law soon, if Democrats continue to welcome the new conservative interest in rehabilitation."
The December issue of Wired includes my "Posts" dispatch from a ghost hunt I went on with Baltimore's Vince Wilson, whom I call "perhaps the foremost expert on the technology of ghost hunting in the US."
Shorter Wired: "Vince Wilson has a theory about ghosts: They're a
misunderstood part of the natural environment, phenomena that can be
discerned and explained through the careful application of science.
Which is why he's wheeling several thousand dollars' worth of homemade
ghost-detection equipment into the Westminster Presbyterian Church and
Cemetery in downtown Baltimore. 'Even ghosts would have to obey the
fundamental laws of physics,' Wilson says. His quarry are like the
giant squid, he insists, creatures that scientists once derided as
folklore but whose existence has since been proven."
Recycled paranormal coverage: Sorry, got nothing for you here.
Who cares? Slate published my instant "Sports Nut" column on the logical flaw underlying the debate over college football's Bowl Championship Series: People think they need to pick the two (presumed) best teams for the national championship game.
Shorter Slate: "Playoff systems are designed to determine, in a fair manner, which is
the single best team in a particular sport. Their purpose is not to pit
the two finest teams against each other in a season-ending game. The
Yankees and Red Sox do not play annually in the World Series. The
Indianapolis Colts will never be given a chance to play the New England
Patriots in the Super Bowl."
My Slate review of the Nintendo Wii argues that the motion-sensitive Wii Remote controller provides a greater level of gaming realism than the superior graphics of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. (The headline and subtitle given to the piece overstate its case, because realism in gaming is overrated, but that's a topic for another day.)
Shorter Slate: "Like nothing else I've ever played, the Wii comes closest to achieving the grail of gaming: a home virtual-reality machine. ... The Wii Remote creates a level of realism that can't be attained
through pretty pictures or through giving gamers ever-larger worlds to
explore. (Like book reviewers, gamers sometimes confuse sprawl with