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A Blind Legend, an All Audio Video Game

First they gouge your eyes out, then the real fun begins.

To offer a gaming experience equally accessible to people across the vision spectrum, the French creative studio DOWiNO is building an entire virtual world based only in sound. In A Blind Legend, you assume the role of a knight whose eyes were cruelly gouged out. To add insult to injury, your wife has also been stolen away by a ruthless enemy and you’ve been left only with your auditory senses to lead you to vengeance.

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At the Electronic Entertaining Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week, the video game industry will be talking about Xbox One, the hottest new devices, and what will be the next Halo. But some folks are hoping to get the industry's attention on something else: guns.

A report released today by advocacy groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the Gun Truth Project, points out that video games are being used as a form of advertising for gun brands, and is calling to put an end to the practice.
The report, "Game Over: Resetting the Relationship Between Video Game and Gun Manufacturers," details how video games use realistic images of brand-name guns in order to make the game as realistic as possible, which sometimes means entering into licensing deals with the gun manufacturers. The gun makers make money off these deals, and manufacturers said gamers "are considered potential future owners."
"In some cases, money has been exchanged to secure product placement or legal rights," states the report. "In one scenario, video game product launches have been tied to online marketplaces for customers to purchase weapons used in the game."
The groups claim this commercial relationship promotes the gun industry and sparks young people's imagination in a dangerous way, which could lead to more gun violence in America.
Last month, one major video game publisher, Electronic Arts, announced it would end licensing deals, though it will still feature branded weapons. Now the advocacy groups are asking that other major video game publishers follow suit.
“We are outraged that video game companies and gun manufacturers are entering into deals to market guns to our children," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in a statement. "Particularly given the real-life epidemic of gun violence in America.”
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Infographic: A World Map of Video Game Villains

We've moved on from Nazi and Eastern Bloc bad guys, but what do the nationalities of today's first person shooter villains tell us about geopolitics?


Culture site Complex has created this fun map showing where in the world video game villains come have come from over the past decade. Writer Peter Rubin explains:
It became clear to us how international relations can affect the gaming industry. Gone are the days of all FPSes [First Person Shooters] being either World War II or sci-fi; in the new millennium, developers are on the hunt for enemies that are speculative but still plausible. Either they're rooted in real-life global hotspots (this spring's SOCOM 4 takes place around the shipping lanes of Southeast Asia), or they bring favorite punching bags into the future.

It's an interesting mix: two of Bush's "axis of evil" nations (only Iran is missing); countries with a history of Islamic terrorism (Indonesia and Afghanistan) or drug cartels (Mexico and Colombia); failed states (Somalia and Chad); and the BRIC economies—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—whose growing influence in world trade is obviously a threat to U.S. and European dominance. I'm surprised to see no Libya, no Pakistan, and no Yemen—but perhaps those fictional fights are still in development. Either way, the psychological mechanics of video game villainry provide fascinating food for thought. The popular choices have a delicate blend of familiarity and foreignness, and not only reflect current events but also gesture toward a speculative future.

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Guerrilla Gardening for Gamers

"The Earth laughs in flowers." -Ralph Waldo Emerson In most videogames, plant life is merely party of the scenery-which is why...

"The Earth laughs in flowers." -Ralph Waldo EmersonIn most videogames, plant life is merely party of the scenery-which is why I was surprised to find that in the new action shooter game Battlefield: Bad Company 2, players can actually knock down trees to clear the way for tanks. It's not quite the model of conservation the Sierra Club has in mind, but at the very least it reminds us that plants are more than a prop.Game designer Miguel Sternberg wants to take that a step further. In Guerrilla Gardening: Seeds of Revolution, General Bauhaus has removed all of the city's plant life and it's up to Molly Greenthumb to reclaim urban space in the name of nature. The game preview shows flowerbeds brightening up desolate town squares, public parks projects, and characters hiding behind trees to sneak past cops. Sternberg says that originally the idea stemmed from an interest in street art, but changed course when he read about a group of renegades covertly turning urban plots into flowerbeds. "I wanted to explore the relationship of public space and private space," he says.Sternberg was one of the early founders of Capybara Games, which has gone on to gain renown for its successful Critter Crunch. Wanting to step out on his own, he left to start Spooky Squid Games. Right now, the gardening game is still a prototype-about "half-way finished." Sternberg hopes to be able to sell Guerrilla Gardening on digital distribution platforms like Steam, Direct2Drive, and Xbox Live Arcade.While Sternberg's game is decidedly lo-res, one of the benefits of the increase in graphical capabilities in games is the realism of plantlife. I had a friend who would often invite girls to his apartment to show them the remote African landscapes in Far Cry 2. To him, it was no different than a walk in the park or a sunset on the beach-you sit, look, and reflect. He saw the beauty on-screen as a worthy echo to places he didn't have immediate access to, and he wanted to share them with others.Thatgamecompany's Flower shares the theme of reclamation with Guerrilla Gardening. In the downloadable game for PlayStation 3, you control a flock of petals and turn fallow ground into lovely pastures of wildflowers. The game's final level sends you to an abandoned city which soon becomes overrun with plants: a scene from Alan Weisman's The World Without Us that projected the planet's reaction to mankind's disappearance.Sternberg hasn't played Flower, but says he plans to. In fact, he only recently tried his hand at guerrilla gardening and signed up to do a project with the Toronto Public Space Committee. Thankfully, he was assigned to a detail close by. "It was a median at the end of my street," he says. It's probably not a bad idea for Sternberg to stay close to home. He's got a lot of work to do.

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The Color Game

Videogame insiders discuss a lack of diversity in the industry-and what to do about it. Last week in Las Vegas, I led a panel at...

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Videogame insiders discuss a lack of diversity in the industry-and what to do about it.Last week in Las Vegas, I led a panel at the DICE Summit. DICE is basically the videogame equivalent of the Oscars, and I'd attended last year as a journalist, but this year I was fortunate enough to take on a different role. I was there to chair a panel about a very, very sexy topic: How today's videogames fail to reflect diversity.The response to the discussion-which is embedded below-has been mixed. Videogamers do not like being preached to, especially when the sermon is on a touchy subject like race. Some felt the issue was "so last year" because of the firestorm surrounding depictions of Africans in the zombie shooter Resident Evil 5 (pictured). Critics lined up on both sides of the game, arguing on one side that spear-chucking zombie Africans being shot at by white people is problematic; others thought the games had transcended the issue.Of course, that doesn't mean the issue has disappeared. Panelist Dmitri Williams, a professor at University of Southern California, cited research he's done that is basically a census of videogame characters. Predictably, he found that whites are ubiquitous, while African-Americans and Hispanics are woefully underrepresented.I personally think race is still a big issue in videogames, and that continuing a discussion about it is the only way to catalyze change. The case for diversity is strong one, both creatively and from a business perspective. One of videogames' continued failings is a chronic inability to write good stories. This is clearly not a requirement for a good game, but for big-budget games attempting to emulate the feel of blockbuster movies, the industry has a long way to go to create believable characters and meaningful plots.That's what makes the absence of diversity so curious. If one were to look at American history even in this century, there are plenty of episodes and characters that could make for great storytelling-while also reflecting our country's diversity. Where is the Civil Rights movement or the recent urban dissolution of Detroit? Left 4 Dead 2, which we covered here last year, did an excellent job letting the gothic South create some frightening gameplay. Couldn't the same be done with a single mother trying to make it on the South Side of Chicago?Interestingly, for all of the criticism lobbed at Rockstar Games, creator of the Grand Theft Auto series, the studio has done an excellent job building characters that reflect geographic specificity and diversity. From the streets of Los Angeles to Spanish Harlem, they've created a cast of memorable characters that at least deviate from the standard space marine template. Of course, the problem is that they're all criminals. When the only people of color with visibility are toting a gun, something is awry-but that's not a Rockstar Games problem; it's industry wide.The business case for diversity should be the most obvious. As the success of black urban literature (which spawned the Oscar-nominated Precious) and comedians like George Lopez demonstrate, there is a large minority audience looking for content that shares their stories. Williams suggested as much when looking at the disparity between the Hispanic population at large and the one found in games. Surely some money-minded executive will figure out that Tyler Perry is a wealthy man because he made films for people who were not being served by mainstream Hollywood.Of course, fixing the problem will take a long-term effort. Navid Khonsari, founder of iNK Stories and formerly of Rockstar, recommended building external bridges to bring in people who can write believable ethnic characters. He reached out to people in South Central L.A. when working on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to bring them into the narrative process. Manveer Heir, lead designer at Raven Software, says the problem is at the core make-up of the studios. There simply are not enough minorities and women making games. (Of course, a lack of diversity shouldn't prevent existing developers from tapping experiences alien from their own. Look no further than David Simon, who created The Wire, for proof.)\n\n\n\n\n

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Bite-sized Gaming

A short-and-sweet game for those of us who can't stay up all night playing videogames anymore. "A Mayfly flies a single day / The daylight dies...

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A short-and-sweet game for those of us who can't stay up all night playing videogames anymore."A Mayfly flies a single day / The daylight dies and darkness grows." -Mary Ann HobermanWhat I remember most about videogames when I was a child was the length. They were all-night affairs as I would hunker down with a few friends, a Bigfoot pizza from Little Caesars, and an issue of Nintendo Power. We'd play Final Fantasy or Adventure Island until the wee morning hours and then flit back to our respective homes.A lot has changed for me: I cannot find a Little Caesars anywhere near my home, and at the end of the day, I just don't have the time. I'm married now and have to schedule my videogame time around my wife's working hours. Weekends are spent with friends and family who, for the most part, aren't keen on watching me play games. But while perusing the entrants for the Independent Games Festival, there was one game that caught my eye: Enviro-Bear 2010 Operation: Hibernation.The gameplay is simple enough. You are a bear and you drive around in a car to collect fruits and berries before winter comes. That's it. It lasts five minutes before the snow falls and the screen fades to black with "Game Over." The game's shortness is partly intentional. Justin Smith, the designer, says it was designed for IGF and he never thought it would catch on. After being laid off from his programming job in Vancouver, the 33-year-old built Enviro-Bear in his free time.What ‘s wonderful is that there is now a market for the bite-sized games such as Smith's; he sells it for 99 cents on the iTunes App Store. "The 99-cent model is perfect for a lot of indie developers, where you just want to get whatever weird message across," Smith says. "You can say ‘Here's a few levels' rather than being guilty for putting in 20 hours of gameplay."Games like Smith's are the new mayflies of the videogame world-lasting less than a day before passing into the night.Jamin Brophy-Warren is a freelance writer living in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter for the Wall Street Journal, a contributor at Slate, and editor of the forthcoming gaming magazine Kill Screen.

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