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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