Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ending Eras in Geekdom

Yes, it was one of the content-lightest months here yet, I know. Not that I know how many of you are paying all that much attention to that, but then, hits don't matter. If they did, I probably wouldn't bother writing at all. It's all about chance - possibility - rather than obsessing over cultivating some base. At least, that's what I think. Giving people things to read that might be worth reading to stumble upon whenever, rather than trying to either validate yourself by getting a reader base who thinks you have something even slightly worthwhile to say or "MAKE MONEY ON YOUR BLOG!!!!111112" as one sees on blogging forums far too often. Everybody knows there's no real money to be made on the internet anyway. It's all a sham. Time to pack your bags and go home.

Anyway, my lack of inspiration when it comes to writing here as of late has channeled more into other matters anyway. I've got more than half of my novel 100% complete now - roughly up to 85-90% altogether counting the rest of the non-linear parts written - so good progress has been made in finishing the novel this summer and beginning the agent hunt once it's finished. (In addition to, obviously, finding some schools with creative writing grad programs with January admissions to try to get some applications out for then. I really don't want to be stuck at home next year.)

I've also been busy with that whole "real life" thing that people sometimes get caught up in and focus on over internet-related affairs. (Real life more important than the internet? Blasphemy!) I just spent this past Memorial Day weekend hanging out with friends at a hotel in Durham, attending the ever-geeky yearly Animazement convention. It's a local Japanese animation and comic (Anime and Manga) convention that's been held yearly since it originally started in March 1998. I've attended all 11 years, from the very beginning. I was 13 (Nearly 14) when the con started, and I'm 24 now that I've attended what will likely be my last one for a good long time.

I attended as a normal guest the first 5 years, and as a member of the press for the latter 6, having been working at Anime Dream for quite a few years now as a resident staff writer/reviewer and much-beloved slacker. (Every website needs their Gomer Pyle, you know.) Due to issues of transportation timing and less than ideal guest scheduling (I usually had a panel I could count on in the past with one major guest to record the audio from to add to my coverage. There weren't any this year, and the big guest, Kotono Mitsuishi, didn't stick around long, unfortunately.), I don't have a ton to write about in regards to my coverage, though I'll be getting a report up on the site sometime soon.

Aside from the guests, the biggest event to cover has always been the saturday night Cosplay (Costume Play - essentially when anime fans (Or "otaku," to use the correct vernacular.) dress up as anime and video game characters they like. Not unlike Trekkies dressing up like Klingons or Romulans or Starfleet officers. The kind of wonderful appeal by which you can just say "why only dress up on Halloween?" and enjoy pretending to be a character for fun. Of course, I've never cosplayed myself. I'm more of an observer, like I am everywhere else.) competition, and I've never attended that. I don't have a camera, so there wouldn't be much point. And it tends to amount to a big, noisy line crossing much of the hotel, both inside and out, while the cosplayers and otaku wait to get seating for the event. To me, being around that many people at once can be a very claustrophobic-feeling experience. I feel smothered when I'm around too many people at once, and overwhelmed. And it takes a good amount out of me simply to be around as many people as I am all weekend at the convention. Being an introvert, I'm drained by social interaction and exhausted by crowds, after all. Being alone energizes me.

I spent saturday with friends, and attended the major evening events on friday. The anime music video contest first, which is an extremely geeky event in and of itself - otaku edit together music videos out of clips of shows, games, etc. that they like with particular themes and various pieces of music to create their own music videos. AMVs have been a popular hobby - both in creating and watching them - amongst otaku on the internet for years now, especially since broadband internet access became mainstream, allowing far more easily for larger file transfers and movie streaming. (As we've seen in the mass success of YouTube and similar sites.) Astonishingly, the event wasn't choked with painful AMVs focused around ultra-mainstream games and anime (Death Note aside, anyway.). It was nice, not having to sit through anything Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts, Naruto, or Bleach-themed. Squaresoft angst wore thin ten years ago, and taking fighting shows way too seriously was pretty much played out by the time Dragon Ball Z stopped being as popular here - and that's essentially what Naruto and Bleach are, anyway, new incarnations of Dragon Ball Z style endless fighting.

Friday night was capped off with the definitive event that sets Animazement apart from all other conventions, as far as I'm concerned - Anime Hell. Anime Hell is an event that doesn't require a fondness of anime to enjoy. Several of the con staff spend each year tracking down the weirdest and funniest - often unintentionally - things they can find on the internet, then compile them into a two hour show projected on huge screens for the audience to enjoy - like the AMVs - while making comments along the way to transition from one video to the next. And they do go out of the way to find some of the genuinely strangest things you'll ever see. (As a warning, not all of these links are work safe.) I'm going to miss Anime Hell especially. I'm sure I'll be attending other cons in the future, but none of them will be the same without Hell.

Saturday largely amounted to hanging out some more and watching a few fansubs (Essentially the main way otaku get their anime these days - seeing as nobody seems to be too keen on actually buying DVDs and supporting the official translation companies and market here in North America anymore - legal semi-grey-area releases of episodes (Mostly through Bit Torrent) ripped directly from original Japanese television broadcasts or DVDs with subtitles applied by essential "For Fans, By Fans" translation groups.) there, including the first five episodes of the strange, dark, and enjoyable Soul Eater and the second Sgt. Frog/Keroro Gunsou movie. After all that and purchases made in the dealers room, we ended up going out to Pizza Hut for dinner, then watched my Paprika (An excellent work of Japanese animated cinema by Satoshi Kon, worth seeing even if you're not into anime itself. The three directors working in Japanese animation really worth noting in cinema beyond appeal to anime fans are Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, and Mamoru Oshii. Their works are all worth checking out if you're a cinema fan in general.) DVD before going our own ways for the night.

We spent a little more time around the dealers room on sunday, when the con ended, and took in its ambiance for just a bit longer before hitting a local Ragazzi's Italian restaurant for lunch. Then we parted ways for the last time for a long time, unless we manage to at least hang out for one more day later this summer as we hope to at some point.

Animazement has been a lot of things to me. When I was younger, it was a big part of my initiation into otaku culture and enjoyment of Japanese animation and comics. I got into them back in the mid-'90s or so, but didn't know many others with an interest in them. (Let alone video games.) It was overwhelming first attending the con when it was held in the North Raleigh Hilton for its first three years. It was a small hotel without a great deal of space for the convention, looking back. But at that age, I felt even smaller, and was overwhelmed by all that there was to see and do there. Those first two years really stood for getting into the geek culture as I spent a lot more time there each year, and not feeling so bad for being the awkward geek I was growing up (And I can admit it, I'm an awkward geek even now. I'll undoubtedly be dying an awkward geek one day as well.). Then I spent the convention with my first girlfriend back in 2000 at age 16, the first time she and I had met in real life. (And retrospectively, again - yes, internet relationships are every bit as terrible as you'd think. That one ended disastrously, though I hope wherever she is in the world now, she's doing well and happy. And also that I never hear from her again, personally, haha.) That was exhilarating and some of the most fun I'd ever had back then. It was a real experience just being with someone who seemed to actually like me in a romantic sense, and be attracted to me. (Though in the end, that wasn't true, and I haven't so much as kissed anyone since her. I'll be crossing the eight-year mark this July.) I spent the 2001 and 2002 conventions alone again, the relationship having ended by then. At first, it was a depressing reminder of the rather traumatic way things concluded. But eventually, I got over it. (The con's moving to the Imperial Sheraton in Durham in 2001 and having stayed there ever since no doubt helped. A much bigger hotel with even more to see and do.) I'd just finished my first year of college by Animazement 2003, and had friends that I hung out with some by then. And by 2004, I had a usual group - courtesy of a good friend's friends - to spend the con hanging out with when I wasn't doing press work at guest panels. Even with the friend who I usually hung out with wasn't around, having been in Japan during the con in 2007, I was still welcomed by his friends, and we had a lot of fun even though we generally never saw each other or kept in touch otherwise. (Oh, the fun of living in a city in North Carolina where none of your other friends from college do.) This year's convention was the last big one we'd all be attending. Two of them are off to Japan to teach English for an indeterminate amount of time later this summer. If I don't see them again later this summer briefly as we're seeing if we can manage, I likely won't see them again for years. As for the rest of my friends from college, we basically all lost touch by the time we started graduating. Socially, I'm practically back to square one now, in taking a very different path with my life than the others, writing novels and looking into a grad school in New England, rather than traveling across Asia and teaching English.

In the 11 years of the con, I went from a young teenager still learning who I was and passionate about anime, eager to get into otaku culture, to a jaded, cynical adult who's been damaged by experiences with love (Of course, who hasn't?) and not quite as fixated on the hobby, appreciating quality shows and comics and keeping more objective in looking at series for what they are - not their hype. I went from a kid about to finish jr. high school who felt very young amongst all the teenagers and college aged attendees to a college graduate in his mid-twenties who feels very old in observing all the crowds of teenagers that fill the hotel's halls. But it's hard not to feel a bit like a kid again, surrounded by all that energy and passion for such an ultra-geeky hobby. Even as I get older, so long as I have friends to attend these conventions with as we'll be arranging to hit others together years down the line, I'll never be too old for this kind of thing, I feel. (Hey, if the middle-aged guys with their own sets of Klingon ridges don't feel ashamed, why should I? The world can always use more geeks - more passion for a goofy, fun hobby like this, so long as you don't get obsessed as some otaku do.)

It's just good fun, in the end, attending conventions like this. I know I'll be feeling a bit lonely though, when Memorial Day weekend 2009 comes up - wherever I am, whoever I'm with, whatever I'm doing (Hopefully not stuck here, probably with no one (One'd hope I'd make some new friends in grad school, at least. I'm not going to hold my breath about my novel helping me to actually get into a relationship, what with the feelings I'm expressing through it, by then, though. I'll be lucky if Project 27 Days is published and on shelves by May 2009. Though I'd kill for it to be.), and probably just geeking it up over the weekend alone in my apartment, at best.) - I know I won't be able to stop thinking about what I'm missing at the con, friends, Anime Hell, and all. Hell, looking back, that con's been such a big part of my life, as the busiest and most unusual weekend of every year - such a big part of growing up in its own way - it's hard not to feel a little lonely now. Especially in having drifted as far apart as I have from my friends. I spent my jr. high and high school years largely being alone and being fairly friendless most of the time, utterly socially isolated save for conversations at school. (Go figure that one of the friends I did make back then would be the one I'd end up still in love with after all this time.) It wasn't really until after college now that I get to learn the pain of having had a number of friends in real life for once whose company I really enjoyed, then losing them while those I am in touch with end up on the other side of the globe. But such is life. It revolves around nobody. We've all gotta cut our own way through the brush and see what we can find, while hoping we don't run ourselves off a cliff. Life can be a sad, lonely experience, after all. No doubt a more selfish part of why people cling to each other so much when they fall in love - they fear losing each other, their source of stability, comfort, and loving support. Everyone needs those things in life. Personally, I've never had them in any relationship. But we can't exactly control our own luck, as I know well, likely heading towards my most epic failure in love yet with Project 27 Days. Knowing this, I still continue on. After all, even if it leads to nothing, as is most likely, what matters is the attempt. The same goes for continuing to seek love throughout my life - as far as I'm concerned, that's one of the real meanings of existence, loving, as sappy and out of character as that sounds for me - even if I end up nothing short of alone and miserable for the rest of my days. Cynical as I am about it and everything else, I've learned that you can't just quit or outright reject feelings of love.

Animazement's also inspired me in its own way. I have a novel loosely based on my con-going experiences in fairly early planning, which I'll no doubt write fully down the line. Probably my 4th or 5th novel (If not 6th), after I've successfully established myself as a writer (However long that takes.). I'm not expecting it to be a huge hit, after all, given that it's set within a pretty strange non-mainstream subculture. But I figure it's about time someone took a crack at it. And I'm trying to give the plot enough depth and overall dimensionality that it'd be enjoyable to people not in the subculture anyway.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gitmo Out of Here

Hello again, dear readers - both new, old, and random passers-by. As those of you who've been here before are aware, I usually blog on a variety of subjects. Most of them stupid and irrelevant in the grander scheme of things, but given the rather personal nature of this blog, being one of those writer-type person-things, that's nothing surprising.

At any rate, I'm cutting the personal prattling short this morning, as for once, this is a post about something bigger and more important. Why, you might even say it has something to do with bloggers uniting, trying to do something positive on these internets. To that end, this time around, we're taking a look at the USA's contemptible defiance of the human rights we so claim to stand for - Gitmo. No, not that mouse puppet on Weekends at the D.L. (Did anybody else actually watch that show, anyway?), but our detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ah, Cuba. Our governments are locked in a seemingly endless ongoing bitter rivalry of which nothing constructive seems to amount. We love to wag our finger at Fidel Castro - and now his brother, Raul - but when it comes to our criticisms there, we're as hypocritical as we're known for being throughout the world. After all, we took the bit of land we have a seemingly perpetual lease of - Guantanamo Bay itself - to not only build a naval base, but to use this base as our closest global icon of human rights abuses.

Of course, human rights abuses are hardly something new in America - don't believe the whitewashed textbooks - and there's no excuse we love to draw upon quite like war. More specifically, it's all about the mass fear and paranoia spread through war. Even if we're the ones instigating it. Back during the second World War, we covered our country with racist propaganda against the Japanese. Then what did we do? We looked overseas to what our enemies were doing and thought to ourselves, "Hey, maybe they're onto something with those camps!" And with that, in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 (Historical evidence indicates that it is very likely that our government knew the attack was coming and chose, specifically, not to evacuate the base.), roughly 110,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to and interned within "War Relocation Camps." This internment was largely focused on the west coast and Hawaiian Japanese population. This was a purely unfounded act drawn directly from racism and paranoia fostered in the country at the time - none of these Japanese Americans were found guilty of any sort of espionage or sabotage, nor was there any evidence of any being committed Japanese Americans during the war. Architects of the internment, however, pushed it in insisting that absence of such activities was suspicious in and of itself, and thusly to be taken as evidence that it absolutely would happen. General DeWitt himself claimed that Japanese Americans were disloyal, when an official navy intelligence report on the matter found the opposite to be true of the Japanese American populace. There was no need for evidence - just those old-fashioned building blocks of America: fear and racism. It took three years for the Supreme Court to rule the internment of loyal US citizens unconstitutional. And even longer for congress to pass legislation to apologize in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. The surviving internees and their heirs had $1.6 billion divided amongst them as reparations.

The Cold War came with its own wars as well, as global rivalries sprung up around political differences. Following World War II, Kim Il-Sung invaded South Korea, in an effort to reunite the divided peninsula, and America got involved. The resulting bloody conflict came to a stalemate and the Armistice Agreement was signed. Then in the following decades, once again spearheaded by fear of a massive communist conspiracy to destroy America and effectively turn us all into Bolshevik robots, we invaded Vietnam. Acting under the widespread fears spawned by Domino Theory (In short, with every other nation in the world that "falls" to communism, we come one step closer to becoming communist ourselves, one nation after the next falling like dominoes until America does as well.), we waged a ground war with the communist North Vietnamese, acting largely in our own interests - wanting to effectively strike a blow against this perceived communist conspiracy more than aid the south Vietnamese, largely failing to understand (Let alone respect) the large scale political and cultural shifts Vietnam was undergoing in forging its own future as Ho Chi Minh's revolution for the people consumed the nation. In short, we stuck our noses where they didn't belong - in our own interests - and both committed many an atrocity and killed many people who shouldn't have had to die, simply because of our own paranoia.

During this time and this unpopular war, we saw the rise of the hippie subculture in America, largely lambasted by the American political right-wing today - what's left of the subculture, anyway - for suggesting there were more peaceful, progressive ways we could solve our problems in the world. By reaching out and trying to understand one another. What do you mean we can't solve all our problems through excessive militarism?! Sadly, this ultra-militaristic mindset still dominates in America today. Say what you will about hippies, their promiscuity, occasional lack of hygiene, and drug use - they still had some very commonsense ideas that Americans today could stand to learn from. (And drop the whole tough-guy "We're the good conservative Christian anti-sex gunslingin' heroes!" act and attitude already. This is the 21st century.)

Unjust war waged out of paranoia is its own grade of human rights abuse. Such was our military involvement in Vietnam. Such are our actions following the events of September 11th, 2001. Following the attacks, we invaded Afghanistan, a seemingly more justified war, with all the abuses the ruling Taliban committed upon the Afghani populace. Of course, that wasn't the reason we invaded - we were out for revenge, and Osama bin Laden, the architect of September 11th, was connected with the Taliban. Our efforts to extradite bin Laden were met with failure, though we scattered the Taliban forces and effectively bombed much of the country to pieces. In many ways, we helped push Afghanistan towards becoming a failed state in the end. George W. Bush and his administration were not being interested in nation-building - rather, they were far more concerned with starting a new war based on faulty intelligence. Instead of retaining the sort of presence we should have in Afghanistan and working to help the people and nation recover - for a time, even women there were starting to see expanded rights - we rushed off to Iraq. In the time since then, the Taliban has been slowly regaining its power and returning to its violent oppression of the people. There seems to be little hope there these days, in large part due to our - metaphorically speaking - bombing them to rubble, giving each other high-fives, then concluding, "It's time to go bomb those guys, too! This is what you get for 9/11! Boots up asses equals way of Americana!" (I hate Toby Keith.)

Anger and fear post-9/11 led to most of America and congress blindly giving over the veritable power of an uncheckable monarch to the Bush administration - just about making them America's first dictatorship of sorts - with our own civil rights disappearing as quickly as government transparency. It's said that absolute power corrupts - history has provided plenty of evidence to this end. But looking at many of their track records, most of the Bush administration was already corrupt before they came to office. And thus, that brings us to the issue at hand here - the illegal internment and abuse of prisoners at our Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Certainly not the only abusive prison camp to come out of US military operations post-9/11 (Yes, there's no forgetting Abu-Ghraib and the disturbing photos that came out of that - the actions that came of higher US military and government orders, the depths to which we sunk after September 11th, becoming monsters ourselves on our rampage of Middle Eastern revenge.), Guantanamo Bay still stands out in particular now as it remains open and our abuses continue to this day. As we began to wage war, prisoners from Aghanistan flowed in - some captured by US soldiers, others purchased as bounties from warlords and mercenaries both in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The military has claimed evidence linking some of the detainees to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They have, however, completely withheld this evidence from the public, making the entire proceedings appear corrupt and suspect. The detention of these individuals is illegal. Despite the Supreme Court recognizing the detainees' right to legal counsel and the right to fight their imprisonment, this administration has denied them that and all legal rights. Worse yet, we're rather open now about torturing detainees - a method that has been proven repeatedly ineffective as an interrogation technique, an act not only lowering us to heinous levels in committing it, but yielding little to nothing in terms of truly reliable information - and we're even seeing high officials (Such as ultra-conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, one of the last people we need in such a position in government today) supporting and defending it. There's been much back and forth bantering for many months now on the matter of torture and our preferred method of it - waterboarding. But no matter how hard you try to politicize it - as we do everything here in America now, seemingly terminally impeding meaningful progress - you can't change reality. There is nothing about simulating drowning that is not torture. You are physically harming someone - risking some potentially dire damage t o them - in the name of extracting information. These aren't "advanced interrogation techniques." They're a blatant disregard for the Geneva Convention (Which former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales himself referred to as "quaint and outdated.") and human rights as a whole. The fact that so many are standing up for these crimes against humanity speak volumes about the dark time we live in here in America.

Under pressure from Amnesty International, the UN (Which the far right seems to scoff at these days.), European Union, and much of the world, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the closure of the prison camp, asking for help from the rest of the world on December 25th, 2007. She has also called for guarantees from nations that their prisoners, once released, would not be a danger. Coming up on half a year later, we still have not seen any progress on that front.

After the events of September 11th, 2001, much of America was enraged. We acted irrationally, and we've done horrible things as a result. Nowadays, most of us have opened our eyes, and we are horrified by what we have become under this administration. If we are a nation that truly believes in individuals' rights - both civil and human - we must stand up together and close down Guantanamo Bay. It's time this administration makes good on their words instead of merely talking at us while meaning nothing. And it's time we held everyone - including those involved in this administration - accountable for the human rights abuses they authorized. There are criminals amongst us, and they have been many in this administration and military. America must show the world that we do believe in human rights, and that we are capable of doing the right thing and acknowledging our gravest of errors and offenses committed upon human rights.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hype Money: The Death of Journalistic Integrity in Gaming

You watch TV, right? Of course you do. Who doesn't? (Don't pretend, snobs. "I don't watch television," you say? We know all about your little love affair with PBS. Yes, Masterpiece Theater is still television. Now go and hang your head in shame.) As such, you're likely used to being exposed to all sorts of commercials. (Unless you just Tivo everything and fast forward through said commercials.) And what commercials are more obnoxious than video game commercials? I'm a lifelong gamer and hell, I have no problem admitting how bad those things are. (Though granted, Nintendo's "Wii Would Like To Play" commercials at least promote a healthy approach to the hobby, as opposed to the others' efforts to convince you that you're some sort of badass for sitting in a room alone in front of your TV jamming on buttons.)

These commercials, desperate to sell you on how awesometacious their product is, will often beat you over the head with its attitude and attempt to paint a very one-sided picture of the product. It's very common for Xbox 360 games to focus on CGI cutscenes over demonstrating actual gameplay in their games. And I have yet to see so much as a single Playstation 3 commercial that shows any actual gameplay footage whatsoever. They focus on only showing the CGI cutscenes to attempt to convince you that that's what the game looks like in motion - for these two consoles, this generation's been all about pushing graphics while pretty much rehashing and regressing gameplay, considering how often game quality has suffered on these consoles as a result of the fixation on visuals. (Remember, kids! If it isn't all about the high definition visuals, it may as well give you AIDS! Also, if the game isn't Rated M For Mature, then it automatically sucks and is aimed at two-year-olds with learning disabilities. Good games compensate for your insecurities. Who said anything about fun!?) When publishers aren't trying to pull the wool over consumers' eyes when it comes to their software's visuals, they're touting review scores.

"Its graphics are more realistic than real life," says GameSpot.com.

"This one time, I had a sex dream, but it really turned out to be this game I was porking," says 1up.com.

"You're not a hardcore gamer unless you own this," says Game Informer.

"I would kill my own mother if necessary to play this game," says IGN.com.

Veritable sound bites written to be slapped onto game packaging and quoted in commercials are written, and at times going the extra personal route - by implying that you, as an individual, need to make a purchase in order to maintain "hardcore gamer" credibility. Jump on the bandwagon or you're not one of the cool kids! Sound biased? You bet it does. For years, refusing to critically judge games - in particular the big name ones - and instead acting as shills is a problem that's only grown in the gaming media. Publishers have a dangerous amount of influence on the press, and the press allows this - even comes to rely on it - while gamers choose to ignore the lack of journalistic integrity and objectivity that comes with it.

Integrity in general has been a hot topic amongst gamers in the past few months. Unfortunately, most miss the mass corruption forest - allowing the media to continue to get away with its corruption with no mass public outcry or criticism of influence (Even this no-name blog will have no impact, but in the least, I can serve to get the word out there.) - for a few carefully spun trees. The prime example of this being the dismissal of staff writer Jeff Gerstmann at GameSpot.com late last year. He wrote a highly critical review of a much-hyped third person shooter, Kane & Lynch, which GameSpot had been paid to promote for a while. The quality of the review was less than remarkable - largely unprofessional, with the video review playing out like a bag YouTube vlog rant. Shortly after his dismissal, Gerstmann opted to take his revenge on GameSpot by outing them as "adjusting" their review scores based on advertising dollars received from publishers, paying them to act as shills - to sell games, not criticize or objectively evaluate them like they claim. GameSpot never aired the reason for Gerstmann's dismissal. Nor did Gerstmann himself state why he was fired. The gaming populace on the internet decided to jump to conclusions - a conclusion, ultimately, so accepted that were the truth to come out, it wouldn't be accepted - that Gerstmann had been fired for "sticking it to the man" and writing an honest review. This is a flawed theory, given that had that been the issue, Gerstmann himself would no doubt have announced it and used it to fuel his efforts to not only burn his bridges with GameSpot, but to burn the site down entirely. Gerstmann claims that he is legally unable to reveal why he was fired, while CNet, the company behind GameSpot, has stated explicitly that it had nothing to do with the review. We don't know exactly why Gerstmann was fired, but Gerstmann and his friends managed to use their biting back at GameSpot to fuel hordes of gamers on the internet to attempt to sink the site at every turn and discredit it as much as possible. These same people never ask themselves why it took Gerstmann so long to out GameSpot, or speculate that maybe, just maybe he was a willing part of the same corruption up until he was let go. He's successfully made a martyr of himself - despite his own unprofessionalism and general poor quality of reviews, in addition to his own clearly exhibited biases that he denies (When all good critics need to be able to criticize and question themselves and their methods, as nobody does in the gaming media. They prefer to ignore their own biases, which in Gerstmann's case, were most often tantamount to apparent efforts to lower Wii game scores on aggregate review sites, making it clear that he does not particularly like the platform, and as such, is not particularly qualified to write unbiased reviews of its games.) - and drawn a reader base to his new, similarly untrustworthy review site/blog, Giant Bomb. (Which is an ironic name in and of itself.) Unfortunately, the majority of gamers are immature, whether man-children or outright children - making it very easy for Gerstmann to make himself look like a victim, when we don't know the whole story, and he's hardly an innocent himself.

Unsourced information was presented as facts (As is commonplace.), and the gaming blogs - such as Kotaku and Joystiq - in no way helped to provide intelligent commentary or framing for the Gerstmann firing scandal, instead helping to whip up the self-proclaimed "hardcore" masses into a frenzy of GameSpot hate. What we watched then was any semblance of journalistic integrity go right out the window in the name of getting hits on the internet - crass, tabloid style writing intended for consumption by masses dying to crucify a site over methods like this. (When they're known to be common enough in the industry as is. Even Japan's must-beloved Famitsu magazine openly admits to giving games better reviews based on how many advertisements companies buy for said game in their pages. But even they manage to maintain some semblance of integrity when reviewing games that publishers aren't bothering to advertise - like Opoona.) And instead of diving in and looking for the truth of what happened, the gaming masses - as the blogs made the connection for them - decided that Gerstmann's dismissal was done for his refusal to conform to corporate pressure and give Kane & Lynch a higher, paid-for review score. (Gamers do love the image of a bad boy renegade. And it isn't hard to trick them into seeing and believing in that image.) The bottom line is, the entire scandal was the result of terrible journalism, lack of actual facts, and conjecture being tossed out as legitimate conclusions in their place to get people stomping their feet. We may never know the real reason GameSpot fired Jeff Gerstmann - and people might not believe them if GameSpot/CNet disclosed it, anyway - but he's come out of the whole thing smelling like a rose. And does he deserve to? Absolutely not. No part of the scandal and its aftermath in any way served gamers, nor the improvement of the gaming media. GameSpot's scrambled ever since to improve their image, which Gerstmann has effectively shattered, despite being no more trustworthy - but they continue to adhere to the same old groupthink that Gerstmann himself represented. Games simply don't get bad reviews unless they're small name and the mainstream market doesn't care about them.

Groupthink too is a scourge on journalistic integrity. The market is currently divided into two camps, one slowly fading into the other - the conservative minority that refuses to play anything beyond the more "traditional" consoles that do nothing new in terms of controls that contribute to gameplay (Awkward use of webcams that serve no purpose or as any means to the furthering of gaming and tacked on, poorly implemented tilt for some "Me too!" motion control in the PS3 controller do not count.), and instead focus on high end technology specs and fancier graphics, while there is little seen and done in the way of new and innovative gameplay. The systems in question are Sony's Playstation 3 and PSP, as well as Microsoft's Xbox 360. Those who cling solely to these systems largely came in during Sony's decade of dominance in the industry, in which they in no way moved it forward in a meaningful sense - their contribution to gaming has been to provide a line of consoles that found success in that developers wanted to put their games on CDs, not N64 cartridges, and that the Sega Saturn was far too difficult to program for with its overly elaborate internal architecture. (The internal architecture's haunting Sony years later now, as developers are having a difficult time developing games for the PS3 that even feel like solid PS2 era games.) But as a big corporation that entered gaming for the profits - and no doubt in part because Ken Kutaragi (The father of the Playstation brand) was sore at Nintendo for refusing to sell (Complete with all their properties) to Sony in exchange for a Super Nintendo Entertainment System CD add-on - they've demonstrated repeatedly that on the whole, they don't understand the first thing about gaming, let alone gamers. Their designs over the past decade were largely built upon copying the Super Nintendo (All the way down to their basic controller design, simply tacking on more buttons and awkward analog sticks in time, creating controllers too complicated for their own good, then refusing to try - and actually commit - to anything new, when new controllers had been the standard each generation in the past.) and its style of games, as the game industry made the move into 3D.

Sony themselves did not facilitate these advances, the third party developers and publishers taking the lead on their platforms - Sony's own first party software frequently being mediocre at best, making their hardware's lifeblood its third party support. Even as conservative as the console's hardware was, Nintendo made more real advancements with the N64 than Sony did with the Playstation. Super Mario 64 was the premiere platformer that brought the genre into 3D and set a precedent for a good decade plus of games in the genre. Likewise, The Legend of Zelda franchise's transition into 3D set the standard for 3D adventure games. Nintendo was the first to bring an analog stick to a controller as a standard feature as well, as awkwardly designed as the N64 controller was. They introduced force feedback in game controllers through the Rumble Pak, which you would plug into the back of the N64 controller. Sony would go on to follow them with their Dual Shock controllers, adding their own rumble - which they'd later lose late into the PS2's life and early into the PS3's for using technology the Immersion company had patented, without permission - and tacking on a couple of awkwardly placed analog sticks and never moving them to more comfortable positions, taking on the complacent position that their designs didn't need fine tuning and were essentially perfect as it was. (And I wish I was kidding about their arrogance, but when the PSP came under criticism for some noteworthy hardware flaws - particularly in using its buttons - Kutaragi himself boasted that "Nobody can criticize the design of a genius architect," his own massive ego on full display.) Overall, Sony's legacy in gaming has largely been an attempt to monopolize the industry while in no way moving it forward - in fact, making as few changes, let alone improvements, to their systems themselves beyond making them more powerful from generation to generation. Absolute conservativism in gaming - an absolute killer on gaming, an industry that thrives on finding new ways to do things, new kinds of gameplay, and new ways to interact with software. Their success continued to go to their heads over the course of their decade of dominance, getting to the point at which they treated their fanbase like idiots who would eat up anything they said or sold - from insulting marketing campaigns (Yes, this is what they think of us.) to boasting upon unveiling the PS3 that we "would buy it even if it didn't have any games." Naturally, they've gotten their just desserts since then, with the arrogantly designed PSP a failure in the gaming market due to a combination of mostly uncompelling software and ease of piracy, and the PS3 representing a sort of extremely poorly designed "Hindenburg of gaming" that fell flat on its face shortly after launch, with its limited software offerings, poor quality software overall, and general design by which it is entirely unfriendly to game development. (It was a Blu-Ray player with gaming options tacked on. And its arrogantly high prices - thanks to the incorporation of expensive technology that in no way actually benefits gaming, in an effort to compete with Microsoft's own powerhouses, when historically, the most powerful gaming hardware has never won a console or portable war - sure as hell didn't help either.)

In retrospect, Sony's biggest accomplishment in their decade of market domination was market expansion - essentially, doing successfully what Sega tried to but never quite made it - selling video games to the crowds that beat nerds up, rather than just the nerds themselves. They groomed a new, very large generation of gamers around the time much of the NES/Master System/SNES/Genesis generation was quitting gaming as they grew up. With Nintendo becoming an underdog and Sony completely dominating, media biases immediately shifted to vilifying Nintendo - as they have yet to break away from after a year and a half of the Wii having successfully dethroned the Playstation brand, and it'll no doubt take longer yet - while virtually deifying Sony. They were the newcomer bad boy to the gaming hardware wars, after all, both kicking ass and taking names. (In console sales anyway, they took long enough to get into portables, and Nintendo summarily destroyed them there with the DS.) They told their fans that they were the "hardcore" gamers, especially during the PS2 years, while pushing M-rated ultraviolent games as the standard of quality and image for games to look up to. The insecure masses latched on to this kind of image they wanted to associate with themselves. And throughout all this, Sony successfully groomed a large generation of uber-conservative gamers who clung to Sony hardware, controllers, and largely mainstream games. (Even while Final Fantasy VII was largely accredited with "making RPGs mainstream," this is largely untrue. What it served to do was make Final Fantasy mainstream, as that franchise shifted its focus to a new, shallow demographic, focusing more on attitude than quality gameplay and worthwhile stories. Instead, it began the trend under Sony's dominance of more traditional Japanese RPGs (JRPGs, as they're commonly referred to) coming under attack, and the entire genre being judged by the question of "How much like Final Fantasy is it?" and if not enough, the game automatically "sucks," so while Final Fantasy enjoyed mainstream success, the RPG genre itself did not. The only sales boosts its games saw came from Sony-pushed advertising campaigns - particularly when they focused on having a bad attitude for the teenagers - and as a result of the general larger gamer base for the console than Nintendo's platforms had enjoyed. These games largely saw a push away from gameplay to more cinematic focuses in presentation, Sony and Square - the company behind Final Fantasy - sought to Hollywoodize video gaming, ultimately to its detriment as a medium.) These gamers pick a very few types of games by which to judge all others, and don't want to see changes in hardware beyond added power. Naturally, when Nintendo's DS and Wii hit the market to record, unforeseen sales, while bringing major new forms of input to the table - allowing for some fantastic and sorely-needed innovation in gaming - along with better prices with moderately powered, well-planned, and designed hardware, they did not take it well.

Microsoft's Xbox line has suffered from some of the same issues, and largely contributed to the same gaming groupthink - "only these games are good," "traditional controllers are perfect, we don't need change," "we only want peripherals to praise as an option but never real changes to gaming input," "rated M is rated awesome," "colorful games might make me gay," and so forth - while their approach to the market was largely in pushing high end technology (Which largely goes unpushed in the end, and the PS3 and 360 both suffer from longer development cycles, much shorter gameplay, and often less meat to their games in general because so much goes into the graphics over everything else now.), and making first-person shooters huge on consoles for the first time since GoldenEye with the Halo series. The Xboxes are largely high-end (At least at launch) gaming PCs in console boxes with a focus, largely, on first person shooters - a PC gamer staple - with the occasional hit western RPG here and there. They don't push anything genuinely innovative as gaming hardware, and are largely a different variation on Sony's conservativism, without nearly as much focus on image consciousness, seeing as even Microsoft seeks to draw in more casual and generally wider audiences. They fail at this, however, in having spent all the early years of the brand pushing it as being "the hardcore console" next to the Gamecube and PS2, when they were all fairly on par in their own ways. The biggest problem the Xbox really brought to gaming was the beginning of efforts to reintroduce PC gaming elements into consoles, while using tired, overcomplicated controller designs, which largely served to alienate by the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox generation. Console gaming has largely replaced PC gaming in popularity over the years because of the very problems in PC gaming we've seen resurface in full force on the PS3 and 360 - messy games with little to no bug testing, requiring patches, forced installs to reduce load times on disc games, space management issues despite larger hard drives without the ease of swapping memory cards, and so forth. Especially in the PS3's case, these issues have gotten them some bad PR.

Ultimately, the ultra-conservative groupthink spawned by the generation of gamers that came in with Sony and Microsoft has helped to not only taint, but break today's gaming media. Conservative gaming groupthink largely serves to hold the industry back by discouraging free thought and new ideas, saying that things shouldn't change, that they can't get any better beyond processing power and graphical advancements. (They often tout higher end hardware leading to better physics and AI too, but let's face it - most AI in gaming is terrible, and it'd make games too hard and upset gamers if it were better than it is. Likewise, realistic physics, while an interesting feat, don't serve to improve quality of gameplay at all, and in fact often contribute to additional gamer frustration. The more a"realistic" Sony and Microsoft push games to look and feel, the less fun they become. This approach seeks to essentially strangle the imagination out of gaming, the fantasy the industry has built itself upon.) Gamers cling to notable centers for their groupthink to originate from - hence why Jeff Gerstmann remains popular and his own corruption denied. He tells them what they want to hear, so as far as they're concerned, he's innocent. Unfortunately, the video game industry has no real center of true media and journalism, just shills masquerading as journalists with no integrity.

The next issue in the downfall of the industry is hype. It's a damn hype machine. I've rambled enough here as is, but over at Kombo, Michael Kelly says well how the media impacts games, ultimately how our review scores are bought as a standard part of the marketing process, killing journalistic integrity. Games get hyped to death, and Kelly articulates the effects well as being "The Phantom Menace Effect." We were all dying to see a new Star Wars movie, critics all raved about it, and it saw more hype than any movie in a very long time. We all saw it, most loved it, caught up in the hype. Others' jaws dropped at how terrible it was. After enough time had passed and the hype finally wore off, most of the rest of us were finally able to look back and admit to ourselves, "Man, that movie sucked. What the hell were they talking about?" Final Fantasy VII saw this treatment back in 1997 when the press was largely bought off to call it the "greatest game ever made." Nowadays, it's lucky if it makes it into top 100 lists, simply because it wasn't a good game, and has aged terribly.

We're seeing the exact same thing repeated now with Grand Theft Auto IV, which I'll get to in a bit. (If you're still with me. I can't imagine that many of you are sticking with this whole thing, there's so much reading here.) What we should have learned from this is that no flawless review should be trusted, especially when this universal, but like Square did back then, Rockstar is pulling a fast one on us in 2008. And the press hasn't lifted a finger to stop them. Gamers say they want serious criticism and commentary - for games to be treated like art - but after one well known site's review of the PS3/360's Iraqi-killing/high-five-getting simulator, Army of Two, tore the game apart for its reprehensible politics and gave it a serious critique, gamers on the internet largely threw a tantrum in getting what they want not equaling all M-rated games being given top notch scores and called "art," as they want to call all games now. (These are not people who understand art, either. Speaking as a lifelong gamer and patron of the arts, most video games are no more art than the average bad show on television.) The truth of what they want from the press is this - to hear exactly what they're expecting, in continuing conservative groupthink. If a game has been hyped up to be amazing, then you have to call it that. If it has a big name behind it and it's rated M, it's automatically awesome. You can't criticize these games. Not Ratchet & Clank, not Uncharted, not Devil May Cry, not Halo, not Gears of War, and especially not Grand Theft Auto. (Or anything Take-Two/Rockstar makes, for that matter.) Games like these have their reviews bankrolled - and at times, even written - in advance. The media's job is ultimately made to be to satisfy publishers with high marks for their money. And if they don't get what they want, they lose advertising revenue and at times even risk being cut off by that publisher. While if a game is small name and isn't getting pushed hard on the market and - god forbid - E-rated, it's automatically garbage, regardless of how good it actually is. If there's no hype and extra money coming from that title, it's no good. (I'll be addressing Opoona as a noteworthy recent example of this in a bit.)

The divided market itself plays a major role in the shattering of any semblance of journalistic integrity in gaming these days as well. The gaming media and its dialogue is dominated by conservative groupthink, where games are not judged by their own merits, but in comparison to other games that conservative gamers would rather be playing. (And they like to call themselves these "hardcore" gamers, claiming open-mindedness, while ultimately acting on just the opposite, and refusing to recognize their own conservativeness and bias, since they'd lose the ability to use these matters to attack and criticize games they don't like and segments of the market who don't think the same way they do. This is hardly uncommon human behavior, even outside of gaming.) The broken media caters to these gamers - as many developers try to - in an effort to wage war with progress and change in gaming, the progress and change represented by Nintendo with the Wii and DS and the massive market expansion they represent, bringing all sorts of games. to anybody interested, with more accessible new control schemes that further gaming as a medium. Instead of judging games like Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Elebits, and so forth on their own merits, they tear them down because - a) Wii Sports isn't a "serious" sports game, b) Wii Fit is seen as a huge threat that somehow could possibly cause all of gaming to collapse on itself and all previous games to disappear forever in giving us exercise software (That most gamers could sorely use), and c) how dare a game be light, humorous and colorful while taking the FPS approach! They'd be better suited to blasting aliens with blood everywhere! Don't you know that cute, light games with a sense of humor are all for children?! (Remember, being a "mature" gamer entails having no sense of fun.) Nintendo doesn't bankroll their reviews. And Wii games by third parties largely don't get advertised much. As a result, the media here tends to tear the system's games apart more often than not, nitpicking games to the Nth degree to reduce their score instead of giving you a balanced review weighing the pros and cons. (Conversely, they'll excuse many, many flaws - both big and small - without their impacting reviews on the PS3 and 360.) It's what the conservative crowd wants to hear, after all - that the Wii sucks and is just a fad machine being purchased for Wii Sports (Actual attach rate numbers and software sales numbers show it easily overtaking the 360 this year and completely dominating this generation like the PS2 did last time, with a much wider variety of software selling than on its competitors.), while the 360 is amazing (Because the real important things in gaming are pay-to-play online and voice chat so you can hunt each other down in FPSes online and feel like big men.) and the PS3 is somehow magically on its way to becoming a juggernaut that will take the market by storm and crush the Wii. (Which isn't happening, and it's not even taking off as a Blu-Ray player, since the format hasn't picked up in sales like it was predicted to with the demise of its competitor, HD-DVD. There's no reason the market should adopt a high definition successor to DVD at this point, after all, so it isn't.)

And thus, we get to Grand Theft Auto IV. It just hit shelves the other day, and naturally, it's selling like gangbusters. (For a PS3/360 release. Which ultimately means that it won't quite reach the series' usual PS2 sales last gen with its market dominance, considering that neither the PS3 nor the 360 will never achieve what the PS2 did, as is more than obvious at this point.) The game was hyped to death. Literally to being the most obnoxiously public example of the death of integrity in gaming journalism. Rockstar has a disgustingly aggressive policy of effectively bullying the press into hyping their games and giving them near flawless to flawless reviews. This was something they were just outed for last fall. Very few segments of the media covered it, largely trying to stomp out and ignore the story. It was in Rockstar's interests, after all.

And after those revelations, we're seeing the worst case scenario come true - the entirety of the mainstream media manipulated and hyped into agreeing that Grand Theft Auto IV is the greatest game ever made, and getting it to the top of the aggregate review sites - Gamerankings and Metacritic - dethroning the #1 game there (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which I don't personally agree is the greatest game of all time either, but it certainly belongs far up there and was a suitable game for that slot.) and the #2 as well (Super Mario Galaxy, which managed a great feat in getting up there in Nintendo's not bullying the press, and frequently seeing much harsher reviews as a result. Mario Galaxy belongs up there too - it is effectively gaming bliss, representing the best of gaming's roots, modern gaming, and the future of gaming in input and interaction.), Rockstar essentially moving to take that spot as a fuck-you to Nintendo's traditional dominance of the top 10 (Though The Orange Box managed to get a couple of its versions up there too, though honestly, as good as that is, it's kind of overinflated for FPSes.), given that GTA was supposed to be a major weapon against the success of the Wii, which they've only laughed about. (Ironically, given that the best version of Bully - which is honestly the only game of theirs that interests me - being on it. Their only other releases on it were their Table Tennis game, a superior-controlled port of the 360 original with added motion controls but some unfortunately removed content, and Manhunt 2, which was a terrible game and a general clusterfuck of controversy to hype the game up, when it just honestly wasn't good.)

And what we've gotten as a result of their stranglehold on the media with the GTA franchise is the most blatant lying we've seen yet. Gamers've been reporting numerous problems with the game, from freezing to crashing to console bricking, the game has plenty of issues with the in-game engine running properly and consistently, and the controls are clunkier and less intuitive than before, a sacrifice made to "more realistic" physics. Then they tacked on a so-so online mode, which got hyped up tremendously as well despite not being anywhere near as remarkable as they made it out to be - in not being remarkable at all. And the core of the game? The cardinal sin - it's a rehash of the exact same core game, same kinds of missions, same exact gameplay, with little to no fine tuning and a few new clunky additions - such as taking cover when fighting - that in no way enhance the game. It's a popular PS2/Xbox franchise's awkward, heavily flawed transition to the conservative high-end hardware consoles, bringing nothing new of note to the table, and ultimately serving as a tired rehash of a series that has overstayed its welcome, having stopped truly innovating beyond its initially bringing a vast world to the table - the series was never known for its quality gameplay, just a large variety of half-assed gameplay, like - as it was recently put best on SomethingAwful.com - "a bunch of used up bars of soap squeezed together to make a big new one." Rockstar manipulated the media and hyped the majority up into giving the GTA series far more credit and praise than it ever deserved, and this is the gaming media's biggest offense to the gaming public in breaking away from journalistic integrity - blatantly misleading the masses in calling it the greatest game ever made despite numerous flaws that nobody could responsibly overlook. There was nothing impartial, unbiased, or even intelligent and honest in IGN's multi-page masturbation of the game in calling it better than watching movies - when GTA's always been B-movie gangster writing at best, and this is no different - and worth $300 easily, when that's outright pandering to Rockstar and spitting in gamers' faces. (No game is worth that kind of money. Let alone the $50-60 most go for these days.) And even after Rockstar was outed for their corrupt practices in working with the press? The average gamer's raving about the game - drinking the kool-aid - because it's exactly what they wanted to hear. That "the best game of all time isn't on the Wii and couldn't be done on the Wii, fuck Nintendo and their success," while the game itself is nothing to write home about, let alone deserving of the kind of blatantly excessive praise it's received. There's no objectivity, no impartiality, no honesty.

Rockstar has successfully martyred themselves in the industry through stirring up controversy and ending up the target of figures like Florida attorney Jack Thompson - who seems to be more of a hired joke for PR stunts than actually passionate bout his cause, he's become such a cartoon character. But no, you're not wrong in wondering if that heavily violence-laced game really is the best game ever made. It's just what they want you to think, amidst its numerous noteworthy flaws. If Rockstar's accomplished anything here, it's in openly revealing how broken the mainstream gaming press is. It's all about stirring up controversy and cashing in on a media frenzy. Rockstar's marketing department and higher-ups have no qualms about abusing the system to their benefit. They represent the worst, the lowest discourse in gaming. What they do cheapens it, and is an insult to each and every one of us.

On the opposite end of the scale, we have Opoona. Even more so than the similarly railed-upon Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey on the Xbox 360, it represents media bias ripping an undeserving game apart. Like the other two, it's a traditional JRPG, going all the way back to the genre's NES/SNES roots, with random enemy encounters, stats, spells learned naturally over time, and a more energetic twist on classic turn-based combat. In the western media, every JRPG gets the same sorts of complaints these days, which pretty much amount to this - aside from Final Fantasy, the mainstream does not like JRPGs anymore and finds gameplay elements that define the genre "unacceptable," which is a statement about the players and their tastes, not the game's quality. Today's conservative gamers - who feed on the groupthink, convinced that their opinions are sacrosanct fats - just don't seem to be able to realize that mabye their tastes aren't in classic JRPGs and general JRPGs after complaining after playing games like more recent Final Fantasy titles, judging the genre by exceptions, not the way the majority play. It's like there's a bullet list of classic JRPG cliches that all suddenly make games "suck" now. The genre isn't going to change because a bunch of North Americans are sick of the formula. (Which offers a great deal of variety in and of itself, Opoona being one of the most unique JRPGs in quite a while.)

The western media ripped Opoona apart, and the average gamer here said "eh, I knew it was going to suck," when the reviewers never gave it a chance. The media simply gave them an excuse to deny their being conservative gamers, deciding that every game that they had no interest in to begin with 'sucks' and that's that, while still telling themselves that they're open-minded and justify a lack of adventurousness. (An irony in the RPG genre.) So we get people basically agreeing 'hay if this site sez it sux it sux cuz I like this site,' all an excuse for people to avoid forming their own opinions and falling into the same old groupthink, as most gamers do and miss out on a tremendous amount of worthwhile games as a result of.

It's this same kind of groupthink by which even where they are now, Nintendo can do no right, while so many still cheer on Sony and readily forgive them for everything they've done wrong at the drop of a hat. Just like people when it comes to just about anything else, gamers are rarely free-thinking individuals who work regularly as fully functional critical thinkers when it comes to their hobby. And the fact that there isn't much of a 'real' gaming media to speak of - (Reiterating for the umpteenth time) critics are paid to sell games, not to give honest reviews, and personal biases are rarely if ever owned up to, creating the illusion that anyone is fit to adequately judge any game objectively, while you get no real insight into or criticism of games, generally, when it should be done. Tired games are praised on other platforms where evolutions of classic franchises are slammed on Nintendo hardware. (Zelda and Smash Brothers are criticized for being rehashes, while GTA is praised for doing the same thing, as are games like Devil May Cry and God of War, when those are especially shallow, overhyped games to begin with that do nothing for the medium.) And if a reviewer thinks critically about a game - like the infamous Army of Two review - we see gamers throwing a hissy fit because it wasn't the review they wanted.

The damage conservative approaches to gaming have done to the industry in and of itself makes the Wii and DS all the more significant as gaming hardware goes, not just in their sales triumphs, but what they bring to the table that's fresh and new. Gamers need to peel off the crusty conservative buildup of the past decade and open their minds to something new - failing that, at least learn to acknowledge their own biases and tastes, rather than trying to write off everything that doesn't fit them as garbage. (Which is what we're seeing now, with the nearly violent reactions we saw to the Wii and DS at their announcements and even more so to their mass market success. And the Wii especially is still a target of that today, though the DS still sees some anger, mostly from PSP fanatics who're still convinced that it's doing well as a gaming platform, when it isn't.) We're seeing close minded-arguments that the market is splitting into casual and hardcore consumers, which isn't true either - Sony thrived for a decade because they captured the casual, mainstream market as well. It wasn't all the same people who're buying Brain Training and such now, but it's a similar idea. But the bottom line is, the market isn't going to segregate itself, and with the Wii on its way to complete market dominance, we're only going to continue to see more third parties put their big titles on it, given that it's also proven that third party games can sell extremely well so long as you treat the Wii owner base as seriously as the other platforms' users. The Wii Sports/Big Brain Academy gamers are not the ones making the Wii the success it is, and even then, the Wii attach rate is higher than the other consoles' fanatics claim it is. The Wii is already a more serious hardcore console than the PS3, and it'll pass the 360 in that regard, library-wise, in time too, especially due to its being essentially the only hit console in Japan this generation. It's the all-inclusive console, not an either/or system. Just as Nintendo was wrong about being able to divide the portable market between the Gameboy Advance and DS and create a new market with the DS rather than swallowing the other, gaming itself is not becoming segmented and separated into casual and hardcore users (With the latter all supporting Sony and Microsoft as they claim), the Wii's simply swallowing up the majority share of the market, period. After a decade of conservative gaming strangling the market and the PS2 suffering from the worst rate of sequels and rehashes of any console in a generation, the Wii revolution is what gaming needed most.

Getting back to reiterating previous points yet again, and following previous trains of though where I got away from Opoona there - it's groupthink that simply leads to nonthinking blind defense of a bad review of a good game someone never played nor wanted to, simply because the review 'proves they were right.' Opoona's a damn good game, with a beautiful, immersive, and incredibly well designed world overflowing with more personality than most games in the past decade combined. Not flawless, to be sure, but the flaws are not huge by any means, and where it shines, it more than outshines the detriments of the game's flaws. It's a quirky, obscure third party game that deserves to be supported - and regardless of reviews, it'll no doubt ultimately sell out its small print run in its entirety anyway (Koei went in knowing the game wasn't going to be a hit, as it wasn't in Japan, given that most new IPs don't sell well there, regardless of critical reception.) - and not marginalized even worse than EarthBound (A similarly quirky, wonderful SNES RPG that hit in 1995 to much crying over its visual style and less focus on a dramatic story than an immersive adventure with the focus on the experience of the journey - like Opoona.) was when it came out to largely the same reaction from RPG fans. 'Look at those graphics! It can't possibly be good!' They want the media to tell them they're right - and so they did. The way Opoona was received, by and large, is an excellent source of insight into - and a strong example of - everything wrong with the gaming media. Smaller name, obscure games get ripped apart. The blockbusters all get raved about. (Though they're more than willing to attack Nintendo ones, as they have the more recent Mario Kart games, which are excellent.)

And in the end today, the western press - and most western gamers - don't want JRPGs. If they get anything in the genre, it has to take itself seriously, like Final Fantasy - too seriously, to the point of painful melodrama. And I can remember that when I was a kid, RPGs were the genre we could pride ourselves on playing because of their deeper stories and huge amounts of text - not to mention the thoughtful, strategic combat. Now it either has to be a near-action game or feel like an MMORPG with no battle transitions for today's ADD gamer, who considers reading in the genre to be a BAD thing. Whaddaya mean the game isn't fully voice-acted!? I feel like I'm doing homework, reading in my games.

In summation, whether you're a regular gamer who pays attention to these things or someone who simply enjoys it as a light hobby - if at all - you shouldn't listen to the words of the video game media - especially not the big, mainstream sites. They're thoroughly in publishers' pockets, and in large part, there's no sense of real journalistic integrity to speak of. Think for yourself, keep an open mind with games, and do your own research. Don't let the media tell you what's good and what's bad, and what to buy.

Yes, this was a freaking long one.