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RIP Robin Williams (1951-2014)
By KevinS
Posted on 08/14/14
Robin Williams (1951-2014) Robin Williams was an absolutely exceptional comedian, talented actor, and holder of a special place in video game history: He was the first really famous gamer I know of. I’m sure there were others, but they kept a comparatively low profile, unlike one...


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Why EA Access is the Best Value Out There
Posted on Monday, August 4 2014 @ 17:36:24 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.

Here we go again. Electronic Arts, why do you constantly make it so easy to poke fun at you for dumb business moves. I mean, this whole EA Access thing looks…   Hmm… you know what, it is actually a pretty good deal. In fact, dare I say it, it is probably the best deal to come out for consoles in a long time.    This is not a “project ten dollar” or the “season pass” shenanigans that people are decreeing it to be. Oh no, if you read the fine print you slowly realize that EA is saving you money in the long run, provided you take the leap and the service they offer is actually good. So much depends on it being really good, and having what you want, but there is a lot of value here.   That hasn’t stopped people from condemning it as another “enslavement” tactic. Once again criticizing the gaming as a service model that the gaming industry has been moving towards since Steam got popular, and Xbox Live became worth something. The standard cries of “its poor value” or “you are paying twice” being chief among them. Heck, even Sony got in on the act by stating: “We don't think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer.”

Interesting choice of words, considering their own service model, PlayStation Now, is set to launch and may have a much more restrictive purchase schemes than what EA is offering, if reports are to be believed. Still, maybe Sony did see something in EA Access that is not readily apparent. Perhaps, behind the fine print presented, EA Access is another pointless service model that is doomed to fail. Let’s find out by looking at the three major points of EA Access and the possible pitfalls they may have.   The first and foremost thing to discuss is the pricing scheme. $4.99 for a month, or $29.99 for a year. For those who are doing the math, that is about $2.50 per month if you get the year subscription, which is half of the $5.00 price tag being offered. Since EA Access is only on Xbox One, the service would be a second charge on top of the Xbox Live account, presuming it is required to use EA Access. Combined with a year subscription of Xbox Live, if one was to purchase a year subscription for EA Access, it would be around $90.00 a year altogether, without Netflix or other services attached.   Now $90.00 seems like a lot for an entry fee, but if you actually break it down it’s pretty decent for a deal. The combined prices for the first four games in this beta equate to $142.00 all together, with Battlefield 4 and FIFA 14 being the lions share at $49.99 apiece. So you already are saving $52.00 off the bat, which is close to a full priced game on its own at $59.99. This is also if you have an Xbox Live Gold account. If EA Access is treated like an application, then your savings become $112 a month.    The second aspect offered is the 10% discount on downloadable content. This includes DLC of course, but also full-fledged games which you can buy and play. So a fully priced title at $59.99 would become $54.00 before tax. $10.00 DLC would become $9.00 easily, while $12.00 games such as Peggle 2 would be priced at $10.00. The discount does offer a good bonus for consumers, provided they like downloading titles off of Xbox Live. Of course you need Live to fully take advantage of this discount. It may also become more lucrative if the games on Xbox Live that are discounted with the Games with Gold program further, stacking the two discounts for extra savings. Although that is just speculation at this time.   Finally, we have the trial access. Since EA is offering you trial runs of the game, chances are they would be complete versions of the game locked off, with a time stamp on it. Much like the demo to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which gave you access to the in-game tutorial, the character creation mode, and an hour's worth of game time in the first area, I expect many of the early access trials to follow a similar pattern, with the difference being the ability to import saved data to the main game.    The trial runs also provide a unique opportunity to do something that is still hard to accomplish, a complete game demo. The “try before you buy” mantra is very much still alive for many consumers, so the ability to actually play parts of the game, albeit for a limited time, is a very enticing offer. It removes the restrictions found in most demos out there, offering a taste of what is to come, much like a kiosk in a GameStop. The potential can be further augmented, though. For example, every team is unlocked for an Exhibition mode in Madden 15, and you can change the parameters of the game in the options menu, instead of recreating as the latest Super Bowl in 5 minute quarters. Such control for a game that usually doesn’t receive a demo online has a lot of potential.    Now, there are some caveats. As mentioned, the pricing might be too steep for some people, and many of the scenarios presented are speculative, it honestly depends on how EA decides to approach them with the trial deals and the 10% discount. It is also a question of content, while there are four games and a bunch of DLC already available in their beta, the pickings are slim and favor fans of sports games over other genres, although if EA sticks with it we might see a large amount of games in their vault on the service. Plus, we still don’t know if it’s a rotating group of games that will be free each month, which is again similar to the Playstation Plus model of free games. We also don’t know if purchased, downloadable games from Xbox One are retained if you decide to cancel the service.   There is also one more, sort of intangible issue that is lingering as well, the “slippery slope” argument that is often made regarding gaming as a service. While access to games and downloading them are all fair positives, many feel, including myself, that the physical copies are valuable and more protected from EULAs. The “enslavement” argument being that the service model locks you into paying money for every aspect of the game, from the DLC to the release date, to what teams or characters you can play as.    It is a legitimate concern, and we constantly see that negative in many instances. Asura’s Wrath, Dungeon Keeper for the iOS, Sims 4, Diablo III, and countless freemium games both on other services provide the proof of abused content and broken promises. The potential of EA Access being abused is there as well, and for many, the fact that it is EA doing this is enough to condemn the service before it's proven. As it is presented, however, it’s a good deal on good faith based upon the current pricing and the current savings received for their beta launch.    Not to mention the final positive given, this is non-mandatory service. You don’t have to sign up for EA Access, and not doing so in the end is a choice the consumers can make. Unlike the “false choice” that poorly implemented season passes presented, EA is allowing the consumers to choose, and with Xbox One providing the service in the same way it provides Netflix and Hulu to consumers, EA has nothing to lose in testing out how successful it can be.    So I have to disagree with Sony in the end. Contrary to what they believe, there is a lot of value here, or at least long term potential. If nothing else this benefits fans of the EA Sports titles the most, because it gives them access to their yearly purchases for the low price of $30.00, but over time EA Access might include more downloadable and new titles, much like the Origin library is today. It would also be a coup if EA allowed other big publishers into their service, although it is unlikely this will occur.    For all the naysaying, though, at least right now, on paper, EA Access is one of the best service models you can get in gaming. This all of course heavily depends on your tastes in gaming, but once again, the choice is always in the consumer's hands.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted earlier in July 30, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan

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Where Did Makoto Go?
Posted on Monday, July 7 2014 @ 16:07:54 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.

Meet Makoto.   Like any character from an RPG, Makoto has his own quirks to stand out in his game, Enchanted Arms. For Makoto, he is a support character who uses the element of Light for most of his spell casting, along with a saxophone as a conduit. He is also impulsive and often acts upon it, throwing logic into the wind.   He is also gay. Annoyingly, flamboyantly gay.   So much so, Makoto is an extremely divisive character in the gaming world. Some see him as arguably the breakout star of Enchanted Arms, the character that was able to provide good comic relief in a fairly light-hearted RPG. Others, however, view him with repulsion because of how he represents the gay community and homosexual characters in video games themselves.    I admit, I am in the latter category, with Makoto essentially feeling like a stereotype: an ultra-feminine, campy gay character who essentially rounds out the cast to forcibly add diversity to the game.    Unfortunately, Makoto has the distinct honor of being the first male, playable homosexual in gaming, an honor that could have been a triumph all the way back in 2006, but instead was met with harsh criticism over time, and for the right reasons.   But why bring up Makoto? After all, Enchanted Arms is a modest hit at best, only memorable for being the first RPG on the Xbox 360 console and for including Makoto in the cast. Makoto is far from the first homosexual to be featured in a video game either; with gay video game characters showing up as early as the mid 1980s, both accidentally and on purpose. Makoto, though, is the last gasp of something that was present in gaming at the time: the stereotype of gay men.    Eight years later, that battle is won.   Well, that’s a loaded sentence. In truth, the fight for LGBT rights around the world continues in many countries, cities, states, and homes, and represents different struggles many gay and lesbian people have. That is the real life struggles many in the community face today, and we should never downplay them. However, acceptance in the gaming world has been won, if recent trends show anything about it.   We have come a long way from the same-sex marriages in Fallout 2 or Temple of Elemental Evil. We are past the debates regarding the genders of Birdo and Poison, and we certainly can see the good and bad that gay characters represent in the world of video games. The years since Makoto have been very kind to the LGBT community, with the likes of clever, non-stereotyped characters of all genders and sexualities to grace the gaming screen. We now have a plethora of diverse roles that break the stereotypes Makoto represented for gay men, from the flawed Gay Tony to the confused Kanji Tatsumi. Companies like Naughty Dog, BioWare, and Bethesda are leading that charge in different ways, and it’s a good thing.   That fight is over. The battles were long and hard, but regarding representation in a video game, it was well worth it. For every Kanji, Bill, and Traynor out there, there is enough hate and slander and ignorance to go with them. Yet for all their hate, their words are hollow due to the rising tide that has continued to gain ground since the late 2000s, and that too, is a good thing. Characters like Sera and Dorian from BioWare's next RPG, Dragon Age: Inquisition, represent the changing tide of gay characters. They are no longer defined by their sexuality anymore like Makoto, and anyone thinking otherwise will be in for a shock when the game plays on-screen.    So where did Makoto go?    A curious question I guess, considering the obvious shift in the gaming demographic the past few years. Perhaps it's best not to even search for Makoto anymore. He is after all, a specter of the past, a ghost that doesn’t exist. However, it is easy to see where Makoto is hiding today, if we really search for it.   See, what Makoto represents is stereotyping, yes, but not the stereotypes for those outside the gay community anymore. It is the kind of anti-gay, homophobic hate that is still touted against the community as a whole, and it is something that seems to be a social taboo in the gaming culture as of late. Simply put, the problems Makoto represents are now rarely found in the video games themselves, and while this is a good thing, it has become the focus of the fight for actual equality, which is not productive in any way.   What do I mean by this? Well, we have hundreds of instances of homophobia perpetuated within the game community towards the gay community. Blizzcon 2011 came under fire when Blizzard aired a clip of Cannibal Corpse front man George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, going on a rant that called alliance players “emo cocksuckers" who should “slit their wrists.” Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel has made anti-gay comments regarding homosexuals and same-sex marriage. Jamie Durrant would go on to sue Lionhead studios for sexual harassment because he was gay and felt uncomfortable in the workplace due to this fact.   By the way, these are the open examples we know about. Countless others, both working in the industry or just playing video games, are harassed every day. If the statistics spoken about at the EA Full Spectrum Event last year are any indication, roughly 50% of those who work within the industry are still in the closet out of fear of reprisal and hate. Add to this the casual use of the word “gay” or “***got” when playing video games over the mics or in the text chat, the LGBT community has a long way to go before achieving full acceptance.    Yet it bothers me very much that, despite the efforts made by many within the community, and the journalism world for that matter over the past few years, it feels like the greatest fear of all is just another Makoto to contend with. We have seen this happen several times under the watchful eyes of activists and journalists everywhere, to the point of annoying persistence.    Take, for example, Michael Patrick. Patrick is a first-time game developer who created Ultimate Gay Fighter, a throwback to the crude, '90s Mortal Kombat titles chock full of gay stereotypes. Patrick, who is gay himself, argued that the point of the game is for comedic effect, not to make a statement of any kind.    “It’s not meant to be hateful,” says Patrick. “If you allow yourself to make fun of a stereotype in a way that isn’t cruel, I think you diminish the power of that stereotype. I’m gay, and although I’m not a stereotype, I have stereotypical traits. Why not laugh at that and enjoy it?”   Despite the well meaning intent of Ultimate Gay Fighter, many critics exhibited disdain for the title because of its stereotyping. People such as Mattie Brice, Todd Harper, and Toni Rocca are among the most notable to rightfully object to the game, mostly for the same reasons regarding the kitsch approach to stereotyping. Yet, Ultimate Gay Fighter, despite the laundry list of problems it may present in its execution and comedic quality, is still not the new Makoto. Parody, good or bad, is judged based on how clever it is, and bringing attention to Ultimate Gay Fighter over this fact is not defeating, but rehashing, a battle that’s already won.   In fact, Ultimate Gay Fighter is just one example of what feels like a misguided attempt at exposing the problems with the gaming community. For every article regarding Tomodachi Life, Dorian’s sexuality, or transphobia in GTA V, it feels as though the wrath of the LGBT world is slowly but surely losing where its actual focus should be, and that is the real world. These issues have become the new Makoto in name only, while bigger fish are waiting to be fried.    Efforts such as the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign and the EA Full Spectrum Event represent a more positive approach to showcasing change within the gaming community. More and more, it is imperative for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to be open about their sexuality while working in the gaming industry. People like David Gaider, Lucian Soulban, Tim Caine, or Jen Havens are, or were, able to openly work on video games without question of their sexuality. Why can’t others buck the perceived trend of gaming culture and eschew what is expected of them? Gaming culture is harsh, and oftentimes unfriendly, but is not invulnerable to actual change. It all starts, of course, from within.   Let us focus on these lofty problems, so slowly and surely, comments regarding sexuality will recede completely. It will certainly not change overnight, but if the first steps of awareness within the gaming community are taken, then perhaps the pipe dream of a curse-free chatroom will be less of a dream and more of a reality. A lofty goal indeed, but one that is possible the more aware we as a culture are to the diversity around us.   What’s more, why can’t game journalists start to recognize this, either? I understand the passions and oftentimes necessary zeal needed to point out stories such as those above, but if characters like Dorian or Ellie are any indication, Makoto will never come back again as the ugly stereotype he has become. It is more prudent to finally push forward and change the culture at large, instead of focusing on the small screen. The LGBT community needs to stop asking where Makoto went, and now draw their attentions to the next battle to be fought. Makoto may return every now and again, both for good or for ill, but it will be a short visit before he realizes he overstayed his welcome. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted earlier in July 4, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan

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The E3 Conundrum
Posted on Saturday, June 14 2014 @ 17:41:49 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.

Man, E3 sucks lately doesn’t it?
  Perhaps it is just my jaded outlook on the gaming industry as of late, but for the last few years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has become a chore to sit through. Gone are the days of excitement for new reveals, a playable game demo or two, or something groundbreaking to reveal. E3 is no longer a commercialist enterprise, but a big budgeted spectacle that is beholden to the lowest denominator.    Perhaps it is just more growing pains. After all, E3 has evolved from in-depth tech demos to a more trailer-focused big bonanza, letting the games do the talking with the support of the paid celebrities or developers hawking some wares in your ear. If this is the case, however, then recent years E3 has become more and more inaccessible to the gaming community as a whole.   Which is ironic, because it is now more connected than ever. With numerous live streams, live blogs, and the use of twitter, facebook, instagram, and other social media schemes has made E3 one of the most hotly seen, recognizable conferences in the world. Now journalists and fans alike have total coverage of E3, something that was unfathomable when the trade show began in 1995.   Yet, with all of this connectivity and total access to trailers, screens and even commentary from the ground teams, E3 feels stale to the palette when consuming it. The bombardment is too overwhelming to soak it all in at times, making it extremely easy to tune out of E3 all together. It also doesn’t help that most of the companies are still up to their old tricks, something that needs to change for future conferences.   The conferences are perhaps the best example of the problems E3 face. For the 2014 show, many, myself included, have complained about the almost “safe” approach each conference provided for their audience. It was a lackluster affair to show off the upcoming lineups for Sony and Microsoft, while Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, the only two publishers big enough to really warrant a conference in their own right, fall into the same trap. It is easy to write it off as “safe” for these companies, but upon closer inspection, some troubling trends become noticeable.   The biggest sin of course, is the lack of gameplay shown for a majority of their showcases. For these companies, the trailers become the king in exciting the masses watching at home, showing off slick graphics and an abundance of action, comedy or drama to set the tone for their video presentation. What’s more, the trailers come in many flavors, from tear-jerking independent titles to bad-ass action romps. A vast majority of the games revealed in these conferences were trailer-specific, and showed almost no gameplay to accompany it.   For the few games that were playable in the conferences, the pattern was the same. With slick presentations and a tightly choreographed video, you see some gameplay footage, sometimes lasting ten or so minutes, showcasing a bit of what the game is about. Battlefield: Hardline, The Order: 1886, Assassins Creed Unity, Far Cry 4; all of these titles practically had the same demonstration presented to you. It was a mini movie over actual gameplay, a constructed demo designed to show off the game, and not be playable.   This style of presentation has been very popular since the massive media buzz titles like Watch Dogs, Far Cry 3, and The Last of Us have achieved in past E3’s. Much like a director orchestrating the action, major publishers are trying to provoke emotions through editing, controlling the response that is expected from the audience. It is a tool that has been used for years by companies, but typically, it was used through shorter teaser trailers that showed off gameplay, versus a ten minute experience that becomes bloated and unrestrained.  Sometimes it works, and works well. This year, the standout was certainly No Man’s Sky. This trick, however, when deployed upon every game in the show, becomes incredibly derivative by the conferences conclusion.   So the trailers are CG and the gameplay is tightened up to a glorified demo. The last problem is the grandstanding done on the stage. In a move that still boggles my mind, we see more developers than gameplay footage in these four conferences, something that is counter-productive to the point of these conferences. To be fair, that was how it was done years ago, a string of developers, publishers, directors and presidents take center stage, outline the plans for the company, show off tech specs or sales figures and then give you tastes of the gameplay.   That was ten years ago, though. After the virulent reaction to the Xbox One last year, and the disinterest in sales figures in a 24 hour news cycle, such practices have become anachronistic to the current needs of the gaming populace. There is no need to introduce ten different developers on stage to peddle a game or two for a few minutes, watch a trailer, then walk off stage like its amateur hour at the Apollo.   You notice I am focusing on the conferences, and not the rest of the trade show. The reason for this is simple, the first impressions the companies give is always their showcase. The E3 conferences have become a show in of itself; it is the marquee time on the websites and most shows now have a “preview” portion beforehand, poorly imitating a red carpet experience before the Oscars. Yet, the ironic aspect of this smoke and mirrors trick is the fact that the meat of the gameplay, the demos on  the show floor, are where we get most of our information now.    Those moments, the live demos, the developer interviews, the private press conferences, show more of the games than the major conference can hope to achieve. One example comes to mind immediately, BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. The title, winning numerous awards this year at E3, had an over forty minute gameplay demo, showcasing everything from customization, dialogue, combat, and even some story bits to tantalize the viewers, all with the commentary of executive producer Mark Darrah explaining what you see. Yet for the major conferences at Microsoft and EA, the best gameplay footage shown was a minute long video of the player and his party fighting a dragon, which  doesn’t come close to summing up what the gaming public wants to actually see and hear about    So what is the solution? Well, the answer can really be seen by the final player at E3 this year, and the only company that put on an enjoyable experience for the audience, and that is Nintendo.    It is no secret that Nintendo is in a slump at this point. Wii U sales are down, their stocks keep taking a hit, and many, fans and pundits, are calling for the companies death for “failing” to meet their expectations. Yet, Nintendo is getting so much positive buzz over their E3 presentation this year, those previous cries have turned into a triumphant chant of admiration for the company. So what really changed here?   For starters, Nintendo eschewed the traditional press conference again this year, instead creating a 44 minute video presentation that was designed to be live streamed. It was tight and controlled, yes, but it also showed something many of the other conferences lacked; actual gameplay. This certainly benefited Nintendo greatly, especially for newer IPs such as Splatoon and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The extensive demoing was also accompanied by footage of the developers discussing their wares, avoiding tons of buzz words and simply talking about the game and the inspiration behind it. The only other conference to do so was the EA conference, and it was terrible due to the lack of actual footage to go with their upcoming projects.   Nintendo also did one of the smartest moves a company can do this year; it gave the viewing public unprecedented access to their games. The Nintendo Treehouse, the live stream event that spanned for nearly two days total, showed off more gameplay, live, organic demo’s, and even more reveals to the general public for the first time in real time. In an age where social media is the king of gaming journalism, Nintendo tapped into that resource and kept their entire presentation fresh in the minds of the gaming public, casually revealing new characters or games, even by the expo’s end.  If the lines at E3 indicate anything, Nintendo had total control of the show floor this year.    Quite a feat for a company that’s been decreed as slowly dying, huh?   Nintendo is certainly onto something here, and given the success of both their digital event and the Treehouse, it is likely they will continue to do this yearly for E3. Companies like EA and Ubisoft would be wise to take a page out of  Nintendo’s playbook, and follow suit. With a 24 hour live stream, a more off the cuff, organic presentation of their games and demos, and gutting the fat out of their conferences, Both third party publishers would become more bearable to deal with at E3 in an instant. Hell, even Microsoft and Sony should take notice at this point, especially if they continue their dick waving contest against each other.    In the end, Nintendo practically carried E3 this year, that much is clear by most commentators and bloggers in the gaming sphere, but what can we learn from this experience? Times have changed once again, and the other companies need to start finding new ways to make a meaningful impact for a more jaded gamer audience. If all press conferences become digital events, I doubt anyone would mind it. If there was more gameplay, and less CG trailers, I am sure the passion these developers have would shine through more to the public. Lastly, continuous updates and live, unscripted demo of the games is key, as it shows how fun they really are.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted earlier in June 14, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan

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The Managed Expectations of the VGX
Posted on Tuesday, December 3 2013 @ 13:44:43 Eastern

Is it just me, or do the game of the year nominees for Spike's VGX awards feel underwhelming? I mean, four of these games are critically acclaimed masterpieces, yet it feels like there is no fundamental difference between most of the nominees thi...   read more...

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Sandy Hook Slaying Turned into Gun-Control Video Game
Posted on Friday, November 22 2013 @ 15:26:43 Eastern

[b]*Note: this article was first posted on Blistered Thumbs and can be found in the link below.[/b]

Can video games be political statements?<...  

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Mike Krahulick, Dickwolf Bully?
Posted on Friday, September 13 2013 @ 12:43:34 Eastern

Is Mike Krahulick a dickwolf bully?   For those not in the know, or are like me and barely cared when this occurred because you find Penny Arcade to be unfunny, back in 2010 Penny Arcade got into some hot water over a strip titl...   read more...

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Seeing the Love: My Time at Video Game Fan Fest
Posted on Wednesday, June 26 2013 @ 12:30:01 Eastern

[Editor's Note: As LinksOcarina comments below, this article is on Blistered Thumbs so it won't be a part of the official Vox Pop competition (yes, I will soon amend the fact that I missed last month's Vox Pop due to E3). However, we thin...   read more...

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Is InXile Crowdsourcing or Outsourcing?
Posted on Tuesday, May 7 2013 @ 22:25:48 Eastern

[Editor's Note: This article was published on BlisteredThumbs and thus will not be eligible for the Vox Pop monthly prize. However, we believe it should still be featured as a part of our community.]

Update: InXile has gr...  

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Remember Me and the Female Touch
Posted on Friday, March 22 2013 @ 10:23:04 Eastern

Why are there no female leads in gaming?    A strange question to ask after recently reviewing Tomb Raider, but it is a fair question considering that there are few female leads in gaming today. In fact, according t...   read more...

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The Ghost of Video Game Violence
Posted on Thursday, February 7 2013 @ 07:54:19 Eastern

October 7th, 2005. In the throes of the Autumn weather, then Governor of California, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed two bills into law. The bills in question were California Assembly Bills 1792 and 1793--more commonly known as the video ...   read more...

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