On this week's show hosts Andrew Eisen and E. Zachary Knight talk about whether video games should enter into the public domain, the Pennsylvania government's report on violent video games and real world violence, EA's possible manipulation of ratings for its free-to-play Dungeon Keeper game, and a discussion on Flappy Bird.. Download Episode 87 now: SuperPAC Episode 87 (1 hour, 11 minutes) 81 MB.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, Pennsylvania State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf introduced a resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission to study "the issue of violence prevention, to establish an advisory committee to conduct a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the underlying causes of violent crime, including mass shootings, and to report to the Senate with its findings and recommendations."
Daniel Greenberg passed along this little gem that flew under the radar earlier in the year - a resolution introduced to the Pennsylvania General Assembly (Resolution 6) that would direct the Joint State Government Commission to study "the issue of violence prevention, to establish an advisory committee to conduct a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the underlying causes of violent crime, including mass shootings, and to report to the Senate with its findings and recommendations."
The FBI has released an artist rendering of Rex Reichert, a former arcade owner from Collegeville, Pennsylvania who is wanted for allegedly sexually abusing two boys, ages 10 and 14. The artist rendering shows Reichert as he would have looked in 2006, but he has been on the run from law enforcement since 1992.
Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach wants to give the video game industry a substantial tax credit to do business in the state, and he's pushing a bill that will provide the cash. Yesterday he introduced a bill that would give videogame companies in the state a 25 percent tax credit. Pennsylvania Senate Bill 700 calls for $20 million in tax benefits to be dedicated annually to videogame projects where at least 60 percent of the expenses are within the state. While Leach is the sponsor of the bill, the Senator has the support of seven other senators, who are all members of the minority Democratic party.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania technology leaders are wondering if a state-wide tax credit for interactive developers would slow the flow of recent graduates to other states.
In a Post-Gazette story, Pittsburgh’s videogame community is attributed almost entirely to the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). Of the school’s 60 students gaming program graduates from the Class of 2010, only four found work and remained in Pittsburgh, while 15 headed west to California for employment.
The school’s ETC Director, Drew Davidson, said that he has met with state representatives multiple times over the years to lobby for game developer tax incentives, but that interest in such a program “goes in cycles,” and involves “so many different parties and different agendas."
A high-tech, videogame-laden Army recruiting center in Philadelphia that was often the center of controversy and protests is shutting down at the end of July.
The Army Experience Center cost approximately $12 million to build and was launched in August of 2008. The 14,500 square foot facility, located in the Franklin Mills Mall, was consistently targeted with protests led by a coalition of national peace groups that operated the website Shutdown the Army Experience Center. The activists felt that the Army Experience Center glorified killing and depicted war as a game with its realistic simulators.
The protest group claimed victory, stating that the Army center was closed at least partly due to its efforts, noting that it had another planned protest in the works for Saturday, June 19.
The Clymer Library in Pocono Pines is putting a $4,000 grant it received last year to good use. The grant came from the Federal Library Services and Technology Act through the Pennsylvania’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries. So what have they spent that money on? A Wii to get seniors engaged and active, among other things like large print books, extra seating and more comfortable furniture.
These items are part of the library's "Savvy Senior Space," which gives the elderly a reason to spend time at the library. At first the library's board members were not convinced that this was a good use of grant money - until one if its senior members, 71 year old Don Pitzer, tried out the Wii system for himself.
A 17-year old from Latrobe, Pennsylvania was sentenced to 12 months probation, 250 hours of community service and ordered to pay Sony Computer Entertainment $5,000 for his role in crippling the electronic giant’s gaming website on November 16-26, 2008.
An investigation conducted by the FBI and Greensburg Police led authorities to the boy, who apparently took the website down in response to being repeatedly kicked off the PlayStation Network for cheating while playing SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals online.
The teenager reportedly used hacking tools to harness infected computers around the world and directed the botnet “to clog three games on the PlayStation site, causing it to crash and go off-line.”
Sony had sought over $33,200 from the teen, but Judge John Driscoll ruled that such an amount would be “too excessive” for the boy. Driscoll wrote in his order that, “the juvenile seems to have accepted personal responsibility and agrees he should be held accountable.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (pictured) has proposed new tax policies designed to make city more attractive to tech firms, including videogame developers.
Nutter unveiled the plan last week in a speech to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, reports Philly.com. The Mayor suggested that tech firms pay taxes only on goods and services sold within the city, which would provide some respite from the current system, in which “a company with headquarters and employees in the city pays more taxes than a company in the suburbs with the same sales figures in the city.”
The altered tax structure does not require City Council approval and will reportedly be introduced in the spring.
Game developer Mike Worth, of Space Whale Studios, located just outside of Philadelphia in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, told Metro International that the current state of tax affairs in Philly is what caused him to locate his company in the suburbs. Worth, who is also an organizer for the Videogame Growth Initiative, a grass roots organization that has been lobbying for tax breaks in the city, estimates that the city has been losing 40 game graduates a year to other more attractive locales.
Worth is also a candidate for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) board of directors.
Organizers of a September 12th protest planned for a video game-filled Army recruiting facility in Philadelphia are apparently expecting some of their group to be arrested.
A message posted yesterday at SHUT DOWN THE ARMY EXPERIENCE CENTER details the somewhat stealthy tactics planned for the demonstration and contains the following:
We’re expecting national television and print coverage this time around, so we want to make sure our presence is formidable...
Meanwhile, folks willing to risk arrest are being asked to begin showing up at the Army Experience Center as early as noon to sample one of the X Box video murder games or one of the killing simulators. It would be excellent to have folks on the inside throughout the day.
As GamePolitics previously reported, seven protesters were arrested by police during a demonstration at the Army Experience Center on May 2nd.
While other American cities and states have been courting the video game industry with incentives and tax breaks in recent years, Philadelphia has largely stood on the sidelines.
But, as Philadelphia City Paper reports, a small team is hoping to change that equation by convincing government officials that encouraging video game development would prevent brain drain and bring jobs and tax dollars to the local economy.
The Videogame Growth Initiative Philadelphia recently pitched its case to state government officials at a meeting in the City of Brotherly Love. From the City Paper's coverage:
The group has two hours to convince representatives of state government that it's worth creating new incentives to lure video game companies to Philly...
Philly might be an ideal city to take advantage of this opportunity. Currently, many video game studios are based out of Silicon Valley, Boston or New York. Philly's comparably low cost of living is attractive. What's more... Philly has... [at] the University of Pennsylvania... the only Ivy League game development program in the country, and graduates are routinely poached by large West Coast-based gaming companies...
There are, however, significant obstacles. The Pennsylvania legislature hasn't been able to reach agreement on a budget which should have been in place by July 1st. The city of Philadelphia itself is habitually in dire financial straits; earlier this week Mayor Michael Nutter warned that he may have to lay off more than a thousand cops and fire fighters.
While state officials suggested that the group try to push already-existing business incentives to entice video game firms, VGI member Hardik Bhatt, himself a developer, was skeptical:
That's still not enough, it's not like other cities don't have these kinds of incentives. I'm hoping it doesn't take a [video game] studio to look into the city and decide to go somewhere else for them to change their minds.
GP: As a Philly native, I pondered the same issue in a November, 2006 column for Joystiq...
In May, GamePolitics provided live coverage of a protest march against the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia. The high-tech recruitment facility employs fast gaming PCs and Xbox 360s as a means of attracting potential recruits.
Seven demonstrators were arrested at the May protest.
It now appears that a second protest at the Army Experience Center is in the planning stages. Details of an action scheduled for September 12th are posted at Shut Down the Army Experience Center.
While the May protest appeared to be coordinated with local authorities, who escorted demonstrators along their line of march, the upcoming event looks to have a more chaotic flavor. From the protest website:
This time, demonstrators are being encouraged to form small affinity groups and enter the mall through one of several locations. Protesters are encouraged to express their outrage in creative, nonviolent ways.
At 2:00 pm people will come out of the woodwork and converge on the Army Experience Center. Organizers feel it may not be wise for participants to congregate into large groups before the demonstration or wear clothing that would suggest participation in the protest...
The 2009 Game Education Summit will kick off in Pittsburgh tomorrow.
The conference features an impressive array of speakers, including some names that will be familiar to GamePolitics readers. These include Savannah College of Art & Design prof Brenda Brathwaite and Jason Della Rocca, former head of the International Game Developers Association.
The conference will take place at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center and runs through Wednesday.
The Army's use of video games to promote recruitment has been a source of controversy in recent times. Most recently, GamePolitics reported on a large-scale protest march at the Army Experience Center, located at a Philadelphia mall.
Taking the opposing view ot that of the protesters, attorney Christine Flowers defends the AEC in a Memorial Day weekend column for the Philadelphia Daily News:
A few [military] vets have been on the front lines in targeting the Army Experience Center... AEC incorporates high-tech virtual experiences, more traditional media and one-on-one interaction to reach young men and women who might be considering a life in the service...
According to Maj. Larry Dillard, the center's program manager, the fundamental purpose is to give young people a more realistic and authentic idea of what it means to be a soldier in the 21st century. "The virtual experience allows for transparency, and is more effective in communicating our message than still photos or written materials."...
WHAT'S SO insidious?...
It is only because of [our military personnel's] sacrifices that the protesters have the right to raise their voices. It is only because of their willingness to believe in something greater than themselves, a collective sense of duty and obligation, that we have a country where dissent is privileged.
Last weekend GamePolitics served up live Twitter coverage as anti-war protesters marched on the Army Experience Center.
The high-tech recruiting facility in Philadelphia uses PC and Xbox 360 games to attract potential recruits.
As we reported, seven protesters were peacefully arrested when they refused an order by police to leave. One of those arrested, Elaine Brower, the mother of a U.S. Marine, writes about the experience for Op Ed News:
I myself, was part of a group of protesters who donned death masks and the names of fallen soldiers and stood directly in front of the AEC, which was at that point surrounded by police...
It seemed to me that the recruiters were becoming a bit unnerved, and the police were becoming extremely impatient... since the AEC is open to the “public” many demanded to go inside, but weren’t allowed...
After only one warning, the police decided to aggressively arrest seven of the protesters who were wearing death masks, peacefully standing in front of the AEC and not blocking the entrance. Taken to a distant precinct, the civil affairs Captain vowed vengeance by trying to charge the seven with a “misdemeanor in the third degree.” After 6 hours in the most deplorable conditions, they were released to return to court in June...
What is happening right under our noses is a transformation of the way in which the military plans on re-wiring the brains of kids at a very young and impressionable age to turn them into silent killers. By allowing anyone from the age of 13 to 18 to handle a machine gun, or use games that promote violence, it creates a generation that is wired to kill and think that killing is something that is easy and sanctioned.
GP: My observation was that the police gave at least two warnings; this can be seen on the video footage I took at the protest. In any case, it seemed like the masked protesters planned to be locked up in order to make their point.
Anti-war activists will stage a rally today in Philadelphia to protest the Army Experience Center at the Franklin Mills Mall - and GamePolitics will be on hand to provide live coverage.
The $12 million experimental recruitment facility, equipped with PCs, Xbox 360s and violent games, is the first of its kind. While the Army hopes that the AEC's video games, sofas and rock music will attract potential recruits, anti-war groups charge that the Army is using video games to militarize youth.
Today's protest is scheduled to begin with a 1:00 P.M. rally at a nearby church. Speakers will include veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Celeste Zappala of Gold Star Families for Peace and a former State Department official, Col. Anne Wright.
After the speeches, organizers say that several hundred bullhorn-equipped and sign-carrying protesters will march from the church to the mall, which is about a mile away. Along the way the protesters will unfurl a 12-foot banner reading:
War is Not a Game, Shut Down the Army Experience Center
Upon arrival at the mall, the protesters will attempt to serve a "criminal complaint" on the Army Experience Center and the company which owns the mall. It is likely, however, that they will be denied access.
The protesters have apparently revised their original, potentially chaotic plan which, as GamePolitics reported in March, called for them to pose as mall shoppers and then descend upon the AEC.
GamePolitics will have full coverage of this unprecedented video game protest. I will provide a live Twitter feed as the event unfolds. I will also be taking plenty of photos and video and will post a recap after the event.
To keep up with my live Twitter feed, follow GamePolitics.
UPDATE: Pic at left shows the protesters arrving at the mall.
Like chief executives in other big cities, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has been forced to make some tough financial choices of late.
Perhaps His Honor should spend some time playing Philadelphia Budget Challenge, a new online game offered by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.
Alan Tu of Philly's public radio station WHYY has a review of the game:
This budget game asks 15 questions, giving you a choice to raise taxes or cut services in each case. My secret for solving the city’s budget crisis over the lunch hour is as follows.
The first thing to do is raise everybody’s taxes. That makes the game more fun. Who wants to be the mayor remembered for closing libraries?... The rest was a breeze. I ordered a 10 percent across-the-board cut to to all departments that were considered “administrative,” sold off 400 city cars, and then refinanced a loan the city has for paying into the pension fund...
It’s kind of fun, because it’s feels a little like playing Sim City. No big budgets to read. Never have to hear the citizens complain (although in the game they move away), and if you don’t like the results, you can play it over... the game is simplistic, but it is a wonderful way to generate debate in your office...
Earlier this month, GamePolitics covered a hearing on violent video games held by the Children and Youth Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
As we reported, Prof. Patrick Markey of Villanova University testified at length before the committee on what research says about the relationship between video game and real-world violence.
Markey, who has studied topics such as whether the Wii's motion control system enhances any negative effects of violent video games (Markey says no), also took time to explain to the committee the difference between causation and correlation.
While Markey adopts a researcher's neutral posture on the game violence topic, he seemed - at least in GP's observation - to be the recipient of a bit of political venting by some members of the committee. That is probably explained by the fact that no one from the video game industry appeared at the hearing. ESA VP Sally Jefferson mailed in her written testimony.
GP previously posted a different video clip from the hearing (see: Pennsylvania Legislators Ponder Violent Game Tax) shot from a digital camera. The higher-quality video of Markey's testimony was taken by the Pennsylvania Cable Network. Due to YouTube length limits, the Markey segments are spread over three video clips:
On Friday, GamePolitics covered a committee hearing of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
The topic was violent video games and you can see our full report here.
In the video clip at left, a pair State Reps question employees of the Pennsylvania Joint State Commission as to possible alternatives by which violent video games might be targeted.
One suggests that a 5% tax be levied on sales of violent games with proceeds used to fund a parental education program. A second ponders whether state tax incentives could be withheld from companies which create violent games.
The witnesses, however, who participated on a statewide task force which studied violent games, indicate that those ideas might be problematic from a legal sense.
Interestingly, the reps are concerned about a line in the Task Force's report which says that violent games may have some positive effects. They'd really like to see that line removed. This theme, brought up by Rep. Steve Samuelson (D), will be repeated twice more during the two-hour hearing by other members of the committee.
Overall, the meeting was largely exploratory and action on either the 5% tax idea or the restriction on financial incentives seems unlikely. It is, however, a fascinating glimpse into how state legislative bodies struggle with the violent video game issue.
GP: Sorry for the shaky-cam video. I was shooting from a handheld digital camera.
The Children and Youth Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives held a hearing on video game violence today at City Hall in Philadelphia.
Rep. Ronald Waters (D, left) appeared to be the point person for the hearing, although Rep. Louise Bishop, who chairs the committee, was also on hand. As GamePolitics has previously reported, Rep. Waters has been questioning the role of violent video games in real-world violence for some time. Since Philly is his home turf, so it's not surprising that he took the lead.
GamePolitics was on hand for most of the hearing and supplied a live feed via Twitter. We also secured some video of the proceedings which we will get uploaded to YouTube over the weekend.
Four witnesses testified:
Here are the actual GP posts to Twitter. They are original, except that we've added endings that Twitter truncated in a few cases:
GP: Although the representatives seemed quite frustrated with violent games during the earlier part of the hearing, by its end they had calmed down a good bit. In particular, the testimony of Dr. Markey and the two gentlemen from the PA Joint State Government Commission seemed to allay many of their concerns with information about research, parental controls and the ESRB ratings, as well as past failures of video game legislation. Of course, that's not to say that the issue was decided today.
Both Markey and the Joint Commission employees who testified were part of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Violent Interactive Video Games, which, as GamePolitics reported in December, recommended against legislating games.