Child’s Play, again… plus, game reviews!

 charity, reviews, video games  Comments Off on Child’s Play, again… plus, game reviews!
Dec 032007
I went over to the Child’s Play site this morning to check out how things were progressing. Apparently, they’re up to $450k, with several weeks left to go. If you haven’t already, please add your own 5 or 6 bucks to the pot. Readers in North Carolina will be pleased to know that Children’s Hospital of North Carolina (in Chapel Hill) now has their own wish list available. Coverage of the 50 states seems to be increasing daily, so if you’re concerned with giving locally, check it out. Most of the eastern states have at least one hospital you can give to. Canadians, Brits, and our friends down under in Australia and New Zealand have hospitals on the list, too. If you don’t want to give games or gaming systems, remember that there’s also a huge demand for (non-absorbent) toys, books, board games, and DVDs. Just click on a hospital you like, or the PayPal direct donation link.

You don’t have to like the Penny Arcade guys (hey, plenty of people don’t) to like what they’re doing. The recent game-reviewing spat (exacerbated by Gerstmann’s suspicious firing) is really relatively tame compared to their past feuds with, say Jack Thompson. Anyway, I think it comparatively obvious that Gabe is right—game reviews have adopted the approach of newspaper movie reviews and devolved to being dominated by their metrics. This is the same phenomenon that creates those movie print ads that heavily feature 5-star raves and “two thumbs up”. Some gaming companies adopt the same approach, touting 10/10 scores and the like, to the exclusion of giving any idea what the gameplay is about. Consider Kane and Lynch, for example, the game that kicked off the present controversy. The advertisements feature a bunch of cutscene violence that looks decent, so I know the game is about killing dudes with reasonable graphical fidelity. But what’s the story? How does it feel to play the game? Why is ‘killing dudes with reasonable graphical fidelity’—a property shared by no less than 50% of extant games—their marketing focus? This is different from asking why it was their development focus; that’s a question for its own post.

The length and breadth of most gameplay, paired with the diversity of personal goals associated with a person’s approach to gaming, calls for a more measured and less numeric approach. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a fantastic platformer wedded to a charming story and a dull combat system. For the platforming enthusiast it is a game sent from heaven, but someone who loves RPGs, fighting games, or 3rd person adventures might justifiably hate it. Game reviewers need to consider an alternative approach to reviewing games, one that pays less attention to a dubious and corrupt quantification scheme and puts more effort into opening a window for the reader onto the experience of playing.

Play Santa for sick children with Child’s Play

 charity  Comments Off on Play Santa for sick children with Child’s Play
Nov 052007
It’s that time of year again—with only a few months left, and the Christmas holiday coming up, you are about to be inundated with requests from charities. They’ll call on your Christmas spirit, they’ll remind you of the tax advantages, and they’ll annoy you with fat men ringing bells. Well, I hope you’ll excuse my adding my voice to the din to plug one of my favorite charities—Child’s Play. The fine folks at Penny Arcade organize this little (well, not so little) gift giveaway every year, and every year it gets larger. Last year the donations were in excess of a million dollars total. The aim of the charity is simple—give toys to sick kids through children’s hospitals throughout the US and around the world.

This matters to me because I was one of those sick kids in a hospital once upon a time, and it sucks. Any kid who’s in a hospital is having the worst day of his life, and chances are when he wakes up tomorrow, he’ll have the worst day of his life again. If he’s lucky, he’s just trapped in bed and stuck full of needles; if he’s unlucky he’s in pain, on drugs, and nauseous in addition. There’s nothing to do but stare at the TV, none of his friends are around, the food is terrible, mom and dad are stressed out, and the only thing that relieves the boredom is when the nurses come around to stick him some more. Imagine spending the holidays like that. His brothers and sisters aren’t having a very good time either—besides being scared for their sibling, they have to feel a bit neglected, and they have to spend a lot of boring time at a hospital.

The toys, games, books, and videos that Child’s Play gives to hospitals help with all of that. No, they don’t make the kids magically all better. What they do is help take kids’ minds off the terrible things they’re going through. For a couple of hours, at least, a kid can forget that he’s having the worst day of his life and have a blast playing Zelda, even if he can’t get off the first screen and the oxygen sensor on his finger gets in the way. I think I still owe the nurses an apology for the trouble I caused with that sensor. Or, if he’s too drugged up or tired to play, he can at least watch a movie that interests him while he’s staying overnight for observation, rather than some biopic about Mussolini on the Hallmark channel. He and his parents can play board games together rather than sitting around feeling tense and bored.

These toys and books find their way into waiting rooms and playrooms so that sick kids and their siblings have something to do during the long hours of waiting that make up most of the day in a hospital. Some of them will even be given out as gifts for sick children and their siblings who have to spend their Christmas at the hospital.

Here’s how it works. Click on that enormous picture up there and go to the site. Then click on the controller for a hospital you want to donate toys to. Readers of my blog are concentrated in Birmingham and Massachusetts (my Feedburner stats say so), and they’ll be pleased to learn that the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and Children’s Hospital Boston are both asking for donations, so they can give to a local place. Or, you can give to Tulane Children’s Center or Rady’s in San Diego, if you want to help out stricken areas in our country. You’ll be taken to an wishlist for the hospital you choose—this way, you know you’re getting them something they need. Click on whatever you want to give them and place your order. Amazon ships the toy (or game, or book, or movie) for you.

It’s easy, and there’s something for every budget. Don’t feel bad if all you can spare is $6 for a Dora the Explorer look-and-find book: for the price of a sub sandwich you’ll make a sick kid’s whole day better. And if you have the green to donate an XBox or a DVD player, so much the better.

The Christmas season is all about giving, and believe me, I know you’ll be getting asked to give quite a bit. I understand that most of you will see this as just another ringing bell to ignore. But even the slightest bit you can spare helps. So while you’re browsing the intertubes to find that toaster for mom, or those DVDs for dad, please drop by Child’s Play and give a sick kid the gift of forgetting that he’s having the worst day of his life.