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Links for August 6th 2008

Interesting links for August 5th 2008 through August 6th 2008:

  • Thailand bans Grand Theft Auto IV [BBC] – “Copies of Grand Theft Auto IV have been pulled in Thailand after a teenager confessed to murdering a taxi driver. The 18-year-old high school student is accused of stabbing the cab driver to death by trying to copy a scene from the game. The biggest video game publisher in the south-east Asian country, New Era Interactive Media, has told retailers to stop selling GTA IV. “
  • Trees die as first iPhone bills released [SMH] – Australian “Environmentalists have railed against mobile carriers for sending iPhone bills to customers that, depending on the plan, could contain more than 100 pages of non-recycled paper. The high page count stems from Optus and Telstra unnecessarily itemising each individual piece of web data downloaded using the phone, instead of having a single usage figure for each day.”
  • When Google Owns You [chrisbrogan.com] – A cautionary tale about Google, power and losing your life in the cloud: “Nick Saber isn’t happy now. Monday afternoon, after lunch, Nick came back from lunch to find out that he couldn’t get into his Gmail account. Further, he couldn’t get into anything that Google made (beside search) where his account credentials once worked. When attempting to log in, Nick got a single line message: Sorry, your account has been disabled. [?] That’s it. ” (After much drama, Nick’s account was eventually restored after he managed to accurately complete this insane form.)
  • Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on “Gold Farming”: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games [ Development Informatics Working Paper No. 32 ] – Abstract: “…a new form of employment has emerged in developing countries. It employs hundreds of thousands of people and earns hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Yet it has been almost invisible to both the academic and development communities. It is the phenomenon of “gold farming”: the production of virtual goods and services for players of online games. China is the employment epicentre but the sub-sector has spread to other Asian nations and will spread further as online games-playing grows. It is the first example of a likely future development trend in online employment. It is also one of a few emerging examples in developing countries of “liminal ICT work”; jobs associated with digital technologies that are around or just below the threshold of what is deemed socially-acceptable and/or formally-legal. This paper reviews what we know so far about gold farming, seeking to provide the first systematic analysis of the sub-sector. …”

Links for May 14th 2008

Interesting links for May 12th 2008 through May 14th 2008:

Grand Theft Auto IV

Looking from certain corners of the internet today you’d be forgiven for thinking that the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) had caused all other events in the world to pause. There has, simply put, been an avalanche of press for the video game. Apparently it might just clock upwards of $US400 million in it’s opening week (yes, that’s a lot of money). And to keep commentators on violence in the media (and specifically videogames) happy, somebody in London obligingly stabbed someone else in the line to buy one of the first copies of GTA IV. If you prefer something equally silly but a whole lot less violent (except, perhaps, to themselves) someone in the US is trying to set a record for continuous gameplay by enduring more than 25 hours in a row of GTA IV (and, yes, it is of course being streamed live across the net, complete with Twitter updates).

However, one of the more interesting subjects to emerge in the press frenzy surrounding the game’s launch is the revival of the synthespian (or synthetic thespian) debate, which last raged seriously when Gollum and his contemporaries proved CGI folks could give their flesh and blood companions a run for their money. Nowadays, it’s videogame (anti-)heroes getting the limelight. As Asher Moses reports for The Age:

He’s the biggest name in entertainment but you won’t find him striding down the red carpet or cavorting with Hollywood starlets under the watchful eye of the paparazzi. No, Niko Bellic, set to become the most high profile Slav in entertainment since Borat Sagdiyev took the box office by storm 18 months ago. He is among the new breed of entertainment personalities who, rather than being cast, are built from scratch by a team of programmers and graphic designers. He’s the protagonist in Grand Theft Auto IV and, just days after hitting the streets, is already giving flesh-and-blood Hollywood stars a run for their money. Launched around the world at midnight on Monday, Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) is on track to become the biggest entertainment launch in history. Analysts have predicted the title, which has inspired near-perfect reviews from most gaming magazines, will sell at least 6 million copies in its first week.

Sure, the synthespian issue is wedged amongst hype about sales and violence, but it’s certainly an interesting question: to what extent do gamers ‘inhabit’ the characters they play and to what extent will they idolize these characters (provoking some interesting notions about the changing nature of celebrity culture … do we actually need celebrities to even have a supposedly ‘real’ version to idolize?).

For Australians, one of the other notable features of GTA IV is that, thanks to the fact that we still don’t have an R18+ category for games, our version of GTA IV has been toned down to get rating approval.

Update: Australian Game Pro reports that Australians attempting to import the international version of GTA IV (which doesn’t meet Australia’s MA15+ game rating limit) would be guilty of importing prohibited goods and could be fined up to $110,000!

[Photo by Rappzula CC BY NC SA]