Joan and I and our friend Linda went to see the Hillsboro Hops Class A baseball team on Monday night. They were playing the Tacoma Indians. Hillsboro is just west of my former location of Beaverton, which is just to the west of my current location of Portland. It's a small stadium (heck, we're talking Class A) but brand new and very nice.
It was a fun game, with the Hops leading 3-1 until the seventh inning. At that point the Hops' starting pitcher started walking guys. Then they brought in a reliever who just kept walking people. He finally got a guy out and I turned to Joan and said, I hope now that he's gotten an out that he doesn't groove one across the plate. Moments later he grooved one across the plate and the batter launched a grand slam. 3-1 turned into 10-3.
Still, all was not lost. They've got a special beer that's only on tap there at the ballpark. And on the way out I got a picture with Barley, the Hops' mascot.
Because Electronic Arts left me behind, too. I used to dutifully buy Madden football, but they discontinued making it for computers. Is it so hard to use the same damned program upgraded to Windows 7 or Mac?
For those of you unaware, every year the Consumerist holds a competition, for the worst company in America. Run by the same group as Consumer Reports, the Consumerist is a site allowing people to vent their frustrations over a myriad of shopping issues. It has grown to the point that terms it coins become standard throughout pop culture, such as the “Grocery Shrink Ray” and “Executive Email Carpet Bomb.
But for this years’ “Worst Company In America” a surprise, as for the first time ever, a company has won the award for two consecutive years in a row. As the goal of the Consumerist “Golden Poo Award” given out with the title is to draw attention to a companies worst practices, in the hope that they will resolve them, it appears that Electronic Arts has not learned the lessons from last year, and has carried the title of “Worst Company in America” for the second year running, carrying 78% of the vote over runner-up Bank of America.
Until EA stops sucking the blood out of games in order to make uninspiring sequels, or at least until they begin caring about how much gamers hate their lack of respect for our money and intelligence, this is going to continue. We don’t hate them because we’re homophobes, we hate them because they destroy companies we love. We hate them because they release poor games. We hate them because they claim our hate doesn’t matter as long as we give them our money.
Electronic Arts is not alone in having this feeling about those who are fans of their games, as Korea’sNCSoft has had much the same griped about it. However, Electronic Arts is the third largest of the video game companies on the market, dwarfed only by more customer-friendly companies such as Nintendo and Activision Blizzard. They now are sustained by inertia, and that cannot be maintained forever. How many more failed sequel attempts can they release before it finally dawns on them that they are sustained by the customer base that they dismiss?
I'm not much of a gamer. I play solitaire and mahjong on my computer. I used to play Madden football until the last computer I owned that could play Madden 08 died. As much as I live the life of leisure now, I don't seem to have all that much time to invest in an X-Box. A few years ago I got one of those games where you steal cars but I was never able to get beyond wandering the streets and hitting strangers with baseball bats. I realized that my life of crime was getting me nowhere unless I learned how to do other stuff and it didn't seem worth my energy.
So I'm always amazed when a new round of video games appears. The review of Assassin's Creed III really intrigues me. Not enough to spend the time and money to play the game, but still.
In Assassin’s Creed III, The Beggar's Opera sets the stage for the political upheaval to come, when Britain's colonial power would be not only defied, but, for the first time, rolled back. It's the farce before the storm, a cultural rejection that forecasts the armed revolution. But Hutchinson admits to a perverse glee, too, at jamming opera—what he calls the most maligned art form—into one of gaming's most mainstream franchises. "I love the idea of making 10 million kids listen to an opera for half an hour. This is stealth history, the songs people are singing, the jobs they're doing around you, it's all just happening. You’re not singing in that opera, you're not part of the line infantry, but you see it, it surrounds you,” he says.
And as nifty as it is to bear virtual witness to infantry firing lines in the Boston Massacre or the Battle of Bunker Hill, the more surprising Revolutionary War moments come in your dealings with the Founding Fathers. I had no idea that George Washington had ordered the torching of Native American villages. And while Benjamin Franklin is well-known as an unapologetic horndog, hearing his thesis on the merits of bedding older women—they're eager to please, less likely to get pregnant, and do looks really matter in the dark?—reveal him as the crass, proto-douchebag historians have been describing for years. The point isn't to shock, really, but to reanimate a period of history that's been sadly mummified. The architects of these United States were like the country they founded: vibrant, inspiring, and sometimes a little despicable.
This is a degree of complexity and honesty that shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but that should relieve its most hard-core fans. When Ubisoft announced in March that the series was heading to America and to that most American of conflicts, many gamers were understandably worried. Just how much rah-rah was Ubisoft going to inject in order to appeal (read: sell out) to a U.S. audience?
But if there's a driving moral imperative in AC3, it's not a flag-waving desire for independence from a distant, fickle imperial power. It's the desire to defend those original Americans, specifically the Mohawks and Iriquois in the Northeast, who watch this white man's conflict unfold. The game's hero is a Mohawk (he's half-white but raised in and accepted by the Mohawk community), and inhabiting his point of view allows you to watch long-standing, formalized tribal alliances shatter as groups align with the Brits and the colonists. But whoever wins, it's clear—the Native Americans are going to lose, and lose everything.
While everyone in the entertainment industry claims to be culturally sensitive when dealing with Native Americans, Ubisoft Montreal didn’t just go through the motions. The game’s makers filtered every relevant plot point and line of Mohawk-language dialogue through Thomas Deer, the cultural liaison for the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center in the Mohawk territory south of Montreal. The studio hired an additional consultant to deal with translation—that time-honored Hollywood tradition of having old-timey Native Americans speak to each other in heavily accented English is notably absent in AC3. When the studio wanted to add background chatter to a village scene, Deer set them up with a local immersion school in his territory, where they could record Mohawk children playing during recess.
It's over, but before we head on down to baseball's spring training and move along the calendar of life, one last glance at the great festival.
It used to be that people looked forward to commercials during the Super Bowl. Since it costs so much for commercial time there was a lot of care and thought put into making good commercials. Now, not so much. Go Daddy seems to be stuck making the same commercial over and over again, adolescent boys from the 1970s.
There was a big production, one by Budweiser about the joy felt throughout the land when Prohibition was lifted and Americans could drink Bud again. This was clearly a big bucks effort, but the plotline was thin. Sort of like their beer.
There was a kerfuffle about the Halftime In America commercial, where Clint Eastwood gave a somewhat jingoistic, patriotic salute to Detroit's auto industry bouncing back. Some Republicans claimed that it was a pro-Obama spot. Eastwood is notoriously Republican and he scoffed at that. It was a car commercial. When the commercial came on I thought it was one of those anti-smoking ads. Eastwood's voice was raw and he's looking so old these days I didn't recognize him.
There wasn't much else to look at with this year's crop of commercials. There was a Matthew Broderick commercial advertising something that was supposed to be a takeoff on "Ferris Bueller" but I kept asking myself, "Who is Broderick portraying? Did he kidnap that little girl?" There was a commercial about a dog who fetched beer bottles for people at a party. It felt like they were marketing to people who were nostalgic for 1980s beer commercials. I was waiting for an updated "more taste, less filling" commercial.
The Urban Dictionary has a new term, "super bowel", to describe movements the day after Super Bowl parties where people are getting rid of all those nachos, salsa, hot wings and so forth.