Australia is an incredibly strong country economically being ranked as the 12th largest by GDP of all countries in the world. When you then consider that our population is a fraction of that of many countries that are above us (Canada is the closest in size and is in 11th spot with a population about 50% bigger than ours) it means that, on average, Australians are more wealthy than their global counterparts. This is somewhat reflected in the price we pay for certain things however it doesn’t take a lot of effort to show that we pay more than you’d expect for many goods and services. The most notable being media as we lack any of the revolutionary services that drive their prices down (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) or any viable alternatives. It gets even worse though as it seems we also pay more just to go to the cinema.
The graphic above shows that Australia, along with a few other developed nations, pay an extraordinary amount more than others do when the costs are normalized. The differences between the lowest and the highest aren’t exactly huge, you’re looking at a spread of about $15 from the cheapest to the most expensive, however this is yet another indication of just how much more Australia pays for its media than anyone else does. In essence we’re paying something on the order of 25%~50% more for the same product yet the excuses that the industry once relied on, that Australia is “really far away”, don’t really hold water anymore.
It should come as little surprise then that Australians are then far more likely to pirate than any other developed country, sometimes representing up to almost 20% of new release piracy. There have been some inroads made into attempting to reduce this number, with a few stations “fast-tracking” episodes (although they still usually carry a delay) or giving users access to an online option, however the former doesn’t solve the problem entirely and the latter was unfortunately repealed. The hunger for the media is there it’s just that a reasonably priced option has failed to materialize for Australian users (and if you mention Quickflix I’ll gut you) which has led to these dramatic figures.
Now I’d be entirely happy with doing the slightly dodgy and getting myself a Netflix or Hulu account via a VPN or geo-unblocking service however my bandwidth isn’t up to the task of streaming media at 720p. Sure it could probably do a lower resolution but I didn’t invest as much as I did in my entire home theatre system to have it operate at a sub-par level. This issue was supposed to go away with the NBN being just around the corner but I literally have no idea when that might be coming nor what incarnation of it I will end up getting. So it seems that, at least for now, I’m stuck in digital limbo where I either fall to piracy or being gouged repeatedly.
Neither of these issues are beyond fixing and indeed it’s been shown that once a reasonably priced alternative becomes available people ditch piracy in a heartbeat. Heck I know that for me once Steam became widely available my game spend increased dramatically, especially after I found sites like DLcompare. I can assure you that the same will happen once a media based alternative comes to Australia and I’m not the only one who has the disposable income to support it.
New scientific discoveries get me excited, they really do. After discovering the awesome Science Daily I found myself losing hours in research papers that show cased everything from new discoveries with great potential to good old fashioned applications of science that were already producing benefits for everyone involved. Of course it gets a whole lot more exciting when that science is being conducted on an entirely different planet so you can imagine my excitement when I heard that Curiosity had discovered something amazing, something that had could have been “history in the making”.
It’s one thing for space and science nuts like me to get excited about these kinds of things, we usually know what to expect and the confirmation of it is what gets us all giddy, but its another thing entirely for the rest of the world to start getting excited about it. You see what started out as a couple posts on my feed reader with a couple scientists on the Curiosity team eventually mutated into dozens and when I saw that Australian TV programs were covering it I knew that it had gotten out of hand. It’s not that this was wholly unexpected, the public interest in Curosity has been the highest I’ve seen since the Spirit and Opportunity first touched down on Mars, but I knew that this fever pitch over the potential ground breaking news would inevitably lead to public disappointment no matter how significant the find was.
To put it in perspective Curiosity has a very distinct set of capabilities, most of them targeted towards imaging and the study of the composition of the things it comes across. Much of the speculation I read about Curiosity’s find centred around the idea that it had detected life in some form or another which would truly be earth shattering news. However Curiosity just isn’t set up to do that in the way most people think it is as its microscopes are simply not capable of imaging microbes directly. The only way it could detect signs of life would be through the on-board laboratory using its mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph and laser spectrometer and even then it would only detect organic compounds (like methane) which is a good, but not certain, indication of life.
Unfortunately whilst the scientists had done their best to try and down play what the result might actually be the damage has been done as the public’s expectations are wildly out of alignment with what it could actually be. It’s annoying as it doesn’t help the image of the greater scientific community when things like this happen and it’s unfortunately become a semi-regular occurrence. I can really blame the scientists for this one, they really are working on a historic mission that will further our understanding of Mars and many other things, but care has to be taken to avoid these kinds of situations in the future. Hopefully the media will also refrain from sensationalising science to the point where the story no longer matches the reality, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
For what its worth though I’m still looking forward to whatever it is they found out we’re still only in the beginning of Curiosity’s mission, meaning there’s plenty more science to be done and many more discoveries to be had. Whilst they might not be the amazing things that the media might have speculated them to be they will still be exciting for the scientific community and will undoubtedly further our understanding in many different areas. Hopefully this will be the only PR debacle of Curiosity’s mission as I’d hate to have to write a follow up post.
For the longest time large media and entertainment companies have been competing against pirates by any way they deem necessary. For games they lavish on restrictive DRM schemes, giving us only limited installs and mandating Internet access before we’re allowed to play. For music, movies and TV shows us Australians seem to be relegated to the backwaters of delayed releases at prices that are cemented in decades old thinking when it actually did cost a lot to ship stuff to us. The pirates then have been offering a service that, put simply, were far more attractive than their legitimate counterparts and this is why it continues to be such a big problem today. A few companies have got the right idea though and surprisingly one of them is our very own Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
For uninitiated ABC has long had a pretty darn good service called iView, an on demand streaming service akin to the BBC’s iPlayer. For PlayStation 3 owners in Australia we’re also lucky enough to have a dedicated link to it on our cross media bar, making it quite painless to use. If you also happen to be on Internode all the traffic to iView is unmetered as well meaning you can stream a good section of the entire ABC back catalogue for nothing. When a couple of my favourite shows were on there (Daily Show, Colbert Report) I used it quite often as I could just browse the list and then hit play, nothing more was required. The service has gone down hill as of late as they don’t keep entire back catalogues up for very long (I think it was about 6 episodes per show, usually for a time after they had aired) but the idea behind it is very solid.
News comes today though that they’re doing some quite extraordinary: putting up episodes of Doctor Who online right after they’re shown in the UK, a week before they’re shown in Australia:
In an Australian first, the new adventures of Amy, Rory and The Doctor will be available on the ABC’s iView player from 5.10am AEST on Sunday September 2, just hours after the first episode airs in the UK.
The show will then reappear in the future, on ABC1at 7:30pm the following Saturday, September 8.
ABC1 controller Brendan Dahill said the decision to air the show online before television was motivated by a desire to reduce piracy, as well as fulfill the needs of drooling Whovians, who have waited almost a year for the new series.
Indeed the biggest complaint that many people had regarding the Doctor Who series was that even if it was available in their region it was often significantly delayed. The Doctor Who fans are a rabid bunch and being out of sync with the greater community is something that many of them couldn’t bear and so turned to pirated solutions. Offering up the episodes at nearly the same time will go a long way to turn those pirating users into viewers that can be monetized in some way, although how that will be given ABC’s lack of commercial interests remains to be seen. The producers of Doctor Who must be in on this however so I’m sure there’s something in it for them.
I think it’s quite commendable that ABC has decided to tackle piracy in this way instead of trying to take more draconian measures, as is the usual route. Whilst it won’t stop pirating entirely it will go a long way to making the ABC’s offering that much more desirable. I’m sure they could up the ante significantly by opening up their entire back catalogue for a nominal fee but I’m not sure what kinds of regulations they’re under, being a government funded initiative and all. I might not be an ongoing customer but I could see myself buying a month here or there when a I got interested in a series they had.
This is the future that media giants should be looking towards. Instead of trying to force the pirates further underground they need to make their offerings better than what they can get elsewhere. iView is a great example of that and they really are only a couple steps away from beating the pirate option in almost every respect. Hopefully this spurs the other commercial stations to do similar and then Australia won’t be the pirate ridden media backwater that it has been for the past couple decades.
It was a long time ago now, getting near to 3 years, when I made the decision to start publishing something on a week-daily basis to this blog. I can’t really say what drove me to do that, it certainly wasn’t because I was rolling in page views and I had an audience hungry for more content¹. For the first couple months the writing came easy since I was just mostly posting my opinion on one thing or another but you can only keep posting opinions about things for so long before you feel you’ve said all you need to say on those soft issues, at least when you’re trying to write to a deadline.
I’m not the only one suffering from this either, it seems:
Whilst I didn’t make the connection between my off days when I post inane crap because I can’t find anything better to write about (although I have been told that those off days are some of my best writing, go figure) and the mainstream media I can definitely understand it now. I had just always assumed that people getting paid to do this had a much better process of finding something to write about rather than my haphazard daily troll of other blogs, YouTube clips and news aggregation sites hoping that an article triggers that writing spark in the back of my head.
The restriction of daily posting, or it seems any deadline, is definitely what leads me to post what I feel is lesser quality work. In the beginning the wanting to write was what drove me but after a couple months of near daily posts it morphed from a routine into a habit, one that I’ve had a terrible time at breaking. It also doesn’t help that Google seems to punish me if I stray from my posting schedule, further reinforcing the behavior. I could probably circumvent the Google punishment if I tried hard enough (by writing with SEO in mind more) but I feel that’d erode the intentions of my blog further than me posting some crud every so often.
Funnily enough it seems that the solution to my problem may be found in adding more restrictions rather than lifting my current one. My goal of doing 1 game review per week for the entire year (I’ve only missed 1 week so far and have every intention to catch that up) has been an amazing experience, seeing me play all sorts of games that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to otherwise. It also means that I spend one less day a week wondering what the hell I’m going to write about in the morning, even if the time investment to getting that post there is orders of magnitude above anything else I’ve written.
It’s always nice to know that you’re not alone in your suffering, even if it doesn’t help you overcome that immediate problem. I all too often think that the problems I experience are because I was never really good at this writing thing in the first place only to find out later that no, all writers struggle with the same problems. At least then I can share in their misery and maybe even help out a little if I get the chance to, although it seems we’re much more likely to suffer in silence than to say anything about it.
Well, unless it makes for good blog fodder that is
¹Indeed for the first couple months of its life I was happy that this blog would have a day that didn’t have 0 views. I’ve also been told in no uncertain terms that my initial attempt at being a blogger was crap, but usually in the same breath as saying that I’ve vastly improved since then (which I always appreciate hearing).
There’s little doubt that the past decade has brought upon us rapid change that our current legislature is only just beginning to deal with. One of my long time bugbears, the R18+ rating for games, is a great example of this showing how outdated some of our policies are when it comes to the modern world. Unfortunately such political antiquity isn’t just isolated to the video games industry it extends to all areas that have been heavily affected by the changes the Internet has brought, not least of which is the delivery of content such as TV programs, newspapers and radio. This rift has not gone unnoticed and it seems the government is finally looking to take action on it.
Enter the Convergence Review a report that’s was commissioned in 2011 to review the policy framework surrounding Australia’s media and communications. It’s a hefty tome, weighing in at some 176 pages, detailing nearly every aspect of Australia’s current regulatory framework for delivering content to us Australians. I haven’t managed to get through the whole thing but you don’t need to read far into it to understand that it’s a well researched and carefully thought out document, one that should definitely be taken into consideration in reforming Australia’s regulatory framework for media. There are a couple points that really blew me away in there and I’d like to highlight them here.
For starters the review recommends that the licensing of broadcasting services be abolished in its entirety. In essence this puts traditional broadcasters on a level playing ground with digital natives who don’t have the same requirements placed upon them and their content. Not too long ago such an idea would seem to be a foolish notion as no licensing means that anyone could just start broadcasting whatever they wanted with no control on how it was presented. However with the advent of sites like YouTube such license free broadcasting is already a reality and attempting regulate it in the same fashion as traditional methods would be troublesome and most likely ineffective. Abolishing licensing removes restrictions that don’t make sense anymore given that the same content can be delivered without it.
Such a maneuver like that brings into question what kind of mechanisms you would have to govern the kind of content that gets broadcasted. The review takes this into consideration and recognizes that there needs to be some regulation in order to keep in line with Australian standards (like protecting children from inappropriate content). However the regulations it would apply are not to every content organisation. Instead the regulations will target content organisations based on the size of the organisation and the scope of their audience. This allows content organisations a lot of flexibility with how they deliver content and will encourage quite a bit of innovation in this area.
The review also recommends that media standards apply to all platforms, making the regulations technology agnostic. Doing this would ensure that we don’t end up in this same situation again when another technological breakthrough forces a rethink of our policy platform which as you can tell from the review is going to be a rather arduous process. Keeping the standards consistent across mediums also means that we won’t end up with another R18+ situation where we have half-baked legislation for one medium and mature frameworks in another.
The whole review feels like a unification that’s been long coming as the media landscape becomes increasingly varied to the point where treating them individually is complicated and inefficient. These points I’ve touched on are also just the most striking of the review’s recommendations with many more solid ideas for reforming Australia’s communications and media policies for a future that’s increasingly technologically driven. Seeing reports like this gives me a lot of hope for Australia’s future and I urge the government to take the review to heart and use it to drive Australia forward.
So like most products that a developer creates with one purpose in mind my first iteration of Sortilio was pretty bare bones. Sure if you had a small media collection that was named semi-coherently it worked fine (like it did for my test data) but past that it started to fall apart rather rapidly. Case in point: I let it loose on my own media collection, you know for the purposes of eating my own dog food. It didn’t take long for it to fall flat on its face, querying The TVDB’s API so rapidly that the rate limiter kicked in almost instantaneously. There was also the issue of not being able to massage the data once it had done the automated matching portion as even the best automated tools can still make mistakes. With that in mind I set about improving Sortilio and put the finishing touches on it yesterday.
Now the first update you’ll notice is the slightly changed main screen with a new Options tab and two extra buttons down in the right hand corner. They all function pretty much as you’d expect: the options tab has a few options for you to configure (only one of them works currently, the extensions one), save will export the current selection to a file for use later and load will import said file back into Sortilio. The save/load functionality is quite handy if you’d like to manually go in there and sort out the data yourself as it’s all plain XML that I’m sure anyone with half a coding mind about them would be able to figure out. I put it in mostly for debugging purposes (re-running the identification process is rather slow, more on that in a bit) but I can see it being quite useful, especially with larger collections.
As I mentioned earlier whilst the automated matching does a pretty good job of getting things right there are times when it either doesn’t find anything or its got it completely wrong. To alleviate this I added in the ability for you to be able to double click the row to bring up the following screen:
Shown in this dialog is the series drop down which allows you to select from a list of episodes that Sortilio has already downloaded. The list is populated by the cache that Sortilio creates from its queries to The TVDB so if it managed to match one file in the series correctly it will have it cached already so you can just select it and hit update. Sortilio will then identify other files that had the same search term and ask if you’d like to update them as well (since it will have probably got them wrong as well). Should the series you’re looking for not be available you can then hit the search button which brings up this dialog:
From here you can enter whatever term you want and hit search. This will then query The TVDB and then display the results in a list for you. Select the most appropriate one and then hit OK and you’ll have the new series assigned to that file.
Under the hood things have gotten quite a bit better as well. The season string matching algorithm has been improved a bit so that identifies seasons better than it previously did. For instance if you had a file that was like say battlestar.galactica.2003.s01e20.avi Sortilio would (wrongly) identify that as season 20 because of the 2003 before the series/episode identifier. It now prefers the right kind of identifiers and is a little better overall at getting it right, although I still think that the way I’m going about it is slightly ass backwards. Chalk that up to still figuring out how to best do string splitting based on a regex.
Now on the surface if you were to compare this version to the previous it would appear to run quite a bit slower. There’s a good reason for this and it all comes down to the rate limit on The TVDB API. After playing around with various values I found that the sweet spot was somewhere around a 2 second delay between searches. Without any series cached this would mean that every request will incur a 2 second penalty, significantly increasing the amount of time required to get the initial sort done. I’ve alleviated this somewhat by having Sortilio search its local cache first before attempting to head out to the API but that’s still noticeably slower that it was originally. I’ve reached out to the guys behind The TVDB in the hopes that I can get an excerpt of their database that I can include within Sortilio that will make the process lightening fast but I’ve yet to hear back from them.
So as always feel free to grab it, have a play and then send me any feedback you have regarding it. I’ve already got a list of improvements to make on this version but I’d definitely call this usable and to prove a point I have indeed used it on my own media collection. It gets about 90% of the way there with the last 10% needing manual intervention, either within Sortilio or outside cleaning up after it has done its job. If you’ve used it and encountered problems please save the sort file and the debug log and send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can grab the latest version here.
[NOTE: There is no link currently because gmail barfed at the file attachment I sent myself to upload this morning. Follow me on Twitter to be notified of when it comes out!]
My post last week about the trials and tribulations of sorting ones media collection struck a chord with a lot of my friends. Like me they’d been doing this sort of thing for decades and the fact that none of us had any kind of sense to our sorting systems (apart from the common thread of “just leave it where it lies”) came at something of a surprise. I mean just taking the desk I’m sitting at right now for an example it’s clear of everything bar computer equipment and the stuff I bring in with me every day. The fact that this kind of organization doesn’t extend to our file systems means that we either simply don’t care enough or that it’s just too bothersome to get things sorted. Whilst I can’t change the former I decided I could do something about the latter.
So my quest last week proving fruitless I set about developing a program that could sort media based on a couple cues derived from the files themselves. Now for the most part media files have a few clues as to what they actually are. For the more organized of us the top level folder will contain the episode name but since mine was all over the place I figured it couldn’t be trusted. Instead I figured that the file name would be semi-reliable based on a cursory glance at my media folder and that most of them were single strings delimited with only a few characters. Additionally the identifier for season and episode number is usually pretty standard (S01E01, 2×01,1008, etc) so that pulling the season out of them would be relatively easy. What I was missing was something to verify that I was looking in the right place and that’s where I TheTVDB comes in.
The TV Database is like IMDB for TV shows except that it’s all community driven. Also unlike IMDB they have a really nice API that someone has wrapped up in a nice C# library that I could just import straight into my project. What I use this for is a kind of fuzzy matching filter for TV show names so that I can generate a folder with the correct name. At this point I could also probably rename the files with the right name (if I was so inclined) but for the point of making the tool simple I opted not to do this (at this point). With that under my belt I started on the really hard stuff: figuring out how to sort the damn files.
Now I could have cracked open the source of some other renaming programs to see how they did it but I figured out a half decent process after pondering the idea for a short while. It’s a multi-stage process that makes a few assumptions but seems to work well for my test data. First I take the file name and split it up based on common delimiters used in media files. Then I build up a search string using those broken up names stopping when I hit a string that matches a season/episode identifier. I then add that into a list of search terms to query for later, checking first to see if it’s already added. If it’s already in there I then add the file path into another list for that specific search term, so that I know that all files under that search term belong to the same series. Finally I create the new file location string and then present this all to the user, which ends up looking like this:
The view you see here is just a straight up data table of the list of files that Sortilio has found and identified as media (basically anything with the extension .avi or .mkv currently) and the confidence level it has in its ability to sort said media. Green means that in the search for the series name it only found one match, so it’s a pretty good assumption that it’s got it right. Yellow means that when I was doing a search for that particular title I got multiple responses back from TheTVDB so the confidence in the result is a little lower. Right now all I do is take the first response and use that for verification which has served me well with the test data, but I can easily see how that could go wrong. Red means I couldn’t find any match at all (you can see what terms I was searching for in the debug log) and everything marked like that will end up in one giant “Unsorted” folder for manual processing. Once you hit the sort button it will perform the move operations, and suffice to say, it works pretty darn well:
Of course it’s your standard hacked-together-over-the-weekend type deal with a lot of not quite necessary but really nice to have features left out. For starters there’s no way to tell it that a file belongs to a certain series (like if something is misspelled) or if it picks the wrong series to tell it to pick another. Eventually I’m planning to make it so you can click on the items and change the series, along with a nice dialog box to search for new ones should it not get it right. This means you might want to do this on a small subset of your media each time (another thing I can code in) as otherwise you might get files ending up in strange folders.
Also lacking is any kind of options page where you can specify things like other extensions, regex expressions for season/episode matching and a whole host of other preferences that are currently hard coded in. These things are nice to have but take forever to get right so they’ll eventually make their way into another revision but for now you’re stuck with the way I think things should be done. Granted I believe they’ll work for the majority of people out there, but I won’t blame you if you wait for the next release.
Finally the code will eventually be open sourced once I get it to a point where I’m not so embarrassed by it. If you really want to know what I did in the ~400 odd lines that constitute this program then shoot me an email/twitter and I’ll send the source code to you. Realistically any half decent programmer could come up with this in half the amount of time I did so I can’t imagine anyone will need it yet, unless you really need to save 3 hours
So without further ado, Sortilio can be had here. Download it, unleash it on your media files and let me know how it works for you. Comments, questions, bugs and feature requests can be left here as a comment, an @ message on Twitter or you can email me on email@example.com.
I decided to take December off working on my side projects, mostly because all those little things that I used to get done on weekends were starting to slip by the wayside. They weren’t huge things but they’re those kinds of things that when you see them you always think “I should fix that” but never end up doing. My inner perfectionist hates this and will guilt me endlessly about them and I figure that was what was causing me to feel burnt out on my projects, even though I had made some really good progress with them. One of those tasks I had set myself was to organise my media collection into something more sensible, with the ultimate goal of hiding it all under Xbox Media Centre.
After more than a decade of collecting media from all over the place the organisation was, to say the least, non-existent. Everything was lumped into giant folders all helpfully labelled “downloads” or “recent downloads” or “unsorted”. No worries I thought, the first step would be pretty easy: just sort everything out into their respective categories. That’ll make the process of sorting everything out afterwards a lot easier. That process took a good few hours to complete but in the end I had around 5 top-level folders that had everything nicely categorized. For the most part I didn’t care too much about the organization of things like software ISOs and installers (realistically I should delete most of them since they’re woefully outdated) but I knew XBMC was a little picky about how media was sorted so I started looking at solutions to that problem.
Now my media folders were a total, undignified mess. Even after sorting everything into series folders the files contained therein had no rhyme or reason to their layout. I did know where I wanted to end up however, hopefully in the form of Series -> Season -> Episodes, and figured that this would have been a common enough problem that someone would have already coded up some brilliant solution to do it all automatically for me. From what I could read on the various forums indeed many people had done exactly that and all that was left to do was to find one and unleash it on my tangled mess of media.
From what I could tell the best one of the lot was Ember Media Manager Revisited which had the added benefit of not looking like it was coded in VB6 by someone’s cousin. After installing and configuring it up I was presented with a massive list of all the stuff I had. Figuring I’d trial it on the movies before trying the TV shows (which it says it’s not particularly good at organizing) I sent it on its merry way, hoping it would start sorting my media. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an option for “Go look at everything and find the best match possible and prompt me if you can’t find one”. The option of “prompt if no exact match” doesn’t work properly as it either gets it wrong or will prompt you for everything, as it seems no movie title is completely unique. Figuring that this was only the first of many options I engaged my Google-Fu to find some alternatives and gave them a shot one by one.
TVRename was one that I had stumbled across in the past (and heard good things about) and I tried it on my media. Trouble is TVRename expects the exact folder structure I wanted to be already created and can’t create it on its own. Once everything’s sorted like that it’s actually quite brilliant, but the amount of effort required to get it there is too large. Several other programs I tried like TheRenamer, Media Companion and Media Centre Master fall into a similar category of being able to rename stuff but unable to move them into a folder structure. I also tried a multitude of other programs that either flat-out didn’t work (or crashed) or required just as much work as doing it manually would.
The simple fact is there’s really nothing out there that can take a disorganised media folder and then sort it and rename it at the same time. This boggles my mind as if you’re capable of renaming something down to the level of the name of the episode you have enough information to sort it. It wouldn’t be particularly hard to add-on either as the process of creating folders and moving files into them is basic I/O stuff that any developer should be familiar with. I could be facetious and say what should I expect from people coding in VB.NET (most of the apps are open source so you can see what language they use) but honestly it’s got to be plain old-fashioned oversight.
In the end I didn’t end up getting my media organised and I’ve resigned myself to creating a simple program that will do exactly what I need it to do. It shouldn’t be too hard as all I’ll be doing is searching for season and episode numbers and moving them into appropriate folders. After that I’ll use one of the other programs to do all the funky metadata handling and whatnot as they seem much more refined at that than I would be during a weekend slog. If it works well enough I’ll even throw it up here for good measure, source code and all.
When tragedy strikes we humans always look for someone or something to lay blame on. It’s part of our grieving process, done so we can struggle with the enormity of the situation that has been presented to us. It’s also an emotional time and this has the unfortunate side effect of clouding our usually rational minds, possibly leading us astray in our search for understanding. One such topic that has always managed to get muddled in with the emotional blame game is the effect that violent video games have on both children and adults. The recent events in Oslo have brought this topic back to the front of everyone’s minds and it would seem that the debate has begun raging once again.
The general sentiment amongst the public seems to be that violent video games do adversely affect children in some way. As a child growing up in a world that thought this I was often barred from playing games that involved killing human or human looking creatures. I wasn’t alone in this respect either, with many of my friends relying on their older siblings to gain access to this banned material. Still none of my friends have grown up to be violent individuals so at least anecdotally it would seem that there’s no real substance to the general public’s sentiment on violent video games.
Still there have been so many incidents where the two have been linked that it’s warranted further investigation. There have been many direct studies and meta-analysis done on the subject and the results don’t provide any evidence for a strong link between violent video games and violent tendencies. There is some evidence to suggest that there might be some short term effects but the evidence to the contrary of that conclusion is strong enough to warrant further analysis before drawing conclusions. Scientifically then it would seem that the idea that violent video games breed violent children and adults simply does not hold up to scrutiny and should be taken as such.
It was at this point that I was going to go on a long tirade against all the major news publications for their portrayal of games in the media when it comes to tragic events, quoting various articles and debunking their points with copious amounts of links and evidence. I sifted through dozens of news articles on the subject, cherry picking out the ones that mentioned video games and pouring over them. What I found was a trend the likes of which I hadn’t seen before, most of the big media sites were running articles that would usually only mention the video games in passing not even attempting to make a tenuous link between violent games and real world violent behaviour.
There are of course some notable exceptions (with the ACL chiming in during SMH’s article) but overall the coverage of the Oslo incidents lay the blame squarely at the perpetrator and not at video games. It seems that finally after decades of video games being the punching bag for all sorts of societal problems the media, and thus the general public, are coming around to the idea that video games aren’t the murder simulators they were once made out to be. It’s a sign that the gaming industry has finally started to be taken seriously by the wider public (mostly because we make up a much greater percentage of the population than we used to) and this means we can finally have rational discussion on the real impacts of gaming on our society, rather than the emotionally charged blame games we’ve had until now.
Gaming is and always be a big part of my life and it has always pained me to see how ignorant the general public was being about how those games were affecting both children and adults. The Oslo terrorist attack, whilst an unforgivable tragedy, has shown that perhaps we as a society have begun to turn the corner on the violent video games issue. With a R18+ rating on its way for Australia the evidence is mounting that we’re beginning to accept games as a real medium for expression that’s appropriate for both adults and children alike. The future will bring us conclusive evidence as to the real affects that games have on our society and we can look back on the emotional debates as simply part of the medium maturing, hopefully as a fading memory.
I’ve been a Nintendo fan for well over 2 decades now, my first experiences with them dating all the way back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System which I believe is still in a functioning state in a closet out at my parent’s place. I have to admit though they kind of lost me when they released the Game Cube as by then I was hooked on my shiny new PlayStation and there weren’t any games on the Game Cube that appealed to me as a burgeoning hardcore gamer. That trend continued for a long time until my then housemate bought a Wii on the release date but even then I didn’t really play it that much, instead favoring my PS3 and Xbox360. Indeed the Wii I got using some credit card reward points has been mostly unused since we got it, even though I thought there were a couple games on it I was “dying” to try.
For what its worth it’s not really Nintendo’s fault that I haven’t really been a massive user of their last 2 generations of platforms, they made it clear that they were hunting for a different market and I wasn’t in it. Sure there were some nostalgia titles that tugged on my heart and wallet (Zelda and Mario, of course) but they weren’t enough for me to make the leap and I’ve stuck to my other staples ever since. Nintendo had firmly cemented themselves as the game console for people who don’t identify as gamers, broadening their market to unprecedented levels but also alienating the crowd who grew up with them to become today’s grown up gamers. At the time it was a trade off Nintendo appeared happy to make but recent announcements show that they may be thinking otherwise.
Nintendo recently announced the console that is to be the successor to the Wii which has been worked on under the title of Project Cafe and will be officially known as the Wii U. The console itself looks very similar to its predecessor, sporting the same overall layout whilst being a little bit bigger and preferring a rounder shape to the Wii’s highly angular design. Nintendo is also pairing the new console with another new accessory, a controller that comes with an embedded touch screen. At first it looks completely ludicrous, especially if you take into consideration that the Wii’s trademark was motion controlled games. After reading a bit more about it however it appears that this tablet-esque controller will function more like an augmentation to games rather than being the primary method of control, with the Wii nun-chucks still being used for games that rely on motion control.
The console itself is shaping up to be no slouch either, eschewing Nintendo’s trend of making under powered consoles in favor of one that is capable of producing full 1080p HD content. Whilst the official specifications for the Wii U aren’t released yet the demonstrations of the release titles for the console do not suffer from the low polygon counts of previous Wii titles with the demos looking quite stunning. With enough grunt under the hood of the Wii U Nintendo could also be making a play for the media extender market as well, something Microsoft and Sony have covered off well in the past. Couple that with a controller that would make one nice HTPC remote and I’m almost sold on the idea, but that’s not the reason why I’m tentatively excited about what the Wii U signals for Nintendo.
Nintendo has said during the E3 conference that they believe their new console will target a much broader audience than that of the Xbox or PlayStation, which taken on face value doesn’t mean a whole lot. The Wii sales numbers speak for themselves as both gamers and non-gamers alike bought the Wii and it outsold its competitors by a large margin, so if Nintendo can continue the trend with the Wii U it will be obvious that they’ll hit a broader market. However the announcement of the Wii U also came a video showing launch titles, many of which would have never previously made it to Nintendo’s console. It looks like Nintendo is trying to lure back the hardcore gaming crowd that it shunned when it re-imagined itself and that makes a long time fan like myself very happy indeed.
Of course the proof will be in the putting for the Nintendo Wii U and with the console not scheduled for release until sometime in 2012 we’ll be waiting a while before we can judge their attempt to claw back that niche that has slipped away from them. Whilst my Wii may sit next to my TV feeling woefully underused I get the feeling that its successor might not suffer the same fate and I’m excited at the possibility of Nintendo coming full circle and embracing those gamers who grew up with them. The possibility of it being a little media power house is just the icing on the cake, even if I might only end up using the controller through Bluetooth on my media PC.