Ah PowerPoint, the thing that everyone seems to loathe when they walk into a meeting yet still, when it comes time for them to present something, it’s the first tool they look to for getting their idea across. Indeed in my professional career I’ve spent many hours standing in front of a projection screen, the wall behind me illuminated by slide after slide of information I was hoping to convey to my audience, jabbering on about what the words behind me meant. It seems that every year there’s someone calling for the death of the defacto presentation tool with them lamenting its use in many well publicised scandals and failures. However like the poor workman who blames his tools PowerPoint is not responsible for much of the ills aimed at it. That, unfortunately, lies with the people who use it.
PowerPoint, like every Microsoft Office product, when put in the hands of the masses ends up being used in ways that it never should have been. This does not necessarily mean the tool is bad, indeed I’d like to see a valid argument for the death of say Word given the grave misuses it has been put to, more that it was likely not the most appropriate medium for the message it was trying to convey or the audience it was presented to. When used in its most appropriate setting, which I contend is as a sort of public prompt card for both the speaker and the audience, PowerPoint works exceptionally well for conveying ideas and concepts. What it’s not great at doing is presenting complex data in a readily digestible format.
But then again there are very few tools that can.
You see many of the grave misgivings that have been attributed to PowerPoint are the result of its users attempting to cram an inordinate amount of information into a single panel, hoping that it somehow all makes its way across to the audience. PowerPoint, on its own, simply does not have the capability to distill information down in that matter and as such relies on the user’s ability to do that. If the user then lacks the ability to do that both coherent and accurately then the result will, obviously, not be usable. There’s no real easy solution to this as creating infographics that convey real information in a digestible format is a world unto itself but blaming the tool for the ills of its users, and thus calling for the banning of its use, seems awfully shortsighted.
Indeed if it was not for PowerPoint then it would be another one of the Microsoft Office suite that would be met with the same derision as they all have the capability to display information in some capacity, just not in the format that most presentations follow. Every time people have lamented PowerPoint to me I’ve asked them to suggest an alternative tool that solves the issues they speak of and every time I have not recieved a satisfactory answer. The fact of the matter is that, as a presentation tool, PowerPoint is one of the top in its class and that’s why so many turn to it. The fact that it’s found at the center of a lot of well publicised problems isn’t because of its problematic use, just that it’s the most popular tool to use.
What really needs to improve is the way in which take intricate and complex data and distill that down to its essence for imparting it on others. This is an incredibly wide and diverse problem space, one that entire companies have founded their business models on. It is not something that we pin on a simple presentation tool, it is a fundamental shift away from thinking that complex ideas can be summed up in a handful words and a couple pretty pictures. Should we want to impart knowledge upon someone else then it is up to us to take them on that journey, crafting an experience that leaves them with enough information for them to be able to impart that idea on someone else. If you’re not capable of doing nor PowerPoint nor any other piece of software will help you.
3 years and 15 posts have all been leading up to this: In a little under 2 weeks the House of Representatives in Australia will sit down to vote on the bill to introduce a R18+ rating for games into Australia:
The first parliamentary session in the new year is set for the 7th February – giving the poor fellas a nice long break – where the bill to introduce the new age rating will be voted on by the lower house. If it passes there, it will go on to the senate, which has the ability to pass it into law.
Current minister for human services and ex federal minister for home affairs, Brendan O’Connor, is the man behind the bill and he’s been pushing it forward for quite some time according to Games Industry (requires free account sign up). Thanks to his vocal public support, it is believed the bill will pass easily in its first parliament debate, though the outcome of the senate hearing is still up in the air.
I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Whilst I’m grateful for the Australian government giving me a near endless stream of blog fodder over the years I’ll be far more happy to see this changed than have to write another article telling you why Australia needs it. At the moment everything is looking pretty good for the R18+ rating to make it through the lower house without too many troubles. What’s still something of mystery is how the bill will go in the Senate as whilst there are some supporters like Senator Kate Lundy and Senator Stephen Conroy I couldn’t dredge up anyone else who’s gone on record supporting it.
Theoretically there’s not much to oppose in the bill, especially with the final draft of the guidelines being fairly in line with what we have currently and just including the provision for content that’s already acceptable in other mediums. How this is viewed by the senators though remains to be seen but should it get through we could see many of the previously banned titles making their way onto our shelves before the end of the year. Whilst I’m sure none of them will enjoy the retail success that they would have if they weren’t blocked in the first place it’s better than getting nothing from Australia at all.
It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally on the cusp of seeing real change that was heavily influenced by the grass roots efforts of the gaming community in Australia. I’m so glad I count myself amongst the teaming masses of people who put their support behind getting a R18+ rating into reality and this shows that given enough time and effort we really can effect change in Australia. The fight’s not over yet, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to being won than it is to being lost.
It was just under a year ago that what seemed to be the last barrier to a R18+ rating in Australia came tumbling down in the form of Senator Atkinson’s retirement. I was elated, not so much by the idea that I’d finally be able to legally purchase excessively violent and sexually explicit games but more that finally Australia would cease looking at games as a children only zone and recognize them as a medium that actually caters mostly to adults. Still here we are a year later and for all the talk about Atkinson being the last hold out on a R18+ rating we’ve had next to no movement on the issue since his replacement took office. It would seem that Australia just isn’t ready to admit that games aren’t just for children anymore.
Of course this rant doesn’t come from no where. In my usual stroll for blog fodder I came across an article that detailed the latest game to be given the deadly Refused Classification rating by the Australian Classification Board. Usually these stories aren’t particularly interesting, especially since I’ve covered it in the past and most of the titles aren’t anything to write home about, but the story today saw a long term franchise running up against the ACB:
Australia’s content classification regulator has banned the highly anticipate remake of the classic Mortal Kombat video game series from being sold in Australia, deeming the game’s violence outside the boundaries of the highest MA15+ rating which video games can fall under.
The full text of the Australian Classification Board’s decision is available in PDF format here. It goes into detail about the decision, stating that the game contains violence which “goes beyond strong in impact” is therefore unsuitable for those under the age of 18 to play — particularly noting Mortal Kombat’s famously gruesome ‘fatality’ finishing moves.
Now whilst I haven’t been waiting anxiously for the next installment of Mortal Kombat like I have been for say, Deus Ex, I’m still a long time fan of the franchise having played nearly every incarnation since the original release on the Super NES. They’ve never been restrained with the amount of gore they include especially when it comes to fatalities so it does come as somewhat of a surprise that the ACB takes offense to their use of explicit violence just for this version and hasn’t batted an eye at any of the previous incarnations. The process of classification is, as it seems to be in many modern countries, quite the black box as there are many games with comparable levels of gore that go through unheeded. At the very least they don’t seem to care if you’re a small or large publisher when it comes to banning games, but that still doesn’t detract from the fact that the lack of a R18+ rating hurts Australia in more ways than just keeping games from being sold on our shores.
Conversely I do know that even though the average age of a gamer in Australia (and most of the world) is well past 18 the R18+ rating can be quite devastating to sales, as has been demonstrated by several titles in the USA. However since the average age of your typical game consumer is increasing the more mature rated games have shown to be the most stable in terms of sales, showing that there really is a demand for adult oriented titles. Sure the R18+ rating may mean a publisher might consider censoring parts of their game in order to get a less restrictive MA15 rating but at least then it would be their choice rather than the decision being made for them.
Australia needs to cast off the shackles of the past and start making decisive steps in the right direction. The idea that games are only for children is an extremely archaic way of viewing the medium and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be subject to the same classification process that we apply to all other forms of media. The restriction of such material only serves to hurt publishers and push people to illegitimate means in order to acquire these games that they have been denied, something which many minors are quite capable of accomplishing. An R18+ rating system would help to raise awareness about such material and give parents the information they need to decide what is appropriate for their children. The time has come for Australia to grow up and recognize games as a mature medium and to stop ignoring the rest of the modern world.
I just don’t get books. There’s something inherently anti-social about picking one up and plonking yourself down to read a couple chapters as you’re publicly announcing “I’m doing something and I shouldn’t be disturbed”. Still the act of sharing that anti-social experience can be quite social as I’ve had many great experiences discussing the few books that I’ve read over my lifetime. Still I struggle to get through dead trees even when I make an active effort to get through them. My latest victim, The Four Hour Work Week, has been in my backpack for the past 6 months and the last 5 of that have been with around 100 pages to go. For some reason I just can’t be bothered with sitting down and slogging through page after page of the centuries old medium, but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave their content.
After I went through a long time of having not a whole lot to do whilst I was at work I discovered the wonderful world of RSS feeds. Gone was my endless list of poorly organised bookmarks and in its place was a lovely unified view of all those websites I loved to frequent. After fiddling around with a couple installed RSS readers I eventually turned to Google Reader and I haven’t looked back since. Every day I can spin through a couple hundred articles in quick succession with the better ones usually inspiring a blog post or two. I’d say that on average I read about 2~3 books worth of online content per week, possibly double or triple that if I’m elbow deep in research for a particular problem.
So the question remains, why don’t I get books? I know I have a pretty insatiable hunger for information on various subjects and the bite sized chunks I get online, whilst very well suited to my almost permanently Internet connected life, are usually too small to get a decent understanding of something. Additionally I remember one of my college English teachers telling me that my generation was apparently the last one that would have any respect for the medium as the generations who followed us would get all their information from online sources. Whilst I don’t agree with her vision completely (thanks in part to the whole Twilight phenomenon, I mean they did read the books right?) it does seem that when it comes to getting information on a particular subject I don’t even think about visiting a library, let alone picking up a book.
The answer then is most likely one of convenience. I can, on any device capable of browsing the Internet, open up a page with a dedicated stream of information tailored exactly to my interests. Books on the other hand are usually only aimed at one subject and unfortunately require me to carry them with me when I want to read them. I thought the answer would lie in eBooks but unfortunately they seem to suffer the same fate as their dead tree companions. You could probably put this down to a short attention span when it comes to absorbing information as all online content is aimed at being consumed in less than 5 minutes and trying to read a book like that just doesn’t seem to work for me (or anyone else I’ve seen read books for that matter).
There are some notable exceptions though. Way back in the middle of my time at university a good friend of mine handed me a copy of the first book in the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. After sharing a love for the revamped Battlestar Galactica he handed me the book saying that if I liked that kind of sci-fi, I’d love this. I hadn’t read an entire book in well over 3 years so initially I struggled to get into it. The entire trilogy took me a year to read but I savoured every last word of it, often stealing an hour away from my classes to sit on the university concourse to bathe in the warm summer sun whilst my mind was firmly planted in this epic space opera. I have yet to be that captivated by a book again as my last attempt to read another of Hamilton’s other works had me 20 pages in before I was told I was reading the wrong book in the trilogy (that’s the last time I trust you, Dave).
Maybe as I get more time to myself I’ll find the time for books. Right now though my life is filled with so many other activities that getting through a book always feels like a chore that doesn’t get me very far as it doesn’t usually satisfy a pressing want or need that I have at the time. With most of my subsequent free time spent playing through an enormous backlog of games (which just spurred an idea for a post tomorrow, stay tuned! 😉 ) books are one of those things that I’ll let slip by the wayside. Watching them rush past as the torrent of the Internet sweeps them away.
Cast your mind back 15 years, what was the most common way to get into contact with someone? Your answer was probably a land line telephone as the Internet was still low in its adoption rates and sending letters was starting to feel a little antiquated. Additionally faxing was beginning to take over as the de facto standard for sending documents around the globe further cementing the telephone as the goto means for trying to communicate with someone. The alternatives where thin on the ground and realistically if you wanted to send a message to a large, multi-national audience you’d have to shell out some serious coin to get that done. Today however it seems that no matter who you are or who you want to talk to there’s already infrastructure in place to facilitate your desire to communicate and with that comes some interesting problems for those who used to dominate the international communications space.
This blog is a great example of just one of these forms of communication. Realistically if I wanted to write about things on a daily basis to a decent sized audience my options were fairly limited. Usually I’d have to have some kind of journalistic cred in order to get myself a daily column and that would also subject me to being under an editor. I could have wrote everything up, printed out thousands of copies and then hung them all over the place but that would be both time and cost prohibitive. Today I can reach a daily audience of dozens of people all for the cost of an hours work, an Internet connection and a bit of electricity to power my home server. If I was so inclined I could eliminate most of those costs by moving to a hosted solution, but I like tinkering too much to do that 😉
For the most part though I know that blogs don’t suit everyone, especially the kind of style that I’ve adopted for myself. Writing a post a day can seem like a chore to most people and if you’re like me you’re not prone to fits of creative inspiration often leading me on a frustrating hunt for something to write about. Additionally many people were already happy with their more traditional forms of communication and saw no need to start up a blog or similar to communicate to their intended audience.
Many of the new forms of communication are based around making the more traditional forms of mass communication (television, radio, newspapers, etc) much more accessible to the everyman. Primarily we have the Internet to thank for this as its pervasiveness opens up the largest potential audience for any content that you might dare to distribute. The rapid change from traditional media to the current user centric Internet experience has seen many corporations playing a game of catch up to make the most of this new medium with many just being outright hostile to what they perceive as being a threat to their bottom line. I can’t say that I blame them as any good corporations main goal is to maximize its profit for its shareholders but realistically if you’re trying to fight a fundamental change to your business model rather than adapt to it you’re not long for the technological world. There’s already a dozen hungry start ups that would be willing to take your place.
On the flip side though the various means of communication can be a bit of a curse. Although there is always a dominate player in the respective field the success of any new form of communication means there will be multiple players, all with their own distinct set of benefits. Ultimately this leads to a fragmented audience meaning either you attempt to cover off all your bases to hit the largest audience possible (exponentially increasing your work) or just target one potentially segregating off a large audience. In the end though content is still king and if you do good work people will overlook the medium in which its delivered.
What all this means for the everyman is that no matter who you are, what your message is or who your audience is there’s probably already a form of communication that’s perfectly suited to you. Want to start a TV show? Get a YouTube channel. Feel like exposing every little nuance of your life to the Internet? Get a Twitter account. Have aspirations of being a journalist but don’t want to do the training but hope that some technology/gaming/space big shot will see your potential and then pay you to write for them? Get off my territory and start a blog somewhere else boy! 😉 The traditional content gatekeepers no longer apply for those of us lucky to live in the age of the Internet, where those who wish to express themselves and their audience is only separated by a few clicks and bit of bandwidth.