The Worst Thing Ever Archive

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Fun with Mario and Micro Transactions

I thought it a troll, or at the very least a click baiting link to an article on the Onion, when I skimmed a Kotaku headline that read, “Crazy Nintendo Investor Wants Us To Pay $0.99 For Higher Mario Jumps.” I mean, the idea of working micro transactions into a Mario game is so absurd as to be laughable, right? Micro transactions are for terrible free-to-play facebook and iPad games, not the sacred temple that is Mario.

Alas, the news news came from a reputable source: the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ reported that Oasis Management, a hedge fund that owns shares in Nintendo, thinks that there’s money to be made if Nintendo builds some mobile gaming applications with an in-game revenue model.

The good news is that Nintendo, according to the Kotaku article in question, has no plans to move into mobile gaming or to liberate Mario from consoles. So we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief there.

At the same time, there’s a poignant irony in a story about micro transactions citing the WSJ as a source. This particular newspaper’s pay wall is so powerful that it won’t fess up more than a score of words without demanding a subscription fee. Well played, WSJ. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “You just lost yourself a customer.”

Though I’ve said it before on this blog, I’ll say it again for the benefit of anybody who has missed one of my previous rants on this subject; micro transactions are not a business model, they are a brain hack. A strong majority of the free-to-play “games” – and no, I won’t be wading into the conceptual quagmire of what constitutes a game – that employ micro transactions do so in the framework of a digital Skinner Box.

In other words, the game offers a reward for a mundane task before offering bigger rewards for completing slightly more complicated, but still mundane, tasks. After establishing a pleasure/reward response in the player, the game denies further access to said stimulus in the form of a mandatory cool down period. Of course, a player can always part coin from hand and see the cool down prematurely ended. The more insidious models of free-to-play games take this first principle and apply it in a pay-to-win model, thus stacking the deck in favour of individuals who make a financial investment to the game – I’m looking at you, Battlestar Galactica Online.

I’ve often written on my personal quest to discover a free-to-play game that is more than just a profit engine with the complexity of an Atari 2600 title. However, the mere idea of paying to boost Mario’s jump height – which is already impressive for an overweight plumber – makes me think I should build a new litmus test for these games. Namely, is their business model offering an equitable trade with the player, or is it aiming to exploit human weaknesses in the name of profit?


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The Worst Thing Ever: Volume 1 – Equals

Submitted for your scorn and disgust: Equals, the inaugural offering in my new feature, The Worst Thing Ever.

On the off chance that you’ve spent the last few days living in a cave on Mars, Equals is a thing that almost defies comprehension. Indeed, it is proof that Hollywood is so starved for original ideas that they will remake anything if there’s even the slightest demonstrable proof that it will pull in the youth demographic.

To quote Equals’ newly announced leading lady, Kristen Stewart, the film is “…a love story of epic, epic, epic proportion.” Which is all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that this love story is a reimagining of George Orwell’s seminal story of totalitarian oppression, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is being rebooted as a sci-fi, drama, love story for the Twilight generation. Even as I read my own words I’m tempted to slip into a Jon Stewart inspired fit of written apoplexy and swearing. The only thing holding me back is a fear that foul language might somehow detract from the absolute seriousness that I am attempting to convey with this piece. So when I say that the very premise of Equals is potentially the worst thing ever, I do so without an ounce of hyperbole.

I suppose something like this was inevitable. We live in a world where kooks, cranks, and the generally ignorant twist Nineteen Eighty-Four into a banner for their lunatic fringe, selectively libertarian, anti-establishment views. It’s de rigueur to see internet arguments devolving into people bickering about Big Brother and the Thought Police without demonstrating a single inch of understanding on what those figures represented. The collective horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four are an amalgam of what Orwell witnessed during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. His final book should be a lesson for the ages; a reminder that civil society and civilisation itself hinges upon the moral courage and collective wisdom of a people to hold their government to account. Oceania, the supra-nation which rules North America and England in the  novel, is both dramatic and cautionary in its demonstration of the malleability of public thought.  So will somebody please tell me how this lesson in civic virtue is fit for transformation into a love story?

Granted, there are romantic elements to Ninteen Eighty-Four, in so much as Winston and Julia use sex and love as a form of protest against a government that has deemed such things to be the anathema of individual and national good. I quote from the book, “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.”

And where love stories generally end with the notion of love conquering all, even in death, Nineteen Eighty-Four shows Winston and Julia betraying each other to the state. The words Winston utters to condemn his lover, and thereby belying their rebellion as helpless in the face of state power, are no mere lie, no falsehood told under the cloak of torture. When O’Brien confronts Winston with his worst fear, a ravenous rat that will chew through his face, Winston wants, with every fiber of his being, for O’Brien to torture Julia instead of him.

“Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!”

These are not the trappings of a love story. Winston’s fate, drinking gin in a cafe and watching the news with the fervor of a true believer, is designed to demonstrate the futility of resistance.

It is astonishing to think that Nathan Parker, the screen writer for Moon – arguably one of the best science fiction films of the last twenty years – could embrace the sheer and unadulterated hubris of attempting to “update” Nineteen Eighty-Four. As for the cast, John Hurt was forty-four years old, and a veteran of stage and screen, when he took on the role of Winston Smith. Does Nicholas Hoult, whose acting credits include Robot Chicken, Clash of the Titans, and About a Boy, really think himself capable of doing any justice to this role? And as for Kristen Stweart, I don’t care how many vehicular-based, double dutch handjobs she has given on film, there’s nothing you or anybody else can say that will convince me she is either worthy or capable of reprising a role Suzanna Hamilton made famous.

No good will come from this movie. Out of the gate, its premise is as terrible as the all-white, New York-based remake of Akira that died in development a couple of years ago. Moreover, using Orwell as anything other than a treatment on power and the frailty of man is dangerously irresponsible. It’s the tragic apoapsis of meta writing and the beginning of a true descent into cultural entropy.

The truth was fluid in Orwell’s world, and so too might it become flexible enough in ours that Nineteen Eighty-Four will always have been a novel about star-crossed lovers in a dangerous time.