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October 28, 2005

Darndest Things

The other day, I was playing a game with my son (one of the many casual games we play together), but since I was feeling a bit under the weather, I started to fall behind my usual pace.

So I told him that I was going to switch to a game that wasn't as fast-paced, because I didn't have the energy to continue this one.

His reply?

"I can play, Daddy. I have all kinds of energy!"

That's gold, Jerry. GOLD!

That kid cracks me up.

October 27, 2005

Chocolate Milk

I woke up to this Joystiq post this morning, and I felt the need to comment (#26).

To sum it up, a kid was mouthing off to his mother for not getting him chocolate milk while he played a video game she shouldn't have allowed him to play in the first place.

  • Here's the post...
A video posted at Google’s video site last July shows a disturbing modern example of an argument between a child and his mother. The video, which is a recording of a Rainbow Six clan match over Xbox Live, shows a young child screaming to his mother “get me some mother****ing chocolate milk” and refusing to stop playing the game.

Given the obvious link between the game and the child’s increasing visciousness towards his mother, the video shows a clear idea of what video games can do to young children. It’s also shows the reason why parents should impose limits on their child’s gaming time. There’s also a question raised about why the child was playing the game given that Rainbow Six is rated Mature (a rating that requires the purchaser to be 17 or over). How did the child obtain the game and why did the mother allow him to play it — even if you ignore the child’s extremely bad behaviour?

  • Here's my reply...

"Given the obvious link between the game and the child’s increasing visciousness towards his mother"

I have to take issue with the irresponsible editorializing here.

What jumps out at me in this video is NOT that Rainbow Six will magically turn your good little angels into dangerous, violent, ungrateful, chocolate-milk-addicted bastards.

You certainly have to ask what this kid is doing playing a game that is inappropriate for his age...

However, instead of tying the game itself to his behavior, you should connect the very fact that his mother would allow him to play the game with his behavior.

It ain't the game. It's the obvious lack of parental responsibility and discipline.

As long as you make sure they play games that are appropriate, and as long as video games are just one of many types of recreation for your kids, then games can be great for them (Read Killing Monsters, What Video Games Can Teach Us About Learning & Literacy, Game On, etc. - see "Recommended Reading" on sidebar).

That puts the responsibility on the parents to learn which games their kids shouldn't be playing, and to make sure that they don't spend the entire day in front of the TV.

The ESRB can help serve as a guide, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents. Shouldn't this be a no-brainer?

Bottom line, when it comes to my kids, EVERYTHING is my responsibility.

...Or maybe it's the chocolate milk's fault.

October 24, 2005

Decisions...Decisions... (a.k.a. Which Console Is The Most Kid-Friendly?)

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine. I hadn’t talked to him in a while, and we had a great time catching up. We talked for a while about a buncha stuff, including how each other’s kids were doing, which segued into a discussion about video games.

He said that he was considering buying a video game console for his son, and asked which console I recommended, should he decide to take the polygon plunge.

My friend’s son and mine are the same age, but while my son has been gaming for over a year now, his has yet to sample the delights of the Sony PlayStation 2 or Nintendo GameCube.

What’s that? I left one out? What about the third leg of the console tripod - Microsoft’s Xbox, you say? Nope, no mistake. The Xbox doesn’t belong in a serious discussion of video game consoles for young kids.

Now before the Xbox fanboys (fandads? fanfolks?) out there start foaming at the mouth, here’s why I removed the big hulking horizontal PC (or is it just reclining?) from consideration.

Y’see, the thing is that the Xbox isn’t marketed at young kids for a reason; its strengths (graphics, custom soundtracks, online play, first-person shooters) are geared toward teens and adults, not kids. So repeat after me... The Xbox jes’ ain’t fer the young ‘uns.

EDIT: For those of you who haven't read the comments for this post, Kim reminds me that the Xbox has a parental control feature that lets you "lock certain ESRB rated titles off the box for those without the password." Certainly a handy-dandy feature for those of you who already own an Xbox. FYI.

So back to the main question; Sony or Nintendo?

I've answered this question for many of my friends-with-kids who were beginning to consider gingerly dipping their toes into the console gaming waters. In the last couple of weeks alone, I’ve given different answers to different parents. That’s because they gave different answers to the following questions:

Question #1: Is the console just for your kids, or for you, too?

While the GameCube occasionally releases exclusive gems like Capcom’s stellar survival horror hit Resident Evil 4 (rated M for Mature), or first-person fembot shooter Metroid Prime (rated T for Teen), the PS2 has far more breadth in its available games.

For kids’ games, the two are roughly even (more in a bit), but for every other category (sports, action/adventure, racing, shooters, RPGs, etc.) the PS2 has a far more substantial menu. Of the 3 consoles, the PS2 comes the closest to being all things to all people. Not surprising, given that it’s a Sony product.

For most of those genres, the PS2 simply has more games to offer, but the major sports titles are cross-platform, so as not to deprive any segment of the gaming public of the privilege of plunking down a month’s worth of juice boxes on their game. As a result, I recommended the PS2 to sports-game-playing families for a different reason – the controller.

The PS2’s DualShock 2 controller is the best out there, especially for small hands. My son can’t hold any of the controllers in his hands. He plops it in his lap and manipulates the controls from above. And whether it’s the layout or shape of the controller, buttons, or analog sticks, he’s much more comfortable with the DualShock.

For parents and older kids, the PS2 controller is more precise, and is as good as it gets ergonomically. The GameCube controller, on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the same ‘fit and finish,’ especially with the wiggly-jiggly shoulder buttons. Put it this way; if the controllers were cars, the DualShock is a Lexus, while the GameCube controller is a Hyundai.

And to round out the automotive theme, while the mammoth original Xbox controller was a Yukon/Excursion/Suburban-size monstrosity, the smaller Controller S is still a Hummer H2.

Question #2: The Plumber or The Prince?

Since many games these days are released on both the PS2 and GameCube, the main question you need to ask is which company’s proprietary characters do you like best?

Nintendo brings us the fruits of the mind of uber-mazing game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Link and Zelda are but a few of the iconic characters he has created over the years, and all show up in force on the GameCube. Mario is the mustachioed patriarch of a huge family of brand extensions, including Super Mario Sunshine, the Mario Party series, the Paper Mario series, and several Mario sports games, including Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario Power Tennis, Mario Golf Toadstool Tour and Mario Kart Double Dash. And there are still more that I couldn’t shoehorn into this paragraph. Bottom line, your young kids will have a ton of games to play on their 'little purple lunchbox.'

On the Sony side, while they don’t carry the minty-fresh Miyamoto aura, there are many excellent, Sony-exclusive games for the PlayStation 2. Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and Jak & Daxter comprise SCEA’s terrific platformer troika, Dog’s Life is a fun way to ‘be’ a dog, and as most of you know by now, Katamari Damacy is a great kids’ game that not only features both the King and Prince of All Cosmos (talk about bang for the buck!), but is widely hailed as one of the most original games to come out in years.

So this question comes down to age and personal preference.

If you have young kids and you don’t plan to play many games of other genres, then buy a GameCube.

If you have older kids, or plan to share the console among an entire family with diverse tastes in games, then the PlayStation 2 has a better chance of satisfying all of your constituents.

There are probably those who say just to wait for one of the next-gen consoles; either the PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Revolution. But unlike the Xbox 360, which launches in less than one month in the U.S. (11/22/05), the PS3 won’t launch until next spring at the earliest, and the Revolution likely won’t hit American shores until next fall. So how does that help you this holiday season?

For a family on a budget, the choice is even easier. As I write this, you can buy a brand new PS2 for $149 (and there have been rumblings of a holiday-season price drop), or a new GameCube for only $99.

While the end of the current generation of consoles is nigh, there is no reason you can’t get several more years out of a PS2 or GameCube you buy today. Once you bring your family’s new best friend home, you can choose from hundreds of games for them to play, many at discounted prices.

Or you could decide to wait up to a year, pay several hundred more dollars, and have a pathetically meager library of games to choose from at launch (though the Revolution will offer Nintendo’s entire gaming catalog via download for a price that has yet to be determined).


For me, it’s a no-brainer. When they get older, your kids will start to care more about being on the bleeding edge of gaming technology. But for now, they don’t care that SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom came out in 2003. They’ll love it because it’s a helluva lotta fun. Remember, if they haven’t played it, it’s new to them! *cue NBC chimes*

So to recap, consider your family’s needs, make your pick with your head held high, then sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy gaming!

October 16, 2005


This is the post I've been dreading since late July. And though I've thought about what to write over the last 2 and a half months, I'm going to let others speak for me today. The following poems brought me a small measure of comfort. I found them here.

I lost a special friend today

the kind you can't replace,
and looking at her empty bed
I still can see her face.

I see the endless energy
the sparkling puppy eyes,
Not the tired, fragile friend
I had to bid goodbye.

I know she's in a special place
our Lord has for such friends,
Where meadows, fields & flowers
help make them strong and whole again.

--excerpt from "Special Friend" by Christina L. Tronnes

... should the Great Master see fit to deprive me of my health or sight, do not turn me away from you. Rather hold me gently in your arms as skilled hands grant me the merciful boon of eternal rest...and I will leave you knowing with the last breath I drew, my fate was ever safest in your hands.

--excerpt from "A Dog's Prayer" by Beth Norman Harris

Please, understand just what this gift,

You're giving, means to me,
It gives me back the strength I've lost,
And all my dignity.

Cut the leash that holds me here,
Dear friend, and let me run,
Once more a strong and steady dog,
My pain and struggle done.

--excerpt from "From Friend to Friend" by Karen Clouston

If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this -- the last battle -- can't be won.

When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they'll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.

Don't grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We've been so close -- we two -- these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.

--excerpt from "The Last Battle" by Unknown

There's a hole in my heart where a dog used to be.
He's nuzzled my soul and is now part of me.
His pain is his life and I know what to do.
But when I release him, I'm losing me, too.

The puppy I cradled three short years ago
is a ninety pound bundle of love and I know
that he'd lick away all of my tears if he could.
It's his sense of duty to make me feel good.

It's my obligation to do what is best.
The love of his "master" is put to the test.
It's a wrenching and sorrowful way that we part;
it doesn't hurt less when the head rules the heart.

There's a hole in my heart where my Jake has passed through.
When we say goodbye part of me will go too.

-- "Losing Jake" by Amy Waggoner


Goodbye, Otter.
We'll miss you.
Now go get the bunny!

October 10, 2005

REVIEW: Sly 2: Band of Thieves

  • Platforms: PlayStation 2
  • Current Price (new): $20
  • Amount of Game Played: 100%
  • BOTTOM LINE: Steal This Game
A few weeks ago, I was watching one of the shows on G4 where viewers call in and ask questions. After hosts Tina Wood and Laura Foy debated the merits of shooter X vs. shooter Y, a caller phoned in with the following question: “If you could change the voice-over of ANY video game character, which would it be?”

“Not a bad question,” I thought, and I leaned forward a bit, interested in what they might say, given that I, like every gamer, have my own pet peeves in the voice-over department.

Laura answered the question first. When she said that her choice was a character from the Sly Cooper series, my pulse quickened.

“Could this finally be it? After so much time alone in the wilderness, has someone else finally noticed Constable Neyla’s teeth-grindingly brutal fake British accent in Sly 2: Band of Thieves?”

As Ms. Foy continued her preamble, I started getting an uneasy feeling. Instead of talking about the cringeworthy faux-limey monstrosity turned in by the double-dipping Alesia Glidewell (she does a good job voicing Inspector Carmelita Fox), she started talking in a whiny nasal voice. I didn’t like where this was headed.

I was right to be concerned. When she finally pulled the proverbial wraps off her choice, what was unveiled couldn’t have been more wrong.

She (and Tina, who agreed with her) had inexplicably chosen Bentley (voiced by Matt Olsen), the geeky little turtle, who happens to be one of the BEST voiced characters I’ve heard in my gaming travels. That’s right, I said it.

Foy and Wood know their stuff, but they’re way off the mark here. Bentley’s voice may not be the most pleasant thing in the world to listen to, but it fits his character to a T, and that’s all anyone can ask from a voice actor.

So there...................

Um...what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. I’m supposed to be reviewing Sly 2. Games for kids and all that. My bad.

Allrighty, then. Let me just hoist myself out of the little minutiae trench that I’ve dug for myself and get this thing back on track.

A couple years ago, my kids were content to play games with me on our computer, whether on their favorite websites, or one of the many free game demos that I downloaded for them to play. Video game consoles were something Daddy played with after they went to bed.

Then came two games that changed everything, and made them sit up and take notice of the wonders that awaited them inside those mysterious boxes connected to the TV.

The first, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, stars...well...SpongeBob.

The second stars a cunning blue raccoon named Sly, a beefy pink hippo named Murray...sorry, The Murray, and the aforementioned geeky green turtle, and is one of the best platformers from the current generation of consoles.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves, from SCEA, is the sequel to 2002’s Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. FYI, the third installment in the series, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, was released a couple of weeks ago. We haven’t played the full version yet, but if the demo is any indication, developer Sucker Punch has created a worthy sequel in the Sly Cooper franchise.

Sly 2 takes you on a globe-trotting tour, with stops in Paris, Prague, India, and the Canadian wilderness. The levels are both colorful and whimsical, with plenty of attention to detail. Each level has a look and feel that is unique and faithful to the locale.

As for the characters...

The Good Guys

Sly, Murray and Bentley have been best buds for years, having met at an orphanage as young ’uns. For Sly 2 you can, nay, must play as all three, as every mission is designed so that only one of them can accomplish it. Sly is the stealthy, swashbuckling leader of the crew, Murray is a practitioner of the fistic arts, and Bentley is the gadget wizard.

As for the overall goal of the game, The Cooper Gang teams up to find the various components of Sly’s family’s chief nemesis for years - an evil mechanical owl named Clockwerk. The problem is that The Klaww Gang has beaten Sly to the Clockwerk parts. Who is the Klaww Gang, you ask? Read on...

The Bad Guys

The Klaww Gang consists of colorful characters like Parisian purple lizard nightclub owner Dmitri (whose turn-ons include butchering American slang), Indian tiger spice lord Rajan, French Canadian freight train magnate Jean Bison (pronounced en Francais - Jawn beeSON), and Arpeggio, a condescending parrot with a raging case of wing envy. They are also aided by The Contessa, an Interpol criminal psychologist who just happens to be a black widow spider. Another nice touch is that the flashlight-toting henchmen are unique to each level. For example, Indian elephants, Canadian moose, etc.

Carmelita Fox is somewhere in the middle, as a well-meaning police inspector trying to catch the Cooper Gang red-handed. She also seems to have a flirty love-hate relationship with Sly. Carmelita’s protégé, Constable Neyla, is a bit of a mystery, but only for a while.

On another character-related note, since I touched on the voice-work earlier, other than Neyla’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard hackery, the voice-overs in Sly 2 are excellent.

Now on to the gameplay. I enjoyed the heck out of playing this game, which is a good thing, because I ‘had’ to play a large percentage of the game for my kids (of course, as a gamer who enjoys the platformer genre, they didn’t exactly have to twist my arm). One reason I had to play so much has to do with the fact that neither of my kids was comfortable with the PS2 controller when we played this game, but truth be told, this isn’t the easiest game in the world for kids to play.

Older kids (including those in their ‘30s) will enjoy all of the things that younger kids will. And instead of being frustrated by some of the tougher parts of the game like their younger siblings (or kids), they’ll be challenged by it. Mind you, this is with the full understanding that many hardcore adult gamers (that doesn’t sound quite right, does it?) are of the opinion that this is an easy game.

Any way you slice it, though, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a great game in general, and a very good game for kids. However, as much as my kids and I loved this game, there are a few notable negatives.

First, there’s the whole romanticizing thievery thing. While we’re not talking The Grinch here, Sly is definitely more Aladdin than Robin Hood. He doesn’t steal from the rich to give to the poor. He steals from the bad guys and keeps it for himself. So Sucker Punch does deal with the morality issue by not having Sly...say...steal all the presents in Whoville, but as a parent, you may decide to have a conversation or two about it.

The second issue is that depending on how young your kids are, there are a few ‘bad guys’ here and there that may scare them a bit. There’s nothing really scary, but Clockwerk is pretty menacing, and the ‘flashlight guards’ (elephants, warthogs, moose, wolves, rats, etc.) provide some tension when you need to stay out of the light to avoid detection.

With apologies for a mild spoiler, Bentley gets hurt during the game’s finale (nothing graphic, of course), which, although they defeat the bad guys, is purposely left open-ended for Sly 3. Again, depending on how young your kids are, if they’ve formed a bond with our intrepid trio, they may be a little upset by this.

Finally, as I touched upon earlier, Sly, Murray & Bentley are orphans. While it’s not a part of the gameplay at all, it is mentioned in one of the early cut-scenes, so be prepared to answer a query from your inquisitive children. Or just distract them with something shiny (or baked goods) for those few seconds. Entirely up to you.

Overall, your kids will love this game. My kids don’t necessarily incorporate every character from every video game into their real-world playtime, but along with Ratchet & Clank and Miyamoto-san’s cast of characters at Nintendo, Sly, Murray & Bentley are on the short list of characters they like to pretend to be.

Bottom Line (literally): Playing Sly 2: Band of Thieves is like exploring the inside of a comic book...and a great one at that.

October 06, 2005

ESRB Explained

Since the Entertainment Software Rating Board is at the forefront of every discussion of children and video game violence these days, I thought it might be helpful to aggregate some articles that should demistify the ESRB a tad. I found one of them on this Joystiq post, and the others in my wanderings. The explanations should be a bit more useful than simply checking out the ESRB web site.

Here's my $.02 on the ESRB, combining excerpts from my reviews of Dog's Life from GameFam and GameDAILY Family:

EDIT: I also have some ESRB issues in my review of the Ratchet & Clank series.

In general, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board is recognized as a very good internal (i.e. non-governmental) rating system. In fact, Senator Joe Lieberman, who chaired the 1993 hearings (along with Senator Herb Kohl) that led to the very creation of the ESRB, has said that the ESRB is “the best entertainment rating system in the United States.” And as a parent of 2 young kids, I was thrilled when they recently created the new E10+ rating, to differentiate between games for my kids, and those more appropriate for pre-teens. On the surface, the ESRB seems to do a good job, and many times, they give games the ratings they deserve.

However, they are far from infallible, and they occasionally give a game a confusingly incorrect rating. Dog’s Life is one such mistake.

In fact, the entire continent of Europe agrees with me. Instead of the ESRB, Europe uses PEGI, (Pan-European Game Information), and if you compare the North American box and the European box side-by-side, you'll notice that while the North American version (left) has a "T" rating, the European version (right) is rated "3+".

Why the 10-year discrepancy? What did the ESRB see that’s so harmful for North American children under the age of 13? What did they see that I (and an entire continent) missed? Are Europeans born with a 10-year head start on Norteamericanos in terms of maturity? No, that couldn’t possibly be the answer... right? ;o)

Could it be that the main character says "that sucks" a few times (I'd rather he didn't, but I just explain to the kids that it's not a nice way to talk)? The dognapping, perhaps? Or maybe the dreaded "running of the rodents?"

The likely truth is as funny as it is pathetic. My educated guess (based partly on remarks made by a Sony Europe exec at an E3 marketing conference panel) is that it the T rating is a result of simple potty humor. You see, Jake has the ability to perform bodily functions - pooping & farting - on cue. Horror of horrors!

If you don’t want your kids to play any dog-pooping games, that's certainly your parental prerogative. But kids think it's hilarious, and it’s all good, clean... er... well, it’s good fun anyway. In addition, the pooping isn't completely arbitrary. You can only make Jake "do his bidness" after he's eaten. If that ain’t edutainment, I don’t know what is.


To be perfectly honest, the main impetus behind that post back in June was as it applied to one specific game, but the ESRB certainly has more issues than just the one I mentioned.

Here are some criticisms of the ESRB:

October 03, 2005

Second Thoughts

My daughter and I went grocery shopping together the other day, and as we were checking out, the cover of one of the tabloid rags caught my eye. It featured an emaciated Teri Hatcher next to Kate Hudson, who could now be mistaken for Kate Moss.

Hatcher & Hudson join a long, well-publicized, albeit barely visible, line of actresses (Boyle, Flockhart, Zellweger, Olsen (one of 'em, anyway), Lohan, et al) who have lost psychotic amounts of weight, amidst swirling rumors of anorexia.

About a month ago, I wrote about Paperdoll Heaven, a website for fans of...well, paper dolls (duh). At the time, I pointed out that despite the fact that the 'models' for the many colorful outfits were celebs with underwear that was racier that the nondescript undies in Fashion Cents, the website is fine for the kiddies.

However, after my little checkout line epiphany, I took another look at Paperdoll Heaven, and this time, I wasn't quite as thrilled with what I saw.

What bothered me isn't exactly the celebs or their underwear per se, but it is most certainly related...

Every one of the digital celebrity models had killer cleavage & single-digit body fat, which, of course, is how many of their flesh & blood analogs achieved celebrity in the first place. Every outfit my daughter plays with is clicked and dragged onto yet another 'perfect' body.

So am I overreacting? I'm just not sure. My wife and I try to give our daughter positive messages about realistic body image, but is it enough to counteract the barrage of images she's up against?

Is the fun she clearly has playing Paperdoll Heaven worth the possibility of the development of an unrealistic body image down the line?

I don't have any pat answers or pithy closing lines for this one. But I'll be paying close attention in the meantime.