CES 2008: What They Play — The Video Game Guide for Parents

“What They Play” is a new website that helps inform parents about the specific content in video games that they may find objectionable.   Experienced gaming journalists were recruited to play and write up video games, listing what potentially objectionable content exists in a game.  The intent of this website is help parents understand, in detail, the ESRB rating a video game is given so that parents can make an informed decision about what games they will allow their children to play.  They strive to give unbiased facts about drug use, sexual content, foul language, and violent content, but do not include religious themes in their assessment (I probed on this deeply to the rep’s discomfort, explaining that some parents are sensitive to games that may have anti-religious themes, include the occult, and material that insinuates what they consider inappropriate romantic relationships.  Also, on the other hand, there are also some parents who are sensitive to pro-religious themes and/or content that they may view as discriminatory.  My feeling is that informed parents don’t become surprised parents that, out of shock, go on a crusade to ban what they consider objectionable entertainment for everyone else). Parents can also contribute by posting comments to each write-up.  The two representatives of this website said if this takes off, then they plan on expanding to “What They See” for movies and television and “What They Read” for books.  I asked if they considered manga within “What They Read.”  They said they did not.  I explained that maybe they should because the ratings on manga are just as confusing as those on video games.  Either way, I like what this company is doing and I hope they succeed because I want everybody to have an enjoyable gaming experience and I like the idea of giving parents the tools they need help their children select appropriate entertainment.


CES2008: Barbie Online and Off

Two Barbie worlds were presented at CES this year:  the online world of Barbie Girls and the standalone software package Barbie iDesign. 

Let’s start with Barbie Girls.  Barbie Girls is an online community that allows girls to shop, play games, design fashion, and chat in a 3D world.  It is free for users to sign up and use the site, however, users that buy the Barbie Girls MP3 player/Doll can access more content than those that don’t have the device ($19.99 – $43.95 on sale on Amazon, regular price $39.99 – $99.99 for upto 1GB of memory).  Chat is limited to messages that can be selected from a drop down menu and there is no personal information about the other chatters available.  Freeform chat is only available to users who have the Barbie Girls MP3 player/Doll and the users must prove that they have an offline person-to-person relationship in order to be able to type their own messages to each other.  This is done by registering each other’s  MP3 player/Doll with each other’s computers — the players have to physically connected to a friend’s computer.  Here’s a picture of the online site and the Barbie Girls MP3 player/Doll:

Onto to Barbie iDesign:

A blog entry on The Gadgets Page has a far better explanation and appreciation for this software package and toy than I can provide.  Here’s the link.  In summary, this toy consists of some standalone software that is packaged with some cards displaying different items of clothing like skirts, shirts, pants, and shoes.  The cards have barcodes on the bottom, and using the provided barcode scanner, each of the items of clothing become accessible through the software to dress up a digital doll.  Extra cards packs are available for purchase to expand a user’s wardrobe.  After dressing the digital dolls, they can be displayed on the run way in a fashionshow.   There is the ability to print from this software :)!  Here’s a very low quality video of the demonstration the Mattel representive gave:

What’s interesting about these worlds is that Mattel has managed to figure how to get money out of this by realizing that kids don’t actually have credit cards, but rather the parents have money.  So instead of charging by credit card for a subscription or access to items within the digital worlds, money is linked to the purchase of hardware and items available at brick-and-mortar toy stores (and online at sites like Amazon).  Parents can purchase these items or children can purchase these items using cash from allowance or chores or however parent give their children money.

This one was tough for me to write up because there are some aspects of Barbie and the kind of play these worlds engage girls in reinforce thinking and patterns of interaction that I think are overall detrimental to society — and I’m not referring to the body image thing because that is something that can be easily discussed with children.  I’m speaking of something more insidious and not so easily explained.  I don’t like how the online world creates two levels of membership — one for users who “have” and one for users who “have not”.  This is the same thing I didn’t like about Stardolls.  It’s tough enough being a kid in real life dealing with socio/economic stratification, why reinforce the idea that priviledge is only for those who “have” in a play world.  I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who “had” (relative to most of my friends) as a child, and trust me, it cuts both ways and the result is bullying.  Most of time it’s not physical, but psychological, which really does scar some children for life.

Gaming to Help Cancer Victims Understand Their Disease

Here’s an interesting find at CES:  “Remission,” an action adventure game targeted at teens and young adults to help them understand their cancer and the importance of taking medications and treatments as prescribed by their physicians.  An initial study shows that some patients were helped, resulting in greater adherence to treatment regimens and greater engagement with medical teams with regards to their treatment. 

Here’s a video interview with the booth representative at CES.

Disneyland: The HOTTEST Place on Earth

Disneyland in the middle of a summer heat wave is not always the happiest place on Earth.  We went over the Labor Day weekend this year during the hottest days of the summer so far in So Cal. 

First of all, I must admit, when it comes to Disneyland, my taste for rides and attractions is like a senior citizen’s.  I do love roller coasters and thrill rides, but I have yet to experience a truly decent one from a Disney theme park, so I like to stick to the slow rides with lots of theme.   My husband and I are probably the only people under the age of 65 who look forward to seeing “Great Moments with Mr Lincoln” (no, I’m not kidding!  I get all teary and patriotic everytime I see it — especially as the sky fades into a sunset that looks like the American flag.  No!  I’m not kidding!  I’m completely serious here!  Mr. Lincoln Rocks!  That audio animatronic wonder is a big part of why I became interested in engineering.) and this visit he was gone.  We were crushed and angered by having to sit through 15 minutes of some inane film starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck with no Mr. Lincoln payoff.  Apparently, the future of Mr. Lincoln is unknown.  (Walt must be spinning around in his grave).  If he’s not there there during the next visit, I don’t know if Steve and I will ever willingly return to do Disneyland.  If the Tiki disappears or is changed to be like the abomination at Disneyworld, I will definitely not return (I left that Tiki Room in tears and wrote a very emotional letter to Disney about how deeply they disappointed me.  What on Earth does the Lion King have to do with Tikis and Hawaii?!!!  They basically replied that the modern audiences are stupid and didn’t understand the Tiki Room so they updated it to the Lion King because of the movie’s popularity.  Personally, I thought the Lion King sucked.  I have seen the movie three times in an attempt to stay awake through the whole thing because friends and family kept telling me how good the movie was.  Each time I fell asleep during Hakuna Matata and woke up when the two big lions were fighting.  I have no idea what happens in between, but I digress …).

The newest ride at Disneyland is a remake of the old submarine ride.  The only thing good about the re-vamped Submarine ride is that most of the park’s visitors were in the 3-hour line for that ride such that the lines for the other rides were all under 15-mins — SWEET!!!.  We arrived at Disneyland a little bit after opening around 8:15AM and finished the park by noon, with the exception of the Fantasyland rides which failed in a cascade (I imagine they all overheated one-by-one).  Supposedly Splash Mountain was updated.  The only thing I noticed is that the logs were new such that everyone had a separate seat (Maybe they upgraded to Vista too.  The last time Steve and I were they there they experienced the Windows blue-screen-of-death.  Over the PA the operator kept saying, “Windows reboot!  Clear!”  about every 5-mins.  Too funny!)  The Haunted Mansion was changed a little.   The jilted bride section was changed into a little vinette about a black widow — very creepy (the little girl that was in the “Doom Buggy” ahead of us had a complete melt-down from fright).  Of course, they updated the Pirates of the Caribbean to include Jack Sparrow.   And onto the Submarines … we braved this line at night after the flaming orb in the sky had gone down for the day.  We waiting in line for 2 hours for what began as a ride very similar to the old Submarine ride (“Dive! Dive! Dive!”) and then awkwardly became a narrative about finding Nemo.  Umm, okay.  I really didn’t get it.  Whatever … to my disappointment, there was no giant squid.  Nevermind about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Capt. Nemo, my inner senior citizen weeps.  But, then again, “Finding Nemo” didn’t hold my attention either.  I got tired of Albert Brook’s “Helicopter Parent” role in the movie.  How whiney and dependent can you be?!!!  I did like the seagulls, though. 

The California Adventure Park is pointless.  It should be integrated into Disneyland.  Soaring over California was great as usual.  It still reminds me of the end of “Logan’s Run” though. 

As for the heat — it made every parent and child cranky.  I felt like telling some of them to go home since they were having such a miserable time.

Ah, and lastly, the shock of every visit — the admission price.  This year the one-day park hopper cost $83 and a one day, one park pass is $68.  OUCH!!!  And so not worth it!!!  Here’s a bit of advice if you are planning a trip to Disney.  Buy a vacation package that includes the hotel and park tickets to save some money.