Thursday, March 26, 2009

Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever

In Got Game, the authors put forth the theory that gamers aren't just suited for business, but that business is suited for them—in essence, that business IS a game, and thus those who play games are better suited to survive and thrive in the business world. Beck and Wade draw this conclusion from their survey of a diverse population of more than 2,500 Americans.

From there the authors follow the white rabbit down the hole: if gamers are good at teamwork in games, then they should be good at teamwork in business; if they see themselves as natural leaders in games, then the same should apply to business; if they are accustomed to playing games with a global network of players then global corporations should be second nature to them.

As a Gen X gamer who lives a double-life in the business world, it's very satisfying to find some reification of the adult gamer lifestyle. I have seen how playing role-playing games have helped me succeed: how speaking as a game master to a group around a table is similar to speaking at a business meeting, how organizational skills in writing an adventure are the same skills I use for drafting business articles, how speaking as a panelist at gaming conventions taught me to navigate business conventions. In short, although gaming can be a frivolous activity, it shouldn't be taken frivolously.

That said, there are a few challenges with Got Game that are endemic to writing a book about an evolving culture. For one, it's already outdated; throwaway references to consoles, games, and gaming populations are no longer relevant. For another, it's very specifically written for Boomers. I find this a bit odd, as the book's subtitle, "How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever" doesn't seem geared towards that specific audience – it's as if only Boomers can be mystified by gamers, as opposed to other non-gamers (of which there are many!). Third, some of the conclusions are reached without solid evidence to back them up.

Most specifically, Got Game doesn't differentiate between the types of gamers and how their skill-sets apply to the workplace. On page 98, action games are most prevalent (27.1% of sales) followed by sports (17.6%), racing (15.7%), role-playing (8.7%), fighting (6.4%) and shooters (4.6%). But there is a significant difference between being good at a first-person shooter and being good at a role-playing game, and the skill-sets vary tremendously. I've discovered that playing Halo has made me a better skeet shooter, but not a better manager. Role-playing games, on the other hand, require a different set of skills that may be more applicable to business. Gaming is a bit too large a category to group together everyone who has ever played games frequently.

And yet Beck and Wade get a lot of things right, name-dropping Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, The Sims, and MMORPGs. Kudos especially for this statement: "A movie called Mazes and Monsters, starring a young Tom Hanks, even imagined the death of someone obsessed with playing too much of a D&D-type game, yet to our knowledge the number of deaths directly attributable to D&D remains at zero."

Got Game is an excellent response for any parent or manager who fears that the next generation is a bunch of brain-dead brats. A book like this should normally be distributed in web format, but considering the audience (Boomers) perhaps dead-tree format is entirely the point.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What If? 2

The What If series is one of those weighty, awesome tomes that looks good on your bookshelf. It screams, "I'm smart AND countercultural!" But that's not why I bought the hardcover. I bought it because it was half price at Borders and I like alternate history.

The problem is that Robert Cowley, the editor, doesn't seem to have much influence with the myriad of authors who contributed essays to the book. Some essays are satirical, some are deadly earnest, some are written as fictional narrative of historical events, others are written in a question and answer format. The overall book is thus widely uneven, with some authors providing a solid grounding in how history unfolded and explaining how it might have diverged, and others just simply spouting in stream-of-consciousness and expecting the reader to know enough about historical details to appreciate the divergence. I prefer the former to the latter, and I suspect most casual readers of this sort of book feel the same way.

The stories are still a lot of fun, but they tend to be interesting only insofar as the reader is cares about that particular time period. None of these essays will make a fanatical historian out of you, and some of them might turn you off to the authors entirely. Some of the poorer examples include the author burdened with explaining a world in which Jesus Christ doesn't die on the cross; we end up with a breezy self-reflective narrative rather than a rigorous historical examination. Conversely, it's interesting to see Theodore F. Cook support Gavin Menzies' theory of China discovering America.

What If? 2 isn't a bad book, but it's a challenging one. The essays are meant to be read side-by-side with historical summaries, and readers are advised to brush up on their history before diving in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


What can I say about Wall-E that hasn't already been said? We already know about the lack of dialogue, the amazing visual effects, and the political commentary of a sedentary life of ecological neglect. I watched it with my wife and my 18-month old toddler.

I loved the movie. Loved it. Loved the old-school shout outs to computer users everywhere, from the Mac boot-up sound of WALL-E to the iPod-esque design of EVE. Loved the wry comments on the future of civilization: roaches and Twinkies! Loved the very notion that it's possible to get too caught up in one's climb up the career ladder (EVE) or stuck in a rut (WALL-E), and that there are more important things like life and love. It's a worthy successor to The Incredibles and makes me forgive Pixar for Ratatouille.

My wife questioned why there were babies on the spaceship Axiom: If everyone is just staring into screens all the time, when do they ever have time to procreate? When two humans finally do look away from their screens, they seem genuinely surprised by their attraction to each other. Which implies they haven't been doing much interaction at all, begging the question: where do the babies come from? Yes, these are the conversations we have in our household.

My theory was that the babies were actually cloned. Keeping the babies fat and happy was a sort of Machiavellian torture by the robots, who needed servants to continue to function and keep the status quo. If you consider the long-reaching plans of robots that have been doing this for hundreds of years, Wall-E takes on a considerably sinister tone.

Or, ya know, maybe it's a cartoon and we shouldn't worry about it.

My toddler seemed to get bored about halfway through. Even the cool special effects could only retain his attention span for so long.

It wasn't until the next day, when we were at Home Depot, that we knew he was really paying attention. There was a washer/dryer combo displayed side-by-side on a sign. The doors to the appliances looked suspiciously the two eyes of WALL-E.

My son pointed and said a new word, "roh-BOT!"

So I'll put him down as enjoying the movie too.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Domino Harvey (as played by Keira Knightley), had a life that just screams to be made into a movie. Basically, Domino was a spoiled model who decided to take the catty take-no-prisoner glare she so ferociously displayed in the modeling field and transitioned that attitude to life as a bounty hunter. The concept certainly has appeal: the modeling industry has turned models into superheroes of sorts, and it's not hard to imagine them with butt-kicking powers, even though most of them could probably be snapped like a twig. Knightley has the unenviable task of trying to project herself as meaner than she really is, albeit a highly sanitized version that features far less drugs.

The plot, if you can call it that, supposedly revolves around a little girl on her deathbed, a bank robbery gone awry, tattooed lock combinations, Jerry Springer, Tom Waits music, and a lot of coin flipping. The idea being that Harvey is some kind Joker-esque madwoman (or perhaps that's Two-Face) who sees life as a coin flip. As Dryden once said: "'Tis Fate who flings the dice, and as she flings, of kings makes peasants and of peasants kings."

A pretty weighty concept, except Domino is so caught up with its whip-snap, hyperkinetic perspectives that the movie quickly wears out its welcome. The plot of Domino has nowhere to go. It's supposed to ratchet up the tension but doesn't, tries to create a love triangle of sorts between Harvey and her two bounty hunter companions but just comes off icky, and yet conveniently ignores the huge white elephant in the room: Harvey's drug use.

The specter of drug use overshadows the film. It killed Harvey just before the film premiered. When the real Domino Harvey shows up in a cameo, she is a skeleton of her former self. And yet drug use is always the dark realm of the bad guys, even though we know full well that it consumed Harvey.

Domino is too long, too distracted, and too clever for its own good. It tries to be everything: black comedy, action film, serious dissertation on life, bounty hunter couture, and more. It ends up not achieving any of those goals and just comes off as a big, ugly mess.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cruel As the Grave: A Medieval Mystery

This is the first novel I've read by Ms. Penman. I have to admit, I was intruiged by the cover, as well as the title. I do enjoy historical fiction, and this novel did not disappoint. Only after beginning to read this novel did I discover that it was second in a series, the first being The Queen's Man. The story is set in England of 1193, truly the 'Dark Ages'. Young Justin de Quincy, who happens to have Queen Eleanor's (the mother of the infamous John and the famous Richard the Lionhearted) ear is thrust into the center of courtly politics. Richard is missing, captured somewhere off in the Crusades, and Prince John is making dangerous a bid for power.

This is not the only trouble Quincy is involved in, however. A poor young woman was brutally murdered in a graveyard late at night. Two well-to-do brothers are suspected of the crime, one who was romantically linked to the girl, and the other who wished he could have her favors. Quincy is called upon to help solve the murder and bring the killer to justice. Quincy must be a resourceful man, they don't call him 'The Queen's Man' for nothing, but can he solve this complicated crime? One of the most intriguing parts of the novel is just how law enforcement solves a murder in 1193 without fingerprints or crime-scene forensics.

The first novel in this two novel series is The Queen's Man.

Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy

Of the guides, this one is the weaker of the two. For one, Barlowe seems to pick his subjects at random...we see monsters that had minor roles in the various books where they were portrayed (and thus, we probably didn't have a burning interest to see what they looked like if they were minor characters in the books). There's quite a few human subjects in this one as well...and they seem out of place here, as some of them are rather plain (okay, so maybe the golem did look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy...but why put him in the book?). There's also several shape shifters, which Barlowe illustrates by showing them in "mid-form", which doesn't tell us much about what they really look like. If anything, Barlowe's work competes with itself -- I was spoiled by his Science Fiction guide and this one, while definitely a beautiful addition to any collector's shelf, simply cannot match the detail of that book.