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      Gaming News — book review

      Review of Blake Harris' Console Wars

      Review of Blake Harris' Console Wars

      Written by long-time gamer and gaming enthusiast Blake J. Harris, Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation is a unique read that differs from most books reviewed thus far. Its narrative style is what draws in the reader in and builds interest - even if he/she has no real understanding of the subject matter, the book establishes itself as a strong foundation for various viewpoints of analysis. The author goes at great length (600 plus pages in fact), to explore the subject matter of videogames as a competitive industry rather than the form of creativity and innovation as it is often compared to today. Yet even with the book’s limitations and somewhat one-sided view on the battle for console supremacy, Harris creates a biographical account that takes liberties with its source material without damaging the overall story.


      Opening Argument


      With that in mind, Console Wars tells the story of how Sega, an unremarkable and lackluster Japanese arcade-gaming cabinet manufacturer came out of the shadows of competitor Nintendo for videogame dominance during the first half of the 1990s. It is here that the reading becomes an analysis in the market of videogaming and all that it implies. Nintendo was holding an incredible 90% of the videogame share in Japan and the United States by mid-1990 while offering little in terms of competition for the videogame market share. Thanks to their breakthrough advertising and marketing strategies, along with Mario, a mascot that exemplified the company’s “play” state of mind, Nintendo for all anyone knew, could do no wrong and that there was no reason for anyone else to try to make money off the videogame market. However, behind the scenes, the company had a literal monopoly on the industry and held that lead with an iron fist. With strict terms and agreements for new and generally unskilled game developers as well as an alienating attitude towards the console’s retailers, Nintendo had become a force no one could stop – at least, that is the persuasive view the book wants you to think.

      Readers are given an awfully one-sided view of the console wars with Nintendo being the bad guy in most cases. While it is generally unclear as to why the dedicated side against Nintendo was made throughout the book, readers are left with the idea that the company did not want to comment on the research needed for an equal retelling. We can draw a comparison to a persuasive documentary that would normally be seen on television or in the movies; where editing and agenda-setting tactics can be used to make an argument or define the desired perspective. To that end, we are not given any sort of acknowledgements, notes, or bibliographies by the end of the book – the readers are left to their own imagination when it comes to credible references and to what caliber we are to believe what we’re reading.


      Primary Resources

      The book tells us that it utilizes an array of resource materials for its composition. The amount of specific data and scenarios tries their best to provide information to the reader about the time, place, and process of proceedings taking place between the war of Nintendo and Sega. But as stated, readers can be left scratching their heads as to the validity of events happening. To that end, there is one dominant source of reference used over and over again in this book. By this, we are given insights into the battleground thanks to the participation of the CEO of Sega of America Tom Kalinske.

      Before his aforementioned position, Tom Kalinske had already established himself as an outstanding marketer for leading brands such as the educational technologies company Leapfrog and toy manufacturer Mattel. It was his aggressive drive for the Sega Genesis console however, that established his role in the American division as a promotional leader for the company’s US sector. “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” was Kalinske’s advertising campaign that spearheaded into the heart of rival Nintendo that turned audiences and critiques’ heads towards looking at Sega. While this hostile style of marketing did not translate well into the pacifist world of Sega’s Japanese counterparts, it however reinforced the company’s desire to be number one in the videogame console market.

      Promoting an advanced graphics chipset complete with stereo sound and faster processing, the Sega Genesis drew in a more mature videogame audience. The Sega system attracted a larger and older crowd who has moved on past the child-like ambitions of the Nintendo Entertainment System and who were also tired of waiting for the next big Nintendo system. All that combined with Sonic the Hedgehog, a new mascot that represented the power and speed of the Sega Genesis, quickly rivaled and soon after stomped over Nintendo’s Mario.

      While of course, we are lead to believe these accounts are as accurate as they can be. We can’t help but wonder as to the degree of the perspective we have coming from Tom Kalinske himself via the author’s research. It’s clear that Kalinske had played an important part during this stage of the console war but we are left unsure if his role was of a commander or just a general grunt on the battlefield.


      Overused Resources


      This source, while indeed providing interesting information on the narrative, is not without its skepticism. While we were given a great deal of insight via the interviews and stories from Kalinske we can’t help but wonder at what length he was used as a resource for the book. It is obvious that the author wrote this book around the accolades and endeavors of Kalinske, yet we cannot ignore the degree of “fandom” that drips from the pages. Were this to be a story of fantasy, Kalinske would be the accomplished, but brash underdog and Nintendo the shadowy corporation of oppression and greed. But unfortunately for the readers, the story does not end happily for the hero. Instead, the underdog flies too close to the sun like Icarus of Greek myth and falls at the feet of the still alive giant that is Nintendo.

      From the way the information about the console wars was presented, readers are to assume that Tom Kalinske can do no wrong and the overall financial and manufacturing struggles of Sega of Japan did not hit the shores in America. Our views are altered towards Kalinske who, rarely makes a mistake or acts out of spite or anger. We experience this to various degrees throughout the book but more so during the beginning of Sega’s downfall. Through no apparent fault of Kalinske, and just a short three years of beating Nintendo, Sega, now on top of the console market, falls from its pedestal.

      After rejecting Kalinske’s proposals to collaborate with Sony (another Japanese electronics company), to make a new and advanced gaming system, Sega of Japan instead releases its own in-house console with dated technology – the Sega Saturn was then released to an unimpressed audience and thus the beginning of the end for Sega’s console manufacturing. In this example, the glorified Kalinske utilizes his gifted marketing tactics to try and push the stubborn Sega of Japan to a new level with rewards of future greatness. But the decision not to go with Kalinske’s plan seems oversimplified compared to his pitch with Sega. It is at this time that the book goes through a weird imbalance between telling the story of Nintendo vs. Sega and the biography of Tom Kalinkse.

      Closing


      While the story does end with Mr. Kalinkse leaving Sega of America shortly before the company’s downfall we can’t help but feel relieved that that section of the book is over and passed on. However, by this time the book is near its final chapters and after the eventual fall of the Sega Dreamcast, the successor of the Sega Saturn, there is not much left of the great console war. This is ultimately a defeating end for Sega.

      Yet throughout the book we read accounts of Sega’s push to compete with Nintendo’s avalanche of videogame-console success. Looking at Nintendo by themselves, it’s amazing how the company re-invented the at-home videogame market after the great Atari videogame crash of the late 1980s. Turning a presumed fad into the all-out industry, Nintendo’s achievements cannot be ignored, especially when they are still releasing videogame consoles today. Sega, however, while no longer console manufacture has found success in publishing 3rd party developed games and will continue to collect royalties from their Sonic the Hedgehog franchise – especially since the Sega mascot can now be found on Nintendo consoles.

      Though the reading did its best to give an accurate representation of the key players involved in the console battle, it did very little to keep the two armies balanced. Can we place blame on either side of the conflict, however? On one side we have Nintendo represented as the devious corporation who we assume provided limited material for the book. And on the other end of the spectrum, we have Kalinske who provides readers with more than enough material for which to contemplate. A possible counter to counter this could have been Nintendo of America who is mentioned sparingly with little impact on the narrative.

      Still, the popularity of this book continues to rise with the author on tour across the country promoting his work. And with the ease of narrative this book provides, it was also easy to adapt its contents into a screenplay and is well underway in being made into a full-length feature film. As stated, it’s good that this book was written, even if a bit one-sided, it offers a unique perspective that up until now was non-existent. Let’s just hope that as time passes, more resources will arise as the popularity of videogame history continues.

      Review of Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games

      Review of Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games

      It’s easy to draw from common knowledge and observation the impact of videogames on today’s culture. Now more than ever audiences can experience virtual worlds filled with advanced computer-generated worlds, scenarios, and characters. With this unique brand of interactive entertainment, one calls into question the practices of this medium and how it continues to be a booming industry. Why give your time and attention to this medium? What should people invest in playing? And to what extent are the intended messages being presented to the players? All of these questions need to be answered but where to begin?

      Ian Bogost attempts to create a starting point for these inquiries in his book Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. It is easy to follow a narrative that offers unique insights and facts but is limited by the technology and practices of the time of its publication. That being said, readers should not be put off by Bogost’s lack of “modern” social media fixated culture and instead use his work as a resourceful reference and foundation for any further related work.

      Bogost’s book is broken up into three distinct and content-rich chapters: politics, advertising, and learning – and from each chapter, further layers exist within their respective sections. But before all of the fun stuff, however, the reader must first make it through 65 pages of procedural rhetoric. While this is a curious start involving rhetoric in a book about videogames, it provides a contextual outline for readers and works well in establishing the groundwork for Bogost’s views in the following chapters.

      First there was Rhetoric

      What is interesting about the author’s angle of persuasion via videogames is the length he goes to establish a rhetoric-based system at the start. Drawing inspiration and models from the rhetoric style of message delivery, Bogost builds a foundation based on the Greek methodology at delivering persuasive arguments “Spoken words attempt to convert listeners to a particular opinion, usually one that will influence direct and immediate action, such as the fateful vote of Socrates’ jury” (Bogost, 2007, p.15). This method of communication theory can be called into question during this section. Walter Fisther’s Narrative Paradigm by contrast examines the narrative structure of persuasion and purposes a more human and relatable approach as opposed to the dry and alienating rhetoric style.

      For such an interactive medium like videogames, it is curious that Bogost establishes this rhetorical persuasion method. To put this concept into perspective, by presenting facts and truths via a dense videogame environment and uploading the player with contextual scenarios Bogost argues that the more interactive the game is, the more moved the player will be and thus, creating a canvas for an intellectual rather than emotional persuasion medium. If it feels like wood, looks like wood, and smells like wood, then it is wood. Furthermore, what should be considered as well as the potential for persuasion by Bogost to the reader of his book – the book is asking, even daring the reader to continue with the mindset that Bogost will use facts and knowledge to persuade the reader into believing videogames are a rhetoric form of communication and by that, a rhetoric form of persuasion.

      The Politics of Videogames

      The next section in Bogost’s work deals with politics in gaming. This chapter’s core deals with the decision making and strategy process of being the individual in control via videogame scenarios. It is here that the author gives various scenarios of political and social issues demonstrated by gaming.

      In one particular example, Bogost explains a contest given by mtvU, an American digital cable network under the parental ownership of MTV. For this challenge, university students from different schools were given two months to design and submit a game based on the delicate situation and tragedy of the Darfur conflict. Building awareness and offering a solution were just two of the contest’s goals. The winning game, Darfur is Dying, complied with building awareness, while offering a solution aspect that was treated with a different approach, “If the player hopes for perspectives on possible solutions, he must consult materials far beyond the videogame” (Bogost, 2007, p.96). mtvU’s goals were met through the videogame to indeed build awareness but the ultimate challenge of the game was to let the player educate themselves on beneficial solutions and create a pro-active campaign.

      Bogost continues to use similar examples in this chapter to encourage game designers that political messages can be achieved and utilized to fulfill a wide variety of political statements. What should be considered in this chapter is the continuous use of procedural rhetoric. The games used as examples were designed to give the player all the background information needed to make decisions and yes, perceive reality and a call to action. It is here readers begin to grasp the use of rhetoric as a form of persuasion via videogames. However, there is still much to be desired at this juncture for Bogost’s argument. The example of Darfur is Dying can also act as a means by which an emotional response is presented to the player and that instead of being installed with information players feel compelled to educate themselves.

      Persuading the Advergame

      The next chapter and perhaps the most relevant is the process of advertising in videogames. Adopted as the term advergame, Bogost discusses the use of advertising logic, licensing, and product placement. It is here that he continues his campaign of rhetoric methodology to convince the reader that by laying out all possible knowledge and facts can effective persuasion via videogames be achieved.

      Advertising logic is a term that speaks for itself for anyone who took an advertising 101 course, but Bogost is determined to get his rhetoric view through the reader so he encourages the concept. Research, providing facts and concrete practices are keys to effective advertising, “Advertisers synecdochically refer to consumers as ‘eyeballs,’ whose attention they strive to capture” (Bogost, 2007, p.169. Bogost continues to acknowledge that merely showing a product such as a name-brand soda can, or popular pizza establishment is simply not enough to engage the player. Serving as empty vessels, these objects take on no behavior in the desired target game environment, and yet even with contextual interactivity, the use of advertising in videogames runs the potential of being just a dead visual medium.

      The same goes for licensing and product placement. Without giving players a reason to adhere to the advertiser's desired products the message will go unnoticed. By introducing the rhetoric medium by Bogost a difficult situation is presented. As an example, an empty can of Pepsi is introduced to a videogame environment. According to Bogost’s rhetoric methodology, the player is feed contextual data about the area surrounding the can of soda. The player is told why the environment exists, what the possible outcome of the player’s actions is, and what he/she may do about it. While the opposite, an emotional response could be all that is needed for the player to analyze the can of Pepsi and act accordingly without care of the why, what, and how, but rather the relationship between the inanimate object and the player. Both views need to be considered for the context in an effective persuasion message.

      Learning Messages

      Finally, Bogost discusses the usage of learning and education through means of video gaming. Similar to that of the politics chapter, readers are presented with gaming scenarios designed to educate and solve problems efficiently. While this was explained in his previous chapter, what is different in this section is the importance of bodily movement through gaming. Bogost gives various examples of accessories utilized for in-home, console videogame systems and how some were utilized for more than just a controller in the palm of the player’s hand.

      With current motion-based controls in today’s modern-gaming, this chapter predicts and acknowledges the future of active-based gaming. But of course, Bogost goes further into the reason why gamers wish to act with their bodies and not just with their hands. This is problematic because motion gaming is still relatively new in comparison to standard video gaming and is still not a perfect technology. Frustrating controls and poorly recognized body motions can turn off gamers if the game is not doing what it is told by the user.

      This lack of user interface distracts and limits the attention given to the game being played. However, Bogost is aware of this dissonance and identifies many of the problems being faced today with limited living room space, confusion with large and expensive videogame accessories, and as stated previously, the lack of synergy between the videogame and its player. Of all the uses of persuasion through videogames rhetoric or not, a lack of interest, as well as limited playability, stops learning as well as dwindles interest in this category.

      Limitations of the Reading

      While Bogost’s book is relevant on many fronts, it cannot be ignored that the videogame industry has gone through some changes since its publication in 2007. At that time, smartphone technology was a rare and high-priced product before it hit the mainstream for most consumers. Because of this (and through no fault of the author), the introduction and integration of social media have a definite lack of presence in Bogost’s book.

      By current standards, the implications of not adding any form of social media into a product or service can be expected to struggle. The importance of social media would make an excellent addition to Bogost’s work and curious addition to his existing take on rhetoric methodology. And while this would be a lofty addition, the result would create a more concise and modern perspective to his already encompassing work.

      In addition to this, the advent of mobile gaming is also a matter of relevance. Wireless internet connectivity has played a large part in this ever-expanding market for gaming on the go so it is only fitting that the inclusion of this new gaming outlet is represented as well. With this, new and interactive means of persuasion can also be linked here. Advertising and persuasion practices have a chance to reach their target audiences from a device that fits in their pocket – an opportunity that previous mediums have failed to do until recently.

       

      Final Thought

      Even by the end of Bogost’s book, after all the examples and support for his rhetoric view, there remains a question of this methodology being used by videogames for persuasive means. The author continues to establish a medium for effective persuasion that could be used for all aspects of video gaming. However, readers may not be fully convinced, especially those who play and develop videogames. Many may still see videogames as an emotional outlet and simply wish to play games for the sake of playing rather than being told why they’re playing.