January 31, 2008

Fox News on Mass Effect: Idiocy +12

By now most gamers are almost done being literally angry with rage at Fox News over their, ahem, "fair and balanced" report on alleged digital nudity in Mass Effect.

(For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, check out video of the segment here. If you are a gamer and somehow have not seen it yet, try not to wake the neighbors with your indignant outbursts.)

The latest act in this drama is that one of Fox's expert commentators, Cooper Lawrence, is trying to stem a tide of negative reviews of her new book on Amazon.com by clarifying to the gaming community her role on the show.

"As a developmental-psychology expert, I was asked to appear on this particular show to discuss the broader issue of video games and their impact on developing adolescents, not as an expert on Mass Effect," Lawrence said in a statement released to MTV News.

In other words, she wasn't busting on Mass Effect, which she admits she has never played, but on all video games ever. Something tells me this is not a helpful strategy.

My main problem with the logic Lawrence tries to use is that it seems this same argument could exist in any decade. 1920s: alcohol. 1940s: women in the workforce. 1950s: comics and rock 'n' roll. 1980s: rap/hip-hop. There's always something that "is having a (vague and largely unproven) negative impact on the youth of America" and therefore should be regulated or banned. Video games are just the latest scapegoat.

But the most egregious statement in this clip, imho, comes from its host, Martha MacCallum. She seems to think that we've hit a sorry state of affairs when parents actually have to pay attention to their children.

In our modern world of working moms and Blackberry-equipped dads, who's got time to watch the kids? And without a hovering parent, those rascals will get into any darn dangerous thing left lying about the house.

So how about guns? R-rated DVDs? Prescription meds? Laptops? Heck, by that argument no one should have a sharp pair of scissors hanging about for fear the kiddies will poke an eye out when they're home alone.

Honestly, I've seen more damaging things done to a kid's psyche in gym class than he or she would ever experience while playing an RPG.

January 28, 2008

Princess of Persia

Living in D.C., I often have the good fortune to see a variety of international and independent films that are out on limited release in the U.S. So last Friday I had the extra good fortune to see Persepolis, a beautifully animated rendering of the graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi.

The novels tell Satrapi's semi-autobiographical story of growing up during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. It's an eye-opening culture story for anyone who only knows of Iran as "that place near Iraq that the UN might start sanctioning."

The film got me interested in Iran and it's history, so I did a quick bit of digging.

Until 1935 Iran was known as Persia, and Persepolis was its ancient capital. Persepolis was captured and partially destroyed around 330 B.C. after Alexander the Great invaded. The ruins are now part of an archaeological site that sits northeast of the modern-day city of Shiraz in southern Iran.

Like the Greeks, the Persians contributed mightily to early science and mathematics. For example, we can thank Persian alchemists for the first isolation of pure ethanol, or grain alcohol—in fact, the world "alcohol" comes from the Arabic al-kuhl meaning "the essence of a fermented liquid."

And fans of the video game series Prince of Persia will no doubt recognize the design on this 18th-century astrolabe, a Persian device used for a variety of astronomical calculations.

(Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2004)

I'll refrain from commenting on what Iran's current politics might mean for its modern scientific offerings, as I feel under-informed. For that I turn to Science magazine, which published this interesting news item in July 2005.

Science Tattoos

Yeah, you heard me. Science writer Carl Zimmer started a flickr set that has me alternating between delighted at proof that I am not alone and writhing with jealousy that he started it first.

Seems at least 131 other people also decided to have their geekiness branded into them for all the world to see. My personal favs are the philosopher's stone symbols on someone's shoulder and the neuron on a foot.

Of course, this might lead readers who don't know me to wonder what sciencey tat I am sporting. I would attach a picture, but my digi-cam is still busted after being dropped on the tarmac at the Nanjing airport.

In prose form, it's a Pythagorean pentacle, shaded to look like a stone carving. It's a shape that I have carried in my head and doodled on papers since first seeing Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land when I was ten. As a science writer and a choir singer, I finally went with it as a reminder of how math and music are fundamentally intertwined.

Send healing thoughts to my camera, and maybe I can add myself to Zimmer's list!