Birth of the Cyber Diaspora

I read an interesting article today on Computer Gaming World’s about the topic of religion in online games. The article portrays Christian game clans such as Christian Gamers Online and Men of God as forward-thinking groups with an advanced and revolutionary means of communicating – by professing and discussing matters of Christian faith with anyone who will play games with them. Unfortunately, the comments and organizations of the various interviewees professed some conflicting and confusing views that, in my opinion, don’t do any favours for North America’s most populous religion.



First, the good.

When it comes to Christian values vs. video games, many people are quick to think of such organizations as the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ; one of the 5 contributing groups to the annual “10 Worst Violent Video Games” list released before every Christmas. Considering this precedent, it was refreshing and encouraging to read Christian Gamers Online founder Kedrick Kenerly’s opinions on the topic:

“[Video games] boil down to a few things: They have a goal, they have a reward for the goal, and they have a set of rules that need to be followed to reach the goal. The violence in most games isn’t something we get worked up about. It’s merely ‘presentation,’ simply a way to convey an experience to players so they can follow the rules to reach the goal.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. He goes on to clarify his organization’s place in games:

“If you look at Christian gaming as using the online medium, I see it as just another way to go out there and share the truth of God with everybody else.”

I wholeheartedly agree that this is a fantastic medium for any social or special-interest group to meet, talk, and reach out to others. With the proliferation of the Internet, video games are growing ever more sociable, featuring co-operative and\or competitive gameplay with the option to sit on the sidelines and yak it up. Online virtual communities such as There and Second Life are not games at all, but exist solely as online forums for interpersonal interaction and discussion. These virtual playgrounds give us the ability to learn about our peers in new ways and subsequently work together to capitalize on each other’s strengths and minimize the group’s weaknesses, all the while discovering and respecting others’ individuality and worth and, simultaneously, the culmination of the group’s effort. The corporate world has adopted this ideology to an extent, as companies sometimes organize retreats to play minigolf or laser tag in an effort to strengthen employees’ collective cohesiveness and teamwork. Online games knock this concept up a notch by decentralizing the forum.


With the stage set I present the comments and policies stated by the following Christian online game organizers and designers, and my rebuttal.

The biggest argument against the claim that violent video games are harmful is that they are purely fantasy. Opponents of video games attest that not only the subject matter and the context are at issue, but also the interactivity – the action doesn’t happen until the player presses a button. This claim has been contested by many who cite a Department of Justice study proving that American violent crime rates are the lowest they’ve been in decades, and that, for an unexplained reason, they began declining almost immediately after the release of Doom – a violent video game in which the player must combat the forces of hell.


The justification behind the comments of Troy Linden of Left Behind Games are, therefore, confusing to me:

“Many people seem to have this misconception that somehow Christian means nonviolent. Look at the stories in the Bible; they’re some of the most violent and exciting epics ever written. Look at The Passion of the Christ, the most violent and most successful Christian movie of all time.”

Linden’s comments are not only incongruous with the claims of Christian morality groups who decry video games for their violence, but also ignore the proof that violence by all American citizens, presumably including the Christian ones, has decreased exponentially. Linden contradicts even himself by failing to distinguish the line in the sand between reality and fantasy. Sure, violent media has been in vogue since biblical times, but statistics seem to prove that fictional and actual violence are exclusive and have their separate ups and downs. There’s certainly been no decline in violent media since 1993. Perhaps Linden might argue that life itself is an “epic”.

Though there is little or no tie between Left Behind Games and the CGO clan, I believe I am justified in assuming that these two organizations have similar ideals (since I learned about their existance via the same news article). I therefore find it upsetting that any organization would call upon Christians’ aforementinoed lust for murder as a means to spread its message to share the love of God and His FREE gift of salvation”. This proposed sharing is questionable, however.

Though they are indeed exclusive in ownership and governance, Left Behind Games and CGO both profess common ground in their attempt to segregate Christianity. In their Statement of Faith, CGO requires their members subscribe to the following Christian belief:

that those persons who die in their sins without Christ spend eternity in Hell, and those persons who die with their sins forgiven through Jesus Christ spend eternity in Heaven.”

Furthermore, the group demands absolute exclusive loyalty of its members as per its What is CGO page:

“5. No dual team membership… If you are a CGO then you are only a CGO. Membership in ANY other team is grounds for dishonorable discharge. “

And further still, according to its How to Become a Member of +CGO+ page:

“Christian Gamers Online accepts applicants by invite only.”

Speaking of his company’s realtime strategy game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, Linden states:

“The world is set in the End Times, and in the single-player game you’re fighting the forces of the Antichrist. But in multiplayer mode, you can play the other side; thus, we really have something for everyone.”

So it seems that it is the goal of these organizations to pit “us” vs “them”. You’re either for Christ or you’re the Antichrist, which, according to dogma, means you are doomed to destruction (by no less than Jesus himself, according to and eternal damnation.

Also quoted in the article is Owen Parker, founder of the online Christian gaming community Men of God. Despite its apparently misleading name, their homepage’s Who are we? What we are all about page states:

Men of God International is an online community of men, women and children with one purpose and that is to win souls for Jesus through a unique and growing population of online gaming.”

The gender-asserting Parker states his opinions clearly:

“A man desires to be the king of his house, the warrior, the protector, and the lover of his family. The warrior side of man, we see, abused in this world, but innately, man desires to be that warrior. I’ve talked to a lot of guys that play on MOG, and they say stuff like, ‘I should have been the one born to fight at such-and-such time.’ Others answer the call today. We have members who are serving in Iraq right now. If every man has that sense of being a warrior, it’s a common ground…”

So, if I’m understanding Mr. Parker, he’s saying that mankind – sorry, “man” – has been abused to the point where he desires to kill those outside his “family” (again, contrary to recorded facts), and is so traumatized that he wishes he could have given his life for his god sooner. Not only this, but MOG provides a forum for Christians — excuse me, “men” — with similar aspirations of grandeur to congregate so that they can discuss their manly desires to be a revered conquerer and a king. What was that first commandment again?


My purpose for bringing these quotes and my opinions to light is not to decry those with religious beliefs of any kind. I respect free speech above all and I believe it is of paramount importance that people are free to believe what they wish and to say what they please. The Internet is perhaps the one medium where individuals have the opportunity to broadcast their messages just as loudly as any established media corporation. It is with this same respect that I assert my own freedom of speech to demodulate the analog feed, as it were.

I don’t think the individuals quoted in this article speak for the majority of Christians, nor are they particularly helpful in improving the religion’s face to the world (not that it needs improving) . I’m sure their intentions are good, and that they believe they are doing the work of God as he would do it himself if he played Counter-Strike: Source.

That being said, these individuals do nothing but build brick walls between gamers. Where else but the internet do we appear physically as we (intelligently?) design our avatars? Where else are we stripped of everything but our words and actions, making us truly equals? I understand it is the way of humanity to understand the world by categorizing things into meta-data, but let’s keep that data meta by playing games WITH eachother, not AGAINST eachother.

I deplore the assertions of barbarians like Mr. Parker that we are “born to fight”. For those who subscribe to such idiocy, there are quite enough theological spats on Earth through which you can satisfy your masturbatory self-righteous inner critic. Besides, if you believe god has given you any gift, that gift must be life. Why are you so eager to give it back?

Cyberspace is so popular because it is a second chance – a second Earth with fewer restrictions. Carpe diem and allow yourself to be “born again” in this new universe.

PC Apps

Norton Futilities 2006

Symantec Corp. began humbly in 1982 as the purveyor of the much celebrated Norton Utilities software suite. (edit – this product is listed online as belonging to Norton and as Symantec – I don’t know which is correct) The suite was popular for a reason – it provided a number of powerful, easy-to-use diagnostic and repair utilities for MS-DOS computers.

In the early 90’s the Norton software family expanded to include Norton Antivirus (largely made popular by the infamous Michelangelo virus fiasco) – a high quality preventive maintenance application backed by some of the cleverest security experts in the industry. Other products intended for the corporate sector, such as Norton Ghost, helped expand the brand by equating Norton with cost savings, automation, and security.

Fast forwarding to the days of Windows 95 – a renaissance of personal computing – Symantec made a big push for the prime real-estate on home PC users’ desktops. Their new annual utility suite, Norton SystemWorks, brought to light some of the behind-the-scenes operations and bottlenecks of Microsoft’s glorious new operating system. Unfortunately, the ironically titled SystemWorks was one of the first examples of bloatware; the various hard disk, CPU, and memory monitors had a huge clock cycle and memory footprint. Still, Symantec prevailed due to their tried-and-true marketing tactic: FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). The suite’s boxart proclaimed that within the plastic wrapping resided “Powerful tools to solve PC problems and protect data,” and “additional advanced problem-solving tools.” Translated, this can more or less declares, “You’re having computer problems. The most serious problems are the ones you don’t know about. You don’t only need tools, you need ADDITIONAL ADVANCED tools. Can you afford not to buy this software?”

In Symantec’s defense, despite their viral marketing schemes, the company did not rest on its laurels when it came to their signature products. Updates for Norton Antivirus became more comprehensive and frequent, and Ghost became more powerful and flexible. In the case of Antivirus, this increasing complexity came at a price – later iterations consumed upwards of 50MB of RAM while simply idling. The oblivious novice PC user paid little mind to this, largely unaware of the software’s huge tax on system resources, or of the existence of competitors’ products. To Symantec’s chagrin, this popularity made their Antivirus a prime target for virus authors who took on a crusade to break their security products and to punish consumers for subscribing to the mainstream, the growing corporation, and primarily, the FUD.

Release after release, bloat after bloat, Symantec snowballed into a publisher of software by other companies, acquiring recognized brands and\or diluting them. The corporation’s recent acquiry of Sygate Inc., the former makers of my favourite free firewall Sygate Personal Firewall, have resulted in the discontinuation of their products and obfuscation of legacy downloads. Other recent acquiries include tech companies Bindview and IMLogic who no doubt face similar fates.

Even competing not-for-profit companies face persecution and blackballing by the bludgeoning giant. Spybot Search & Destroy was falsely labeled as spyware by the Norton Internet Security suite, and was removed only when Patrick Kolla, Spybot’s sole programmer, threatened Symantec with legal recourse and bad publicity. Symantec pleaded with Mr. Kolla to keep the “oversight” quiet, and to handle the situation in an “honourable” fashion, even though the company did not question or inform him about the false positive. Since this incident in April 2005, Symantec has ostracized Spybot once again, claiming that the innocuous software is incompatible with their Ghost suite. After the mutually agreed-upon week’s leeway expired, Mr. Kolla made public his opinions of the recently rival company.

With the facts established, my editorial begins.

Symantec is not in the business of providing security. They are not interested in cleaning your inbox or making your system run smoothly. Not anymore.

Symantec are experts in marketing, in snake oil, and in FUD. They’ve even added the Symantec ThreatCon to their website, akin to the never-safe-to-go-for-a-walk American Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Note that neither system can possibly indicate a state of peace; the lowest point on Symantec’s scale is 25% danger, while the baseline of the DHS Advisory is “Low risk of terrorist attacks.”

Not only has the company’s marketing and corporate strategy become more aggressive, but their resources have seemingly (I speculate) been transferred largely to advertising and securing good press. For instance, it is curious that rates Norton Antivirus 2005 an excellent 4/5 stars, yet at the time of this article 314 users rate the product an average of 2.5/5 stars. I$ it po$$ible the average PC u$er i$ deprived of $ome point of con$ideration known only to the web$ite’$ profe$$ional reviewer$?

There are many freeware and low-cost third-party solutions to many issues Symantec falsely purports to resolve on home PCs, and they are far more deserving of your patronage. Don’t be dazzled by the company’s illustrious brand. As a PC repair technician I’ve had untold difficulties with Norton products; particularly Antivirus. Once you get a virus that targets NAV specifically, it’s all over. You can’t uninstall NAV and you can’t install anything else because most AV products don’t install if an existing one is detected. I urge all my clients and all my readers to uninstall ALL Norton products from your computer NOW, even if you’ve paid for an active subscription, and truly ensure the security of your data by downloading any of these free applications:

Avast Antivirus
Grisoft AVG
Kaspersky Antivirus

Sygate Personal Firewall (mirrors)
Zonelabs ZoneAlarm
Kerio Personal Firewall
Outpost Firewall

Spybot Search & Destroy
Lavasoft Ad-Aware


HDTV For You From Me

So the gaming world is all in a huff over the advent of HDTV implemented into the new consoles. At long last, gamers will be able to see, in crisp clarity, close-ups of Mario’s various man-tufts.
What do I think of HDTV?

Hello, gamers? 1992 called. They want their resolution back.

1080i? High-def? And? If you consider this “next-gen” please send me your home address so that I can mail you my old $3 ATI Mach32 ISA video card.

I admit that this is a great step up for console gaming – one that’s a long time coming. The fore-thinking futurists at Sega were brilliantly overambitious in making available a VGA cable for their Dreamcast console. Ironically, this was the last generation of consoles I found paletable on SDTV (standard definition TV). To me, Xbox and PS2 may as well be played an old school lightbulb hockey arena jumbotron. They are so pixelated that I literally can hardly stand to look at them.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s what a modern PS2 game would look like on your computer monitor at native television resolution.

Katamari Damacy for PS2 – actual TV resolution

I’m a technology and video game enthusiast. I’m always on the look out (budget permitting) for the best realtime interactive multimedia experiences out there. That’s why I don’t give a feathery owl pellet about Xbox 360, save one advantage – Microsoft has taken care to design an accessible, easy-to-use DirectX programming infrastructure which will allow games developed for the console to port easily to Windows.

This is great news for us PC gamers because, instead of having our favourite developers sell out to the lowest common denominator, (e.g., Blizzard’s Starcraft: Ghost) our ever-superior platform of choice will share the limelight with Microsoft’s svelte new she-box (wasn’t that a Cindi Lauper song?). Hopefully this will mean tighter implementations of console hold-overs than the frame-chugging PC version of Halo (which, incidentally, was to be a PC game before MS gave Bungie “an offer they couldn’t refuse”).

This is master stroke by Microsoft, of course, as they they get to advertise and publish for both their gaming platforms in one fell swoop.

Outside gaming, HDTV promises untold ocular riches to moviegoers and sitcom slobberers alike – whether they like it or not. The US Congress has recently accepted the proposal by the National Association of Broadcasters to eradicate SDTV programming entirely by January 2009.

Why get Congress involved? Well, HDTV broadcasts won’t show up at all on SDTV sets without an external converter of some sort. Since Congress has deemed television an irrevocable cornerstone of American culture and consciousness, they are subsidizing the purchase of such converters to households who cannot afford the requisite month’s salary invsetment to purchase an HDTV complient set.

That’s right. There are no bigger problems in America requiring this billions-dollar investment than ensuring no child is left behind – on tomorrow’s Pokemon gossip.

But it’s great news for those of us in the middle class, right? Just plug in your snazzy new HDTV and watch all your favourite DVDs in glorious new resolution, right?

Likely, nobody’s going to buy into the new HD-DVD or Blu-Ray video disc formats until at least 2009. They don’t need HDTV sets before then, and they’ll wait for the format war to declare a victor before re-re-buying all their favourite movies. They’ve been burned too recently on the VHS vs Betamax wars that punished adopters of the superior recording technology in the 80’s. In all likelihood, by 2009 they’ll still be enjoying their current library of DVDs, right?.

In 3 years they’ll learn what PC enthusiasts have known since its inception – DVD stinks.

actual modern-day DVD resolution

Yes, this is what your DVDs really look like on your computer monitor. Blow the image up to fullscreen and it’s a blocky mosaic of pachydermic pixels. It looks pretty good on SDTV, but stick a movie in your DVD-ROM drive, watch it on your 17″ computer monitor, and imagine the fidelity on a 30″ HDTV set. That’s right, it’s time set the alarm on your pocketbook to 2009 and disable the snooze button.

HDTV is barely here, but the 300 pound gorilla is already flinging feces all over you living room.

Don’t like it? Me neither. If, like me, you live outside the US, you’re pretty much up Dawson’s Creek without a clicker since most broadcast television comes from the land down under Canada. If you are a US citizen and would like to contest the imposed 2009 deadline, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

And even if those poor Americans choose to opt out of the high-def revolution, I hope they’ll take solace in the fact that they’re buying someone else’s TV with their tax dollars. Those elected officials sure know how to spread the bucks around, don’t they?