Apple and Google don’t really care about game content.

This week, a mobile video game has received a lot of media attention. The game has now been removed from Apple and Google’s online stores after a social media based campaign  highlighted the outrageous material, which deliberately named and represented in game characters ‘aboriginal’ and required the player, at some point in the game, to ‘kill’ them. You can read about this, and what Google and Apple did here.

This is a failure of governance. Apple and Google are under no obligation to ‘review’ any game against the Australian Classification board associated with film, television, consoles and computer games. Secondly, the material content in this game plays out in numerous other mediums such as film and television quite differently. Numerous TV drama’s have shown people from different cultural and social groups beaten and killed for entertainment. For the cowboy to save the day, there have to be ‘bad guys’ to shoot and we watch the hero put down ‘bad guys’ from first person angles constantly.

The outrage against this game is of itself part of the interactive entertainment discourse in which interactive entertainment has been represented as MORE dangerous than other media.

Social media – and the public sphere is now in a constant state of outrage. Most people in Australia have watched a TV show and seen a movie where anti-social behavior is amplified to a point where they find it repugnant and vile. Of course TV and film have avenues of complaint, but will push the moral and social boundaries in pursuit of their art. For example, the BBC seem to relish drama which boarders on the horrific and sick, shot in moody half-tones, where animals and humans are tortured and abused. Robson Green is an actor who appears time an again in this ultra-violent dramas – but no one’s running a petition to ban Robson Green or have him reform his thinking. Apple and Google similarly claim they are ‘actors’ and not the producers.

At no point am I suggesting that this game has any merit at all. But this outrage should be applied to ALL games which Apple and Google publish, circumventing scrutiny and responsibly with what I’ll call the “Robson Green clause”.

While I think the correct decision was to remove this game (which is not a BAN in the sense that it has broken any law) the issue remains that media violence in other media is pervasive and remains the biggest concern of parents when it comes to allowing children to watch TV or see movies. In fact parents are far less worried about video games than film or TV – a point the media often gloss over in pursuit of an easy panic-piece.

The evening news offers thin warnings before launching into highly graphic images in order to ignite particular fears and responses, just a TV drama casts the audience as passive observers or all manner of horrific acts — as part of leisure time ‘fun’.

Last week I watched a panel presenter on  entertainment show #theprojecttv ask a woman (who filmed her now deceased baby, coughing with whooping cough). In the live cross, he asked the woman – what it was like to watch her baby in that condition?  — clearly inferring, – watching your baby die?. The director had already cut to the woman to capture her emotional response. Why did he ask this and not some other question at this time? Because it’s high drama to see the poor woman’s eyes well up when re-visiting a traumatic and devastating moment. This is entertainment, with a superimposed #theprojecttv hashtag silently asking for responses – but for what useful purpose?

I found it at best ignorant and at worse – violent. The premise of the bit-piece was that a “woman released a video of her baby with whooping cough to raise awareness” – the Robson Green clause again.

To me, the biggest question here is why Google and Apple are not subject media regulation in their ‘apps’? After all, they want to be part of society and cannot simply expect to profit from it without being held accountable – like the rest of us.

Apple and Google avoid it, because ‘video games’ are simply ‘software’ and stand outside legislation. Banning the game is simply a response to both companies expending social capital in the backlash — and so seek to reduce it and of course, avoid any comment. In fact, neither company report statistics on ‘game sales’ at all. They don’t have to, so while you read about the market-size of video games — these figures don’t include anything more than a guess or a a tidbit of data dropped by some marketing guy.

The CTIA – The Wireless Association, an industry trade group, collaborated with the ESRB to largely apply ESRB’s rating system to mobile devices. It was launched in 2011, with Apple and Google being notable abstentions from subscribing companies.

The question now becomes: why are these media giants avoiding their corporate responsibility towards mobile games – at the whole of market level – and what can the public sphere do to make them provide transparent vetting of games?

Don’t be fooled, this is not an oversight. Both companies make (but are not reporting) a lot of money from mobile games. Both companies have created their own ‘rating’ guide and refuse to participate in any third-party regulatory body. Therefore, the content of any game (which children and adults can access) goes though no useful ‘vetting’ as the ‘spokesman’ puts it. — And I’m talking here about the MATERIAL — whereas there are clearly some games which promote alarming behavior in players – such as habitual use, paid leveling and in-game purchase regimes.

It would be great to see ‘journalists’ try and put this debate to these corporations — and not to take the easy story about material content, which no doubt they picked up on from the re-share rate on Facebook and Twitter.

The mobile game market is a huge problem and needs far more scrutiny than it’s getting.

 

 

 

Hear all, see all, say nowt.

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Having convinced the world that the e-society is real, and that giving electronic goods, adapt at electronically emptying your bank account is all in the the name of “modern life”.

The SMH has reported yet again the problem with in-app predatory behaviour. This time a 3 year old feeding a virtual horse mummy’s bank account. So, let’s form a possé and get the bad guys here.

What I worry about here is not the design thinking behinds app – but the thinking inside education where there is clearly mass endorsement of brands which carry this software.Is this leadership or something else.

To me, the nexus of education/media/technology/profit is an increasingly abusive relationship, simply another form ‘media violence’. This violence is cohesive, emotional and financial. It prays on false dictomies, idioms and lack of parent education towards digital literacy and popular culture. On occasion, these big brands inflict deeply hurtful feelings and unleash financial terror on parents – but damn, the iPad is great for maths. It’s knowing someone who only sometimes smacks his girlfriend in the face and steals her money. We know it, but we are happy to endorse it – because we are – as writers have pointed out for a decade – the comfortably numb generation. Yet the media love gadgets – and use media-personalities to obfuscate the potential effects on society, particularly those whom are least able to afford it, or have least power to prevent it.

I wrote a post about being a sucker in 2010, having been looted by Apple via  game called Zombie Farm. Yes, I was a total SUCKER. But since then, the situation has got worse, as popular culture accepts in-app content is a way of “life”.

While you can find out how to try and stop in-app scumbag predators, the SMH piece is stark reminder that many adults lack the education required to deal with things being routinely issued to children. Apple might not have returned the call, however the standard excuse is that they simply provide a service, it’s the developer who actually provides the app. Please read out 300,000 word terms.

But let’s be fair, Apple came up with the idea, but Google, Facebook soon joined in.

Apple takes a 30 percent cut of every app sold for $0.99 and more on the App Store. Actually, that’s the going rate for any app store, including Android and the other stores that support Android apps.

In addition, Apple and Google make 30 percent for every in-app purchase. So, any additional services or features that you charge for in your app are also charged at 30 percent. Most developers took this extra fee in stride because they are making so much money from it.

Virtual horse food in Apple’s world is  a consumable, and there’s no requirement of developers to provide a ‘restore’ function to return any money or ‘virtual item’ if it’s used or deleted. You can get the app back, but not the things you bought (and your horse ate) – are Gonski.

These things are almost mandatory business strategy. They hold the player hostage by denying them success, unless they pay for it. They use ‘virtual’ things such as food, water, magic potions. Buy or die being the bottom line. For parents, there’s no way of knowing what the horse ate or when – what am I saying, there is no horse! Parents also been socially stupid to even admit that they let their kid do this. Basically, you are pressing a button which transfers money to the developer, and Apple and Google take 30% each time.

It’s not like DLC in games where you get a new texture pack, map and so on. This stuff vanishes in seconds. It’s not game-design it’s predatory – but Apple and Google make the rules, and there are plenty fo scumbags (besides Activision) churning out games for the sole purpose of mainlining your bank account via your children. And it’s all perfectly legal.

At what point did educators (mostly teachers) get sucked into this disgusting and un-ethical practice. Easy, iPads are amazing, they are learning tools …. they change everything … Google Apps are awesome, here’s a badge to prove it – look your teacher is a Google Teacher and an Apple Distinguished Educator, Trust us, we would never do harm.

Hide in the weasel words of the terms and conditions or drink from the technological determinism of the ‘revolution’ all you like. School leaders have systematically invited this kind of predatory behavior into the lives of children by endorsing it.

The developers (server) is allowed to track those purchases. The greater commercial value is found when there are millions of people providing market intelligence data on servers which Apple doesn’t have to concern itself with at all.

I find it utterly ridiculous that educational leaders have the hide to stand in front of powerpoints and encourage teachers to endorse commercial profit over ethics and equity. Parents partly believe a three year old should “play” to learn because of this on-going subscription to the Edulandian dream-time, where is so exciting to go to a tech-conference and then to furnish every household with a device capable of emptying bank accounts.

Apple allows publishers to charge any amount for these purchases as long as it get’s 30%. Wiki Leaks founder Julian Assange recently said of this

“Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated.”

Like the sign says on the door – this is my opinion – that educational plays a vital role in the steps society takes. At a time where vast amounts of the ‘technology’ landscape (away from Google and Apple) are giving away money or setting up anti-consumer culture services such as AirB&B, Tool Libraries and so forth … schools currently are the very heart of Apple and Google’s relentless drive to make money – and have successfully co-opted the people who influence children the most outside of their parents.

I question the sanity of this – to be a great teacher, is to open children’s minds to the world via technology, to prepare them for future jobs which haven’t been invented. Are you on drugs? Especially those clowns who keep saying “get a PLN” – as in 8 out of 10 cat owners said their cat preferred Whiskas. Those drones don’t even teach, yet they endorse products which – like it or not, impact the home in ways no one seems to want to talk about at edulandian conferences.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.

Right now, your kids iPhone will chew data as they watch YouTube. Of course this could have a safety catch. A kid can buy all sorts of ringtones, wallpapers and other crap just as easily. Yet, a smartphone is a must, a school with 1:1 laptops is the pinnacle of ‘leading’.

But this is, of course not going to get better – this is part of the generational psychosis that allows us to ‘hope’ for everything and ‘deny’ personal involvement when things go bad. It’s the mob-rules mentality – and I seriously wonder what place commercial profit has in education – apart from ensuring the rich get richer and buy better stuff.

There is rising under employment of teachers well able to teach to the standards needed without narrow ‘products’ being either allowed or banned via the firewall and preferences of leaders. The ‘no significant difference’ problem cannot be masked by highlighting the odd ‘great’ story and calling in a journalist.

This rubbish only becomes real if we start to believe the ‘metrics’ have any relevance to the human experience. For example, this piece about a failed marketing strategy.

“As a showing of how badly the campaign has backfired on the brand, AussieMite’s Facebook page currently has 320 likes, while the Goodbye AussieMite page has grown to over 1000 likes since May 30, 2013.”

 

What next – when a course get’s too hard we can in-app the marks. We can blame our three year old for allowing a brand to loot our bank account, or accuse a video game of sending subliminal messages to addict kids … oh wait … yes we can – and it’s all “totes awesome”.

Thanks to Nic Halley for posting about this … I for one don’t endorse the whole-sale brainwashing of families in this way. In education, I hope (cause hope is also “totes awesome”) that there is a rational attempt to deal with the problem soon. Less focus on ‘cyber-fear’ – I mean ‘cyber-safety‘ and a far more imaginative curriculum that starts at pre-school, teaching families about the the dangers of using technology as a sucker. I expect the ABC will call me tomorrow and I’ll make a doco about this …

I checked the proposed national curriculum – and drew a blank. I checked the ISTE website – blank. Guess this will be one of those topics we don’t talk about too then.