In Brave New World, soma is a pill that satiates the masses.

Aldous Huxley’s classic novel Brave New World is often best remembered for showing the dark side of genetic engineering. What seems to get less publicity is the novel’s study of rigid socialization and using pleasure to control the masses. The latter is what interests me as a gamer.

In the novel, the hallucinogenic drug soma is distrubeted to all citizens by the government. The drug takes users on a vacation without ever having to leave their rooms. If reality’s hard, they can take soma and enjoy a week at the nicest hotels in the sunniest locations, and still show up to work the next day. It’s more than a recreational drug; it’s a literal opiate of the masses.

Now, I’m not suggesting that video games will come to become a government tool to suppress dissidence and promote mindlessness. But I am suggesting that can become an eerily similar escape, one that people may turn to rather than take action or initiative. I’m also not the first to notice this connection. It’s one of the reasons video game company Soma chose it’s name.

Video games are constantly evolving. Graphics constantly improve and become more realistic. Story-telling is improving, unfortunately not as fast as the visuals, but enough to add another layer past the graphics to emerge you further. The scope of games is also much bigger; open-world games are more common than ever, and if the graphics and story are excellent you will find yourself emerged in a huge world full of possibilities, drama and rewards.

First, we need to establish that most video games are designed to be addictive (Yeah, it’s from Cracked. So?). They draw on the model of the Skinner box, making games that behaviorally condition gamers, getting them used tot he fact that certain conditions need to be met for their rewards. And people love these virtual rewards. It’s most readily seen in MMORPGs and psychologists have confirmed video game addiction is real.

Think about how addicting games are now, and how much escape they provide. Technology may soon evolve to the point where they provide virtual fantasies on the same level of Huxley’s soma. Again, I’m not suggesting games will be used for sinister, authoritarian purposes, but imagine video game addiction on a larger scale, as common as nicotine or alcohol addiction. More families torn apart and more dreams and lives ruined by video games. Fewer people taking the initiative to improve their lives and more people complacently going home and gaming. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to recall Mayor Lantigua.

Lawrence Mayor Willie Lantigua is employing an ugly tactic to fight the recall effort: he’s turning the Latino community against itself. The mayor’s already alienated non-Hispanic citizens, as all recent ads against the recall effort are in Spanish.

Not satisfied with making this a “Latinos versus others” issue, he (or at least his supporters) decided to turn Dominicans against Puerto Ricans, an old rivalry Lawrence really should’ve outgrown by now.

Details can be found in this Eagle Tribune article, which comments on the recall movement (It’s Your Right), Lantigua’s ads, and other related tension. The article explains that a Dominican website (translated in the article) blames Puerto Ricans who wanted Isabel Melendez as mayor are heading the movement. In all actuality, the core group is made up of three Dominicans, three Puerto Ricans and an Anglo.

The group needs to collect 5,232 signatures by August 8, and a fair number of those will come from Dominicans like Johnny Castillo.

“Lawrence is an immigrant city and we come to Lawrence to get a better future,” says Castillo. “As a Dominican, I’m proud of my heritage and because of that, it’s discouraging to see what (Lantigua) has done and how he has embarrassed us.”

It’s terrible that Lantigua would tear apart the united Latino base that helped elect him to remain in power. He’s disillusioned many, and betrayed all that Isabel Melendez has worked for, setting the Hispanic community back with his corruption and incompetence.

If you’ve seen my earlier posts, you may have guessed I’m not Lantigua’s biggest fan. I oppose him as a Lawrence citizen and a Latino. He’s shown no interest in the city, which has been struggling since the industrial decline of the 1950s. He’s turned his back on the Latino’s who have been through a lot since coming here, including riots and being unfairly blamed for the city’s urban crisis.

Lantigua has disgraced this city, my home, and should resign before things get worse.

Batman and Robin, bonding.

The next installment of Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin series sees the duo trying to revive Bruce Wayne and fighting a bat-worshiping cult.

The story starts with Dick Grayson, the new Batman, searching for a Lazarus Pit in London. Assisting him are Knight and Squire, England’s equivalent of Batman and Robin, and, later, Batwoman. They discover it after facing off against eccentric British gangsters who are also mining for it.

They throw what they believe is Bruce’s body into the Lazarus Pit, but instead of resurrecting Batman they reanimate an insane clone created by Darkseid. This results in a good Batman versus Batman fight scene, but the clone manages to escape, steal the Batwing, and make it to Gotham.

Damian Wayne, the new Robin, was left paralyzed at the end of Batman Reborn. His mother, Talia, managed to get a new spine created for him, but he’s stuck in a wheelchair for the time being. The Bat-clone finds him alone in Wayne manor and hurls him off a roof. Luckily, Batman shows up (via suborbital, of course) and manages to defeat the clone.

Dick realizes this means Tim Drake, the last Robin, was right about Bruce: he’s not dead, but trapped in the past. Batman and Robin, now fully-recovered, search for clues in the caves beneath Wayne Manor.

Soon Robin begins to lose control of his body and attacks Batman. It turns out his new spine has some weird, comic book technology that lets his mother control him remotely. I’ll stop discussing the plot here to avoid more spoilers, but a bat-crazed cult, Oberon Sexton, and Deathstroke also show up.

Dick Grayson (right) fights a crazed Bruce Wayne clone (left)

The art in the first half of the book is a more cartoony than the last collection, but it’s also clearer and better-looking. I prefer it to the art in the second half, which emulates the grainy style from the last book and isn’t as nice.

The collection ends on an unfulfilling cliffhanger and the British villains aren’t as good as the last collection’s, but its still a good follow-up.

I like the direction the story is taking, but it seems Morrison’s rushing to bring Bruce Wayne back before Dick can really shine. I like his run as Batman and Damian’s more likable this time around.

It’s good to see Batman doing detective work and Robin developing as a character. I wouldn’t say Dick and Damian are bonding, but they are growing on each other, and that’s another positive. Morrison is easily two for two with this run of Batman collections.

"Batman and Robin, together again for the first time." - Dick Grayson

In the comic book crossover event Final Crisis, Bruce Wayne was apparently killed by Darkseid. But since it’s a comic book, he was actually transported back in time. In his absence, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has assumed the cowl and Bruce Wayne’s son (by Talia al Ghul), Damian, becomes Robin.

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn, written by Grant Morrison, collects the first six issues of the new Dynamic Duo’s adventures. You can tell it’s a different kind of Batman and Robin just by the collection’s cover (a reprint of the first issue’s). There’s no dark, brooding Batman on the cover. Instead, Batman and Robin and pose in front of a yellow background.

The body language says a lot about their relationship: Dick, who spends much of the book trying be the adult and keep Damian in line,
calmly crosses his arms, while the assassin-raised Damian, defiant and arrogant for the whole book, looks eager for a fight. It’s a reverse on the usual dynamic, showing a lighter Batman and a darker Robin.

The art reflects the pulp-nature of the book. It’s gritty and kind of jagged for most of the book, which can occasionally makes the fight scenes hard to follow, but it makes the book feel like a pulp novel come to life. It’s also appropriate for some of the more twisted character designs.

The first half of the book is the “Batman Reborn” arc (issues one to three). The main villain of this arc is Professor Pyg, a twisted surgeon in a pig mask who melts hideous masks onto his mind-controlled followers and victims. He also employs bizarre circus freaks, who Batman and Robin face in the book’s first fight, an exciting showdown in the police station.We are also introduced to one of his victims, Sasha, who is later recruited by Jason Todd, the Red Hood, and adopts the name Scarlett.

The second half of the book is the “Revenge of the Red Hood.” Red Hood and Scarlett and ruthlessly killing criminals and starting an internet campaign of slogans (“Red Hood and Scarlett say…”), phone polls and videos. Batman and Robin try to stop to them, leading to some good fight scenes and confrontations between Dick and Jason.

This book also introduces the mysterious author Oberon Sexton and the psychotic, lobotomized, and flamboyantly dressed Flamingo, the main villain of the last issue.

Overall, this is a good read. It’s not the deepest or most complex Batman story out there, but it’s a fun read and very enjoyable. The conflict between Batman and Robin is interesting, though Damian could be more fleshed out (he’s a deeper character in later issues). It’s also nice to see a younger and more light-hearted Batman, and it’s well-balanced with Grayson’s uncertainties about assuming the mantle. The new villains are also creepy and disturbing and add a lot to the story. The collection also comes with some backstory behind the covers and character designs, a nice bonus that increases your appreciation of the book.

Admittedly, I wish they went a bit farther with Red Hood’s internet campaign, as I feel deeper issues can be explored beyond YouTube videos and polls.

Not everyone will like this. Some will hate the fact it’s not Bruce Wayne under the mask, and Damian is guaranteed to annoy many. Admittedly, Dick isn’t as dark or interesting as Bruce Wayne but he’s still a well-written and likable character. And Damian works well as both a foil and challenge for him.

If you want something dark and complex, look elsewhere in Batman’s catalog. If you want a good, straightforward  pulp adventure, pick up Batman Reborn.

Paul “The Punisher” Williams wants to prove he’s still a top fighter this weekend. Many wonder if he is the same boxer he used to be, a common question asked of pugilists who suffer brutal knockouts.

Williams (39 – 2, 27 KOs) was once included in the Ring’s top ten pound-for-pound list, but has fallen in rank following a knockout loss to Sergio Martinez. The highlight reel-worthy KO avenged Martinez’s loss in their first fight and placed the Argentine at number three on the Ring’s pound-for-pound list (Behind only Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather).

Williams’ only fight since that loss was a bizarre, four round-fight against Kermit Cintron that ended with the Puerto Rican accidentally flying out of the ring and injuring himself. Williams was curiously awarded the decision, though some felt it should have been a no contest.

The four round performance wasn’t enough to truly determine if Williams was affected by the knockout, but he didn’t look particularly impressive or sharp.

This weekend he’ll take on Erislandy Lara (15-0-1, 10 KOs) in a fight most fans and experts expect him to win, it probably won’t be easy.

Williams will be focused and determined to win, but Lara will be eager to take down a big name and boost his career. If the knockout didn’t take much or anything at all out of Williams, this could turn out to be a fairly easy fight; otherwise it’ll be a long night for him.

Klitschko lands a right on Haye

The most hyped heavyweight fight in recent memory proved to be another boring victory for Wladimir Klitschko, who finally shut up the belligerent David Haye to win a unanimous decision.

The bad blood between the Brit and the Klitschko brothers helped promote the fight, more than two years in the making. However, the fight lacked any of the passion or drama of the pre-fight antics and insults. It was a slow, tactical fight with few exchanges.

Klitschko’s jabs, occasional leading left hooks and rare straight rights held Haye’s wild haymakers at bay. Haye showed good movement while avoiding jabs but never used it to get inside. “The Hayemaker” expected to end the fight with one punch and often missed, ending up off-blance and occasionally getting pushed to the floor.

Eventually, Haye began intentionally flopping to the ground. It was obvious to everyone but the ref, who docked a point from Klitschko in seventh. He made up for this by ruling Haye’s flop in the eleventh a knockdown, creatively disciplining Haye.

While Haye landed a big right in the twelfth and final round to stun Klitschko, the Ukranian managed to compose himself and keep Haye away with his jabs, avoiding any real danger of being knocked out.

Klitschko won a unanimous decision with scores of 117-109, 118-108, and 116-110. I had it 118-108. His record is now 56 (49 KOs)-3-0 while Haye’s is 23 (23 KOs)-2.

The outcome wasn’t too surprising. Haye couldn’t deal with Klitschko’s jab and didn’t have the heart to get inside and trade. Despite showing a decent jab against Klitschko in the second and sixth, he didn’t use it to get in and instead swung wildly for his opponents chin. The man some believed could revitalize the heavyweight division embarrassed himself by flopping and not fighting.

It’s clear the Klitschko’s reign won’t end anytime soon.

Uncharted is one of the best game series in recent history. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune introduced us to treasure hunter Nathan Drake with an epic adventure through jungles and ruins. The game was fun, graphically brilliant, and feature great platforming and shooting sections. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves blew it away, winning an insane amount of awards, including several game of the yearhonors. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is due this Novemeber one of the most anticipated games this year. If you’re not excited, here are five reasons why you should be.

Amazing Graphics

The first Uncharted was beautiful. The jungles were vibrant and detailed, the caves dark and perfectly crafted.

Uncharted 2 was even better, as the polished graphics now brought to life more than just jungles and ruins. We saw cities, mountains, trains and village under attack. Every environment was full of lush, colorful details, the lighting was great, and the water and snow effects were awesome.

Uncharted 3 looks to be just as beautiful, offering new, gorgeous environments to explore. The desert featured in the trailer is huge, bright and visually impressive. The burning chateau combines lush vegetation with aged architecture. The London alleys are dark, dirty, and gritty, where every brick in the walls seems to be perfectly rendered.

There’s no doubt it’ll be one of the prettiest games of the year once released.

Multiplayer Will Be Even Better

Uncharted 2’s multiplayer was fast paced, action-packed third person shooting at its finest. The emphasis on constant movement through the large, multi-leveled maps made you feel like the hero of an action movie, jumping, climbing and shooting from one kill to the next.

Uncharted 3’s multiplayer will be even better.

The beta’s out, go see for yourself! While it still needs some polish, additions like better boosters and power plays make the multiplayer experience even more fun and addictive than the last. Weapon mods will also be added, as well as new game modes like Free for All. If you have a PSN account, treat yourself to the free beta.

The Story

There was no reason to make an Uncharted movie. The games are cinematic, well-written and well-acted epics. We didn’t just play a movie, we played a great movie.

All the characters are interesting and likable, especially Drake and his buddy Victor “God Damn” Sullivan. Drake’s love interest, Elena, isn’t a damsel in distress but a witty, likable and pretty badass character. The Uncharted villains are pretty one-dimensional but the writing and acting makes them memorable and entertaining. And Uncharted 3’s villain looks to be the most interesting of the bunch, if only because she’s an older woman and not the war criminal or treasure hunting pirate of previous games.

The Gameplay

The Uncharted games feature some of the best platforming since Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Jumping from ledge to ledge, swinging from a vine, jumping from foothold that just gave way – it’s all enhanced by the beautiful environments you’re exploring.

The puzzles also got an upgrade. They were bigger, required more clues from your journal to solve, and were difficult enough to be fun and rewarding but not too frustrating or tedious.

Then there’s the gunplay.

Uncharted has a great third-person shooting engine that includes cover, blind-fire and some fun weapons. The second game is full of epic firefights, taking place on a series of trucks, on a train (while a helicopter hunts you), hanging from a signpost in the middle of the city, in a village while a tank hunts you down – and that’s just the short list.

Naughty Dog’s Always Improving

The first Uncharted game was great, but it wasn’t perfect. It was short and got a bit repetitive towards the end. Naughty Dog saw what worked and didn’t work in the first game and used that knowledge when making the sequel.

Uncharted 2 was bigger and better in every way.

The environments were bigger and more diverse, from jungles to mountain caves to a war-torn city. Chase scenes weren’t rail shooters but had Drake jumping from truck to truck like a scene from an action movie. Stealth was improved and actually pretty fun.

They also lost most of the weak stuff. There are no awkward jet ski levels and the game doesn’t become a gauntlet of enemy-filled rooms towards the end.

Naughty Dog strives for perfection. Uncharted was great, the second was amazing and there’s a good chance the third will be the best.