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This Computer Game Comes Thanks To 2 Supreme Court Justices

The Free Press WV

The Supreme Court’s first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, has helped teach millions of students civics through computer games created by an organization she founded. Now, with a push from the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice, Sonia Sotomayor, the group has translated one of its games into Spanish.

The group iCivics, which O’Connor founded in 2009 after her retirement from the Supreme Court, now has 19 computer games that were played by 5 million students last year. Sotomayor, who grew up speaking Spanish at home, joined the organization’s board in 2015. One of her first initiatives has been to try to make iCivics games more accessible to students learning English and others struggling with reading, she has said.

O’Connor and Sotomayor never served together on the high court, but they have found a common calling in advocating for civics education in schools.

“For me, civic education is the key to inspiring kids to want to become and stay involved in making a difference,” Sotomayor said at an event in September at Washington’s Newseum.

Games created by iCivics teach students concepts from how the nation’s court system works and how laws are made to how presidential campaigns work and what it’s like to be on a jury. Sotomayor has predicted iCivics “will change America” and may be O’Connor’s “longest-lasting legacy.”

The game iCivics has updated in Spanish and is called “Do I Have a Right?” In it, players run a law firm. They listen to potential clients’ stories, decide if their constitutional rights have been violated and, if so, match the clients with lawyers who can help. The game was first released in 2011 and iCivics says it has been played nearly 9 million times.

The Spanish language update is aimed at the almost 10 percent of public school students, about 4.6 million students, who are classified as English-language learners. The majority of them come from homes where Spanish is spoken.

On a recent Thursday morning, students in Phoebe Sherman’s 11th grade U.S. history class at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington were some of the first to play the updated game. The students, almost all of them immigrants from Central America who are in a class of English-language learners, spent time answering the question “What is a right?” and coming up with examples before playing the game in pairs.

Some pairs chose to play in English while others chose Spanish. Some groups switched back and forth while playing. Aside from the Spanish translation, the game’s new version also includes other updates for students struggling with English: a glossary that explains legal and other terms and an optional voiceover in the English game.

Zayra Granados, 17, who moved to the United States from El Salvador four years ago, was playing the game in Spanish. She read a question about whether a newspaper could be required by law to publish only happy news or if it had a right to publish a story about homelessness. The newspaper could publish the story about homelessness, she concluded.

“People have to know what is happening in their country,” she said.

By the end of the period, she and her partner had just eked out a winning record, with their law firm winning eight cases and losing seven. She was happy about the wins.

“I want to learn about laws and stuff so I can know my rights,” she said.

iCivics’ executive director, Louise Dube, says her organization hopes to make all of its games available with modifications for English-language learners, though they don’t yet have a timetable. Making changes to the current game cost $400,000 and they’ll have to raise money to make more games available, she said.

O’Connor, who is now 87, said in a statement that her goal is to reach every student in America through iCivics.

“To do that, we need to be able to address the needs of all learners, including those who struggle with reading,” she said. “I am delighted with the new game.”

How a ‘Star Wars’ Video Game Faced Charges That It Was Promoting Gambling

The Free Press WV

Imagine buying a new chess set. Chess is your favorite game. Also you love “Star Wars.“ It’s a “Star Wars” chess set!

Now imagine playing your friend who spent $200 for the random chance that his pawns obtain the board-clearing powers of a queen. Plus his king looks like Darth Vader and yours still looks like a scruffy-looking nerf herder.

You might get mad. Or you might up the ante and spend a few hundred bucks to even the odds. Now imagine that you’re both children.

These are some of the questions that have been gripping the video game industry in a controversy leading up to the Friday release of “Star Wars: Battlefront II,“ this year’s marquee Star Wars title timed to Disney’s highly anticipated “The Last Jedi” film next month.

It all started a month ago, when EA showcased that “Battlefront II” would have a “loot box” system in place for players. On top of the $60-$80 retail price, the game was going to allow players at home to spend more money on digital “boxes,“ which can give you random extra benefits.

Each loot box contains a random reward. You could get abilities to do more damage or move faster, or you might get a dud, like a “dance” emote for your character. And if you get that dud, you might spend even more money and up the chances of permanently becoming more powerful, like the ability to make Boba Fett fly around with 100 percent invincibility. It’s why critics have called it “glorified gambling”: You don’t know what you’re spending money on, but the more you spend, the higher the chances of winning.

As the website Rock Paper Shotgun explained, you could get those same benefits without spending real-life money, but you’d have to do it by playing matches against other players to earn fake game money, which could take dozens if not hundreds of hours.

Loot boxes have become increasingly normal in recent years, included in games like the popular shooter “Overwatch” as well as the recent “Call of Duty” game. Publishers claim that because development costs of top games rival Hollywood summer blockbusters, selling post-release digital content is needed to make up costs.

But with “Star Wars,“ creating a random loot economy raised flags because some consider the practice akin to gambling, and the brand is marketed heavily toward children. Beyond that, most other competitive games do not offer “pay to win” advantages, which imbalances the game to favor paying players.

Weeks of public outcry culminated in the game’s publisher, EA, taking to Reddit to defend itself on the controversy. That comment became the most downvoted (or disliked) post in the site’s 12-year history.

On Thursday night, the eve of the game’s launch, EA said it had temporarily removed the in-game purchases.

“The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game,“ said Oskar Gabrielson, general manager of DICE, the game’s developer. Crystals are the fake currency in the game you can buy for real money, which you then trade for loot boxes.

The Washington Post asked EA if players can be guaranteed that “pay to win” mechanics have been removed from the game.

“With regard to yesterday’s announcement on pulling the in-game purchases for launch, we do not have anything further to share at the moment beyond Oskar’s post,“ an EA spokeswoman said in response.

Belgium’s gaming commission is investigating whether the game constitutes gambling. But EA asserts that the loot box mechanic (called “crates” in the Star Wars game)is not gambling.

“A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all,“ said the EA spokeswoman. “Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game.“

On Thursday, Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney’s consumer products and interactive media division, made a call to EA hours before the decision was made to pull in-game purchases. The Wall Street Journal reported that the call was to express Disney executives’ unhappiness at how the outrage “reflected on their marquee property.“And a Disney/Lucasfilm spokesman said the company supports EA’s temporary decision to end the crate-purchasing.

“‘Star Wars’ has always been about the fans - and whether it’s ‘Battlefront’ or any other ‘Star Wars’ experience, they come first,“ the Lucasfilm spokesman told The Post on Friday. “That’s why we support EA’s decision to temporarily remove in-game payments to address fan concerns.“

For years, critics and gaming psychologists have criticized loot boxes. While it may not legally be gambling, they say, the same intermittent nature of rewards and spending is in place.

“If you put it in fundamental terms, it’s really the same thing,“ said Kimberly Young, a licensed psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction. “It’s called gambling.“

Loot boxes were popularized in China and Korea, where the practice is now regulated. Just this year, developers in China became required to disclose the probabilities of loot boxes in popular games like “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone.“ In 2012, South Korea introduced a law that would require major gaming companies to add features that let parents limit how long their children can play the video games.

“Americans are falling so far behind what other countries are doing, and it’s all about profit,“ Young said. “You have gaming lobbyists who don’t want us to talk about this. We just haven’t had it come to a head yet.“

EA’s temporary pullback may seem like a milestone, but many gamers remain cynical, including Jim Sterling, a prominent games journalist. For years he’s been warning the practice will only become more mainstream, which it now has with publishers like EA and Warner Bros getting in on the act. He dubbed 2017 “the Year of the Loot Box,“ blaming Activision-Blizzard’s “Overwatch” for popularizing the concept.

“In the long run ... I believe companies will continue to see how far they can push the envelope,“ Sterling said to The Post. “This is far from the first time a publisher has reached for too much too quickly, had to walk it back and take baby steps toward its end goal of acquiring as much as cash for as little additional effort as possible.“

He believes EA suspended the in-game purchase only to “curry favor with the audience and perhaps make those nervous investors a bit happier.“

(On Friday, EA filed a note with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating that Thursday’s decision “is not expected to have a material impact on EA’s fiscal year 2018 financial guidance.“)

Chief among Sterling’s concerns is the fact that Activision-Blizzard patented a method to encourage these microtransactions. And EA and Activision-Blizzard are far from the only gaming behemoths testing the waters. Sterling said it’s almost as if the entire industry “en masse is feeling out the limitations” of the trend.

“From my perspective, the incoming firestorm of retaliation (on the “Star Wars” game) was a given, but this is an industry run predominantly by alienated rich old guys who know little and care less about video games, so it would not surprise me in the least if they were completely taken by surprise when they faced their very own galactic rebellion,“ Sterling said. “Emperor Palpatine always thinks his Death Star is invincible until they blow it up. Electronic Arts and its insidious ilk aren’t much different.“

Game of Life

The Free Press WV

Who will win The Game of Life?

Testimony is scheduled to begin Thursday in federal court in Los Angeles in a lawsuit over who owns the rights to one of the most popular board games of all time.

The widow of a toy inventor says her husband, Bill Markham, has been denied his legacy of creating The Game of Life, after another man, Reuben Klamer, took full credit for it. Lorraine Markham also says she was cut out of more than $2 million in royalties by Klamer and Rhode Island-based toy company Hasbro.

Since the game was created in 1959, Markham’s contributions to the development of the game have been minimized and ultimately eliminated from the history books, Markham’s lawyers wrote in a pre-trial filing.

“What was once a great partnership between Markham, a toy and game designer, and Klamer, a savvy marketer and promoter, has been tarnished by Klamer’s unrelenting quest to steal the credit of developing the game for himself,” they wrote.

Both Hasbro and Klamer dispute that, arguing that Markham was merely hired by Klamer to create a prototype. Klamer owned a company with TV personality Art Linkletter, and the company was asked by Milton Bradley to come up with a game to mark the game maker’s 100th anniversary in 1960.

Klamer said he went into Milton Bradley’s archives and found the company’s first game, The Checkered Game of Life, which he said served as the inspiration to develop the game that is now called The Game of Life, according to court papers.

They also argue that other people helped Markham with the game’s design, and that the game has changed significantly since the prototype Markham developed.

The Game of Life was different from other games at the time because it featured a three-dimensional board with a circuitous track, rather than a track around the outside of the board. Players spun a clicking wheel, rather than rolling dice. Players would then travel along the track in a car, marking life events such as getting married, having children and buying insurance. At the end, the richest player wins.

The game has sold more than 30 million copies, and been spun off into an iPhone app, TV show, gambling and other ventures. It has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2010.

The lawsuit was filed in Rhode Island in 2015. This week’s testimony will center on the limited question of who owns rights to the game.

U.S. District Judge William Smith agreed to hold a partial bench trial in Los Angeles because of the age of many of the witnesses, according to Frank Perry, chief deputy clerk in the U.S. District Court in Providence. Perry said a final ruling would most likely happen at the conclusion of the entire case, which could eventually include a trial by jury.

Markham wants a declaration that her late husband was the sole inventor and creator of the game. She also wants the right to terminate all licensing agreements for the game, as well as a right to all future royalties.

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  Review: ‘Mario Odyssey’ is a reminder of how fun video games can be

Mario Odyssey

Developed by: Nintendo

Published by:Nintendo

Available on:Nintendo Switch

I can’t think of another 2017 title that has given me as much pure delight as “Mario Odyssey,“ the new game for Nintendo Switch. In fact, I might have to look all the way back to “Mario 64” (1996), the game that did so much to popularize 3-D virtual environments, to find another entry in the series to elicit such a giddy reaction. I’ve been fortunate enough to play through other works that have done more to enlarge the medium’s thematic scope (“Night in the Woods,“ “Everything,“ “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” to name a few), but I have not come across anything else of late that has made such a monumental effort to remind players how fun video games can be.

Upon first loading up “Mario Odyssey,“ I was met with a message that asked me to try to play the game with one of the Switch’s detachable controllers or Joy Cons in each hand. This caused an inner groan because I knew it meant the game was trying to push motion controls over a traditional gamepad configuration. It’s not that I hate all motion controls – I quite enjoy my Oculus Touch controllers, for example – it’s that I was never fully enamored with Nintendo’s last serious foray in this direction during the Wii-era. (I remember playing” Zelda: Twilight Princess” and feeling as though I could do without having to twirl the Wii-mote.) That said, I almost immediately took to “Odyssey’s” recommended control setup which I found to be as finely calibrated as just about everything else in the game . . . except its story.

A friend of mine who also writes about video games told me he was disappointed to see that, once again, Mario is set in motion by Bowser’s umpteenth kindnapping of Princess Peach. Honestly, before I played the game, I thought he might have been making too much of the trope until I saw that Bowser wants to force Peach to marry him. The narrative designers might have done well to come up with something else because really, why raise the specter of consent or lack thereof in a Mario game? Thankfully, in every other way the designers’ work is stellar.

At its best, the Mario series is known for its innovative gameplay. I’ll never forget how astonishing it was to run along the ceiling of World 1-2, in the original “Super Mario Bros,“ to discover the Warp Pipes for the first time; or how people who didn’t even play video games used to drop by my college dorm room to stare for hours at “Mario 64” as if they’d tumbled through the looking glass. In “Odyssey,“ the major innovation is the capture system. Mario can throw his sentient cap, “Cappy” onto an enemy to become him. So, for much of the game, adversaries are potential tools, making the environments that much more playful. When I became a mustachioed dinosaur early on, I had a feeling that I was in for a treat. By the time I was a goomba (basically an angry mushroom) jumping on a threatening tomato much later in the game, I felt gloriously ensconced in top-grade absurdity.

It says something of the game’s ingenuity that the episode with the mushroom and the tomato happened in the Luncheon Kingdom, a lava level. “Odyssey” places its stamp on one of the more overused settings in gaming by eschewing fiery-red for candy-pink magma and giving Mario the ability to steal the form of a Lava Bubble and swim in it. Wrapping the whole level around a cooking theme to emphasize that a familiar sight has been given a new flavor, adds the perfect touch.

Old-timers take note: “Odyssey” channels the history of the eighties Mario games in wonderful ways. I felt nothing but warm fuzzies seeing 3-D Mario go through a pipe, which jutted out of a rock wall, and then appear in 2-D form in a mini-level that scrolled along the wall’s surface where enemies moved from 2-D to 3-D as they edged along and then out of the wall. And then there is the showstopping bit in the Metro Kingdom (a cartoon version of Manhattan), where Mario runs along the surface of buildings in an homage to his earliest adventure, “Donkey Kong” (1981). “Odyssey” is filled with curiosities that I was all too happy to discover. And I rejoice in the knowledge that I have plenty of nooks to find.

This is one of the closest things to the fountain of youth that I expect to come across.

►  World’s hottest PC game could get locked out of China

The world’s hottest video game is set to be shut out of the biggest market.

A Chinese gaming association said in an announcement posted online that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is too bloody and violent for sale in the country. The gladiator-style mentality of the computer game – where competitors kill each other until only one remains – deviates from the values of socialism and is deemed harmful to young consumers, according to the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association.

It’s highly unlikely for the game known as PUBG to receive an official license for China, given that the association consulted with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television before issuing its statement. SAPPRFT is the regulator that licenses virtually all content in China, and has previously banned content such as the TV series “BoJack Horseman” and “The Big Bang Theory.“ PUBG’s premise runs counter to President Xi Jinping’s recent calls for unity, aimed at tightening party control.

“This basically spells the death sentence for PUBG in China,“ said Benjamin Wu, an analyst at Shanghai-based consultancy Pacific Epoch. “PUBG’s main problem is that the underlying ideology clashes with what’s preached in China.“

PUBG, published by South Korea’s Bluehole Inc., has been the surprise hit of the gaming industry this year, selling more than 13 million copies globally. The title sells for about $30 a copy and is played on PCs.

There’s been growing interest among Chinese gamers in getting their hands on PUBG, but the game has lacked official approval for distribution. That means users can only download and run the game through virtual private networks, which are slow and often blocked. Tencent Holdings Ltd., China’s biggest gaming company, was in discussions to purchase licensing rights, the South Korean company said last month. Neither company responded to requests for comment.

Not all violent games are banned in China. One of the country’s most popular games is Tencent’s Honour of Kings, in which teams of five hack their way through a battle arena to vanquish opponents. But the characters are cartoonish, while PUBG’s are realistic.

The Korean title is like a digital version of “The Hunger Games,“ where 100 combatants are dropped onto an island and proceed to slaughter each other. China’s content watchdog strongly opposes duel-to-the-death games and they will have a hard time wining operating licenses, according to the industry body. The association also recommended that Chinese companies do not develop such games and discouraged live streaming of related content.

“I suspect it won’t affect Tencent too much because no one can touch survival games anymore,“ said Wu. “It doesn’t have to worry that a competitor will supersede it.“

China is the world’s largest market for videogames, with industry revenue expected to hit $27.5 billion this year, slightly ahead of the U.S. with $25 billion, according to researcher Newzoo. But regulators in the world’s second-largest economy periodically clamp down on forms of content they deem threaten social stability, often without warning.

Honour of Kings did come under scrutiny this year when the leading government newspaper blasted the title for harming children in the pursuit of profit. The Chinese company also publishes a first-person shooter called CrossFire, developed by South Korean developer SmileGate Holdings. Both titles are still available in China.

►  Box office top 20: ‘Jigsaw’ is no. 1, Clooney film flops

Though it fell short of expectations, the eighth “Saw” film, “Jigsaw,” became the latest horror release to top the North American box office with $16.6 million, according to final ticket sale figures Monday.

“Jigsaw” distributor Lionsgate also claimed the No. 2 spot with $10 million in the second week of release for “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween.”

George Clooney’s “Suburbicon” flopped in its debut, coming in at ninth place with just $2.8 million despite opening on 2,046 screens.

In its first release since the Harvey Weinstein scandal began unfolding, the beleaguered Weinstein Co. feebly released a horror sequel of its own: “Amityville: The Awakening.” Playing in an unusual Saturday-only engagement on just 10 screens, it grossed $742.

The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by comScore:

1. “Jigsaw,” Lionsgate, $16,640,452, 2,941 locations, $5,658 average, $16,640,452, 1 Week.

2. “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” Lionsgate, $10,052,608, 2,388 locations, $4,210 average, $35,574,251, 2 Weeks.

3. “Geostorm,” Warner Bros., $5,903,428, 3,246 locations, $1,819 average, $23,781,796, 2 Weeks.

4. “Happy Death Day,” Universal, $5,078,685, 3,535 locations, $1,437 average, $48,374,210, 3 Weeks.

5. “Blade Runner 2049,” Warner Bros., $4,117,395, 2,421 locations, $1,701 average, $81,538,180, 4 Weeks.

6. “Thank You For Your Service,” Universal, $3,817,700, 2,054 locations, $1,859 average, $3,817,700, 1 Week.

7. “Only The Brave,” Sony, $3,502,095, 2,577 locations, $1,359 average, $11,992,152, 2 Weeks.

8. “The Foreigner,” STX Entertainment, $3,443,433, 2,505 locations, $1,375 average, $29,060,751, 3 Weeks.

9. “Suburbicon,” Paramount, $2,840,246, 2,046 locations, $1,388 average, $2,840,246, 1 Week.

10. “It,” Warner Bros., $2,503,338, 2,560 locations, $978 average, $323,868,540, 8 Weeks.

11. “Let There Be Light,” Atlas Distribution Company, $1,729,535, 373 locations, $4,637 average, $1,729,535, 1 Week.

12. “American Made,” Universal, $1,702,605, 1,558 locations, $1,093 average, $48,507,805, 5 Weeks.

13. “Victoria And Abdul,” Focus Features, $1,641,515, 1,044 locations, $1,572 average, $17,741,754, 6 Weeks.

14. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” 20th Century Fox, $1,625,354, 1,489 locations, $1,092 average, $97,314,232, 6 Weeks.

15. “Mountain Between Us, The,” 20th Century Fox, $1,309,104, 2,029 locations, $645 average, $28,030,947, 4 Weeks.

16. “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” Warner Bros., $1,275,301, 1,474 locations, $865 average, $56,459,051, 6 Weeks.

17. “Same Kind Of Different As Me,” Pure Flix, $1,252,142, 1,238 locations, $1,011 average, $4,776,427, 2 Weeks.

18. “The Snowman,” Universal, $1,212,950, 1,815 locations, $668 average, $5,799,535, 2 Weeks.

19. “My Little Pony: The Movie,” Lionsgate, $1,027,701, 1,682 locations, $611 average, $20,051,709, 4 Weeks.

20. “Marshall,” Open Road, $905,053, 821 locations, $1,102 average, $6,949,354, 3 Weeks.

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