Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shame. Shame. Throw yourself away.

Before we embark on today's installment of triweekly hilarity, I want to inform everyone that this post is the end of the current blogging schedule. I'll be paring back the triweekly hilarity to just weekly. The tentative plan is to post on Sundays going forward, but I'd remind my readers that the tentative plan for the Iraq war ("We won't need to occupy this country") differed in several important ways from how things actually went down ("We need to occupy this country until the end of natural time"). The reason is pretty simple: I'm working 40+ hours a week at EA and I have to research and write a fucking book in the next year.

The project is somewhat like Cthulhu. Many things are like Cthulhu if you think dorkily enough. The point is, you can only look at a single tentacle of Cthulhu without going insane. Similarly, if I think about the book in big terms I descend into panic. It's all about the day-to-day, and I frankly don't have the energy to work on the thing after working and writing these posts. It's lousy because I love writing these, and the experience of cranking them out on (self-imposed) deadline has been valuable. It's good because with weekly updates, I can think about them more in-depth and work on them in a more deliberate fashion over the course of the week. Hopefully this will result in "lulz" of higher quality. If there's one downside of the current system, it's that I don't have the luxury of time to really develop ideas. In an ideal world this blog would be a permanent fixture; it's likely it will be at some point in the future.

Now on to things that really matter: professional StarCraft. This 1998 computer strategy game is still beloved by players around the world and the game's longevity (combined with the fact that Blizzard still supports it) have led to the creation of sophisticated professional leagues. They're not big-ticket affairs here in Die Vereinigten Stadten, but in Korea professional StarCraft is a major attraction. When I say Korea, I mean South Korea. The other part has been officially dubbed an Orwellian Nightmare by the United Nations and it no longer counts as a named country. To give you an idea of how strongly Koreans feel about StarCraft, I present to you this video of a televised match complete with play-by-by announcers. Essentially, the guy with the floating orb-like Science Vessels gets them hit by a nasty attack called "Plague" that his opponent uses. This tears them to ribbons and the announcers just lose their shit. Viewing tip: pay attention to the text titles that appear. This is probably the only video on all of YouTube where they actually enhance the viewing experience:

As you can see, they're not messing around over there in the Land of Putting an Egg in Everything You Eat. Only it turns out they were messing around, because the nation's biggest native sport is embroiled in a gambling scandal. The extent of the corruption isn't known and investigations are underway, but needless to say the country is shaken. It's even worse than Major League Baseball's steroid problems, because anybody with eyeballs and even a cursory respect for reality already knew about it. This comes totally out of the blue, potentially invalidating years of results! It's really distressing--even more so when I think of the children. Because somebody has to think of the children. Athletes are crucial role models and the next generation of Korean youth will come of age in a morally barren landscape. Without credible gaming idols to pass on the rich heritage of cutting your hair like anime heroes and pounding caffeinated energy drinks. There could be a scourge of Korean youth wandering around in the Sun, where they might get hit by...I don't know, kimchi trucks? They must have a shitload of those. And let's not under-sell the threat of skin cancer. Look what it did to John McCain! It takes your skin...and then it takes your mind.

Pete Rose may have gambled. He may have gambled on his own games. But at least a single player in a baseball game doesn't really have the power to swing the results. Too many other people and factors are involved. He claimed not to have bet against his team (in other news, Bill Clinton never inhaled from that mari-juana rolled up to look like a cigarette). But pro StarCraft is a 1-vs-1 affair and it would only take about 30 seconds of negligence to intentionally throw a game in a way that would be really difficult to sniff out. So at least it's a good scam--good enough that it honestly makes me wonder why everyone is still so mad at Pete Rose. I never understood the moral component of gambling, unless somebody's using their kid's college fund to bet on NBA halftime over/unders. In which case they'd still have an argument...I mean, what if they won? Smoking around your kids inflicts absolute and undeniable harm. Using their college money to gamble has an upside. "Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, least it's an ethos."

Here's what this hammers home: gamers are dumbasses. Big-time professional gaming leagues with lucrative TV deals and devoted fan bases shouldn't really exist. It's the kind of nerdgasmic fantasy we could only see played out in 80s movies, but these assholes in Korea actually pulled it off. So now, having established what is essentially a dork's Heaven on Earth (getting paid gobs of money to play games in front of thousands of screaming fans), these douchebags have to ruin it for everyone by gambling on it. Not just gambling...throwing games. The kind of thing that, if nothing else would, just disintegrates any competitive organization. Was it really so tough, just playing StarCraft and getting paid for it? Did these guys need to support their habit of doing lines of ground-up Mineral crystals off the backs of 2000-Vespene-gas hookers?

The honest answer is probably yes. Or something similar. You see, real professional athletes (we'll distinguish "real" by saying you have to actually sweat to qualify) do stupid crap all the time. They fail to manage their money. They go broke after making over $100 million. And those are guys with big-time advisors and agents and decades-old systems in place to protect them. Pro gamers are essentially Ferengi: they have no moral compass because they know they spend their days essentially stealing from people. If you're already doing that, why lose sleep over the little things? So yes, pro gamers live like animals and spend their money in stupid ways. They're QA testers in a higher tax bracket. The decision-making doesn't really improve.

And lest you accuse me of ignorance (in French: m'accuse), I played World of Warcraft at a really high level for years. I never played for money (or was interested in doing so), but I had contact with a few people who did. I know of what I speak. As much fun as games are, things get shady in a hurry when people take them too seriously. It's not even the fault of the games themselves. It turns out that if you take a bunch of people without a real moral compass and immerse them in a take-it-and-run culture of free money out of all proportion to their actual contribution to society...well, they're likely to misbehave. Sometimes this results in Korean betting scandals. Sometimes it causes wholesale financial collapse. If there's one person to blame at the end of the day, it's this guy: the terrifying and eerily real Barack O'Stalin. It's a weird name, but I hear he was secretly born in Ireland.

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