Apple should rethink regarding games with political and sexual content

Apple likes to think it’s hip and cool — or whatever words hip and cool people are using these days to describe being hip and cool — but the company at times comes across like someone’s dad. This is never more the case than when it comes to gaming. Apple’s latest news headline in this area: rejecting a game about a Palestinian child struggling to survive in the 2014 Gaza strip.

This line of thinking isn’t new for Apple. App Store guidelines since 2010 have stated:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app.

This showcases Apple’s concern with the interactive components of apps. When it comes specifically to gaming, I also suspect Apple links them to being a juvenile pursuit, unlike the ‘grown up’ mediums of music and literature. This was a dated distinction to make in the 1990s, when Cannon Fodder did the rounds, ruthlessly satirising war (while simultaneously being a bloody excellent game). But we’re now 35 years into home gaming, and the medium has matured at speed. As someone who’s trained in the fine arts, I often take issue with the ‘games are art’ argument, but it’s clear some border on (or possibly are) art, plenty more are artistic, and a great many have something important to say.

This is one of those occasions where Google Play’s light-touch curation gets things right, letting people create in the medium of their choice. Liyla and the Shadows of War is available to download there. But whereas Apple as an organisation lauds creativity and encourages people to be creative with its devices, it stops short when it comes to interactive content. Apple doubles down on older mediums and means of expression other than embracing the new. There are exceptions — Apple will allow abstracted political statements, as evidenced by Papers, Please — but that feels a lot like dancing around any points, and can be a compromise too far when someone’s trying to craft a very personal story via the medium of gaming. (Similarly, in a store with device age-gating, why shouldn’t someone be able to create a game that explores aspects of sex?)

On the flip side, I don’t doubt Apple has it tough. If there was a change in policy, perhaps there would be a flood of rabid ‘anti’ games, slamming specific figures, politicians or movements. With App Store reviews reportedly lasting only a matter of minutes, would it even be possible for a reviewer to examine a game, and deem whether it’s unacceptably offensive in some way? Still, I do hope Apple rethinks, because it could and should be a force for good across the entire range of gaming, rather than a force for ambivalence or, worse, obstruction.

Update (May 23): In this case, at least, Apple has rethought. The game’s creator says on Twitter that the game will be published on the App Store.

May 20, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions, Politics

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It’s not my job to tell the BBC what to do, says politician telling BBC what to do

There’s been a BBC climbdown over removing 11,000 recipes from the internet. Now, just the links to them will be obliterated, with the bulk of the recipes moving across to BBC Good Food, so that the main BBC website doesn’t compete with commercial companies that freak out at the prospect of actually having to make something good, diverse, reasonably ad-free and usable.

According to the Guardian’s article on all this, culture secretary John Whittingdale, who told the BBC what to do, attempted to distance himself from what was going on: “It’s not my job to tell the BBC whether [or not] to broadcast The Voice, or Strictly Come Dancing or indeed to put recipes up on its website,” he told a conference in London. “We have said firstly that the BBC needs to be more distinctive. And also it has to be sensitive to its market impact and not be directly going out of its way to compete with commercial offerings,” thereby essentially telling the BBC whether [or not] to broadcast The Voice, or Strictly Come Dancing or indeed to put recipes up on its website, just like he did before in the White Paper that essentially told the BBC whether [or not] to broadcast The Voice, or Strictly Come Dancing or indeed to put recipes up on its website.

May 18, 2016. Read more in: Politics

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The day BBC Food died

So it begins. The BBC Food website is to be axed. 11,000 recipes on a usable, inclusive website are to vanish, because Tories have been convinced by their rich friends that competition is only acceptable when the BBC is out of the running, and that the BBC Food website apparently is too dominant (i.e. not rubbish).

According to the BBC, scrapping the website is part of a plan to cut £15m from the corporation’s online budget, even though leaving the website up would cost naff-all. Furthermore, a BBC source stated:

What we do has to be high quality, distinctive, and offer genuine public value. While our audiences expect us to be online, we have never sought to be all things to all people and the changes being announced will ensure that we are not.

This is a rocky road the BBC is heading down — being forced to head down. The Conservatives would prefer at most for the BBC to become a broadcaster of last resort — a small PBS-style outfit that only creates content that others cannot or will not. Now, it’s being urged to not compete with other terrestrial broadcasters in prime-time slots, to pare back its website, and to focus on more niche fare.

We’ve seen this play out before. In a few years, Conservatives will be slamming the BBC for not having enough TV audience share/overall website users to justify the licence fee. The BBC will be told it is a broadcaster that’s supposed to cater for everyone, but now it’s only serving the few. And it’ll be ordered to pivot accordingly. Rinse and repeat.

All the while, the general public — still largely pro-BBC — will gradually get increasingly irritated by the corporation, and see less value in the licence fee. If enough people are hoodwinked, there’ll be a call for it to be scrapped entirely. And Rupert Murdock will crack an evil grin, while figuring out how he can somehow close down The Guardian and The Mirror.

Update: As Tom Pride notes, Murdoch has a couple of recipe sites waiting to launch. I can’t imagine that had anything to do with getting the BBC to scrap its recipe website, and also only have future recipes online for 30 days.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: Politics, Television

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Unequal balance

If you’re not from the UK, you might be unaware the Conservative Party is currently fighting a reckless proxy war for the leadership, with the UK’s membership of the EU being the battlefield. We can look forward to four months of campaigning, outright falsehoods, and attempts by both sides to skew and spin stories to their advantage. One today, however, was eye-opening in attempts at ‘balance’, both by campaigners and news outlets.

On the BBC’s report, EU exit would risk jobs, says group of business bosses, the following is stated:

Leaving the European Union would threaten jobs and put the UK’s economy at risk, leaders of some of Britain’s biggest companies have said. […] In a move described by No 10 as “unprecedented”, chairmen or chief executives of 36 FTSE 100 companies signed the letter, organised by Stronger in Europe and Downing Street, backing the campaign to stay in the EU, including Burberry, BAE Systems and EasyJet.

So 36 FTSE 100 companies are arguing already that the UK quitting the EU would deter investment in an already shaky UK economy. That should be terrifying to most people. Perhaps predictably, ‘balance’ was found:

Leave campaigners point out two-thirds of FTSE 100 firms, including Tesco and Sainsbury, did not back the letter.

This is true, but the inference here by those who want out is clearly that the majority is somehow not in favour. However, that’s not the case. What we currently have is 36 per cent saying “don’t leave, you idiots” and 64 per cent saying nothing at all. If even half of those companies sign a letter saying “leave the EU”, fair enough. But until then, the ‘score’ for those keeping count in this particular match is 36-nil, not 36-64.

February 23, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Politics

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PR in the UK, or: Do you want 80 UKIP MPs?

The UK now has a Conservative majority government, after a night where the SNP took over Scotland, the Liberal Democrats self-combusted, Labour did poorly, and the Greens and UKIP barely made a dent in the Commons.

However, looking over the votes cast tells a different story. When comparing only the larger and non-nationalist parties, and looking at how many votes it took to get an MP elected, the imbalance is stark:

  • UKIP (624 candidates): 3,875,409 votes per seat
  • Green Party (568): 1,154,562
  • Liberal Democrat (631): 299,983
  • Labour (631): 40,258
  • Conservative (647): 34,292

Unsurprisingly, calls for proportional representation have now erupted, and for the first time the ‘left’ is joined by the ‘right’, given that UKIP amassed a third of the votes the Conservatives did, but the latter party got 331 times as many MPs. (The Greens did ‘better’, in getting a single MP on about an eighth of the Labour vote, which returned 232 MPs.)

However, there’s also considerable push-back against the idea of proportional representation, not least people saying: But do you really want 80 UKIP MPs? Of course not. My political leanings are progressive, not extremist Tory. But I recognise that they are my political leanings, and not those of an entire country. I feel it’s absurd over a million votes returned just one Green MP, but it’s actually more unfair all those people who voted UKIP have barely any representation in the Commons.

The ‘80 UKIP MPs’ argument also supposes British people would vote in exactly the same way under a PR system, which no-one knows for sure. Certainly, people would be less likely to vote tactically, and there’d be no safe seats. But even if PR did return that number of UKIP MPs, better the UK is mature enough to own its politics and who supports whom, rather than attempting to sweep it under the carpet — especially if trends continue. Although many small-party voters are now disillusioned, what if they double down in 2020? How will the UK look if the Conservatives and Labour between them amass 16 million votes and 85 per cent of the seats, but UKIP and the Greens get half as many votes, but still only a few seats between them?

The narrative surrounding various other aspects of PR is also troubling. I keep hearing the argument was laid to rest when we got a referendum on PR, but we never had that. In 2011, we were offered the choice of the status quo or switching to Alternative Vote, described by some as a “miserable little compromise”. AV is not a proportional system — it essentially assist the third party at the minor expense of others. At the time, the Liberal Democrats would have benefitted slightly; now, UKIP would. In either case, the result would not be proportional.

Additionally, many argue PR would wreck the constituency link, but that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. Electoral systems like AMS retain such links, and the UK could have reform where MPs for the Commons were returned on a fairly tight regional basis, for example by county rather than region. (The latter is currently how MEPs are elected, and would perhaps be an option should the Lords be replaced by an elected senate.)

The final issue is that coalitions are inherently unstable, apparently. If we were to head down the PR route, a majority government would be extremely unlikely in the UK. (But if it did happen, it would be because the majority of the country actually voted for the party in power, unlike now, when just over a third of voters — and under a quarter of the electorate — backed the Conservatives.) The thing is, I don’t see Nordic countries descending into chaos because of their proportional systems, and Germany seems to be doing quite well, despite electing its parliament in this manner.

Still, with the Conservatives in power now and Labour still presumably reckoning it can again win a majority in 2020, I doubt we’ll see any electoral reform happen. Far better to bang on about fairness while ensuring most votes fundamentally don’t matter, and gamble on winning those few that do. Politics: British style. Partying like it’s 1899 in 2015.

May 11, 2015. Read more in: Politics


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