To begin GamerGod’s look back at 2005, we stop and look at the people who made the headlines in gaming. We looked for the people and names in gaming that caught major attention and were a source of interesting news or high entertainment in the process of making these selections. Like them or not, most gamers will recognize these names and know a bit of the story behind them.
Our list draws from a wide slice of the gaming community. A respected game designer is on the list, but so is a political figure, a game player, a man with an agenda, and even a modder. Each person was selected for their ability to grab and hold the headlines with their design, deeds, or words, and for their contribution to twelve months of gaming headlines, news, scandals, sensations, and entertainment.
Check to be sure your boss is not around, grab a snack, and read our picks for GamerGod’s 10 Most Interesting People of 2005.
10. Patrick Wildenborg
We start our list with a name that many may not immediately recognize. Patrick is on the list not for who he is, but what he did. In one simple act, Patrick lit up a national debate centered around gaming, and generated the largest and most visible headlines in gaming. Who is Patrick Wildenborg? The guy who unlocked “Hot Coffee.”
With the release of a simple mod that unlocked existing game code, Patrick started a firestorm that has yet to die down completely. That puts Patrick at #10 on our list.
9. Jessica Chobot
Take one girl from Detroit, add in a Sony PSP, apply tongue, and take photograph: Instant internet celebrity. Jessica ‘Hatsumi’ Chobot arrived on the gaming scene last spring when a photo of her licking her PSP in a provocative manner appeared on the internet. Over the course of the year, Jessica bounded into the headlines by becoming one of IGN’s “Babes” after her visit to E3.
Not one to let the headlines die and gracefully fade away after 15 minutes, Jessica reappeared in the headlines in December, rubbing promotional material for “Gears of War” on her rump. While Camille Paglia would salute this woman for unabashedly abusing the male psyche to get ahead and advance in gaming media, traditional feminists likely rolled their eyes at the setback she encouraged. At years end, Chobot now works in some fashion for IGN.
8. Rod Blagojevich, Governor of Illinois.
Early in 2005, Mr. Blagojevich went on the record stating that he would somehow prohibit the sale of video games harmful to minors. He had hand tailored a piece of legislation to ensure that while the games could be made, they would not go to children if their content was inappropriate. Through the remainder of the year, Illinois passed this law, and other states such as California and Michigan passed similar ‘anti-gaming’ laws. Fueled by the ‘Hot Coffee’ controversy, video game legislation rose to the national level and had people such as Senator Hillary Clinton publicly denouncing video games as harmful to our children.
Each of the laws have come under scrutiny as they infringe on First Amendment freedoms, and Blagojevich’s legislation was struck down. An appeal is already underway, leaving the question of “Will games be legislated, unlike other media forms?” open.
7. Patricia Vance, President of the ESRB
During the heights of the ‘Hot Coffee’ controversy, the ESRB came under high scrutiny. Questions as to how such content could obtain a “M” rating instead of an “AO” rating were raised in many corners. That’s when Patricia Vance stood up to defend the ESRB and the system used to determine what ratings each game gets.
Throughout the firestorm that ensued, the ESRB was vindicated as it was discovered that Rockstar did not fully disclose the content in GTA: San Andreas, and the initial “M” rating was based on what the ESRB did know. GTA was subsequently re-rated as an “AO” title and the egg was fully on Rockstar’s face. This lack of disclosure proved that the ESRB’s system works as intended when all content is available for their review.
6. Will Wright
Ever a visionary and innovator, Will Wright once again captured the attention and imagination of gamers everywhere when he unveiled his latest project: Spore
Initially unveiled at GDC, Spore will take players from the micro organism level all the way to galactic conquests. Further, the PC game will have an online feature that links the evolution of different players’ worlds together. Will Wright pitched Spore as a new way to look at games, and the demonstration of the game even won awards at E3. People everywhere speculated on the potential of the game, and Wright received a lot of attention out of it. While the story went cold after the announcement and subsequent website, Spore continues to capture the imaginations of gamers and designers as they contemplate how a game can viably present so many differnet modes of play.
5. John Smedley, CEO Sony Online Entertainment
In his keynote at the Austin Game Conference, Mr. Smedley indicated a whole new direction for SOE games in North America. This new direction was inspired by the MMORPG environment in Eastern Asia, where the market supports a great number of games, and a significantly larger percentage of the population plays games (as opposed to numbers in North America).
This new direction clearly hinted at a game in 2006 from SOE that would be entirely free to start, but would include multiple options to pay for better equipment or access to premium content. This indicated a radical shift away from the monthly subscription by a leading MMORPG developer in North America.
Early indicators of how this may play out through the new game is the “Station Exchange” for EverQuest II (and soon all SOE games). Through the Station Exchange players are able to buy or sell gold, equipment, and characters with SOE as the ‘safe’ intermediary. Another example of what may be coming is the “New Gaming Experience” for Star Wars Galaxies. The NGE is a continuing controversy and demonstrated SOE’s willingness to radically alter an existing title to suit their vision.
No matter how you cut it, Smedley’s keynote announced a significant change for how SOE looks at their games, and that is interesting!
4. Old Grandma Hardcore
Do senior citizens play games? Old Grandma Hardcore gives not just a resounding “YES!” in answer to that question, but she makes it seem rather ridiculous to even ask. OGHC started as a blog by her grandson, Timothy St. Hilaire, wherein he released often hilarious videos of his grandmother playing actual video games. The magic in the videos is not that grandma is struggling to play the games, but that she is kicking ass and blowing up any misconceptions about the appeal of games to any generation.
The OGHC website made multiple passes around the gaming community through the summer of 2005, and became so successful that ‘Grandma’ has become the ‘Senior Correspondent’ for the G-Hole on MTV. She now reviews games for the show, providing a senior’s perspective.
3. Brenda Braithwaite
Going boldly where few gamers (publicly) dare to go, Brenda had a banner year in 2005. She first came to attention as Lead Designer for Cyberlore’s “Playboy: The Mansion” game, and then returned as the voice behind the IGDA’s “Sex & Games” blog.
Brenda’s blog takes on the entire issue of “sex” in and around games, providing regular updates on the state of sex in the gaming industry. Her presentation at the Women in Games Conference in Austin was smart, entertaining, and honest (brutally so when needed). She makes our list as our guide to taboo in gaming.
2 Leeeeeeeeroooooooooooooooy Jenkins!
One small video of gameplay in World of Warcraft took the entire gaming community by storm. In the video, we are presented with a guild using voice chat to prepare for a raid in WoW. They discuss their odds of success and what they will need to do. Then one of the characters on the screen stands up, and we hear his name shouted into the microphone as he charges blindly into the danger zone. In mere moments, his group is picked apart piecemeal as they run in to rescue him.
While it is certain that the popularity of WoW boost services factored into the initial interest in this comical video, the raw humor in the situation was universal to anyone who has played a MMORPG and relied on others to succeed, or fail as it was in this case. The name “Leroy Jenkins” has been forever imprinted into the minds of a generation of gamers and transcended the movie to be immortalized in T-Shirts that show up at gaming conventions.
To bring this list to a close, we turn to a man who refused to fall out of the headlines. Once he arrived, it seemed that every other day he found a way to be top news. Further, it seemed that he was willing to go to extremes to be in those headlines.
I present to you our choice for the Most Interesting Person in Gaming for 2005: Jack Thompson.
Jack Thompson is an attorney licensed in the state of Florida. Prior to 2005, he was involved in a 1999 legal case involving video games as a potential ‘cause’ of a murder. When the lid blew off on the “Hot Coffee” scandal, Jack Thompson arrived on the scene, ready and willing to do combat in the name of the common good.
Unlike many lawyers who work on behalf of our moral security, Jack was willing to go into the trenches and duke it out with gamers, involving himself in nasty debates and arguments in which he used inflammatory labels to fan the flames of gamers’ anger. Jack’s name began to pop up on a regular basis as he attacked Rockstar, made claims that there was more adult content in a different version of GTA (unproven), and railing that something should be done.
In October, Thompson sent an open letter to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and proposed that if someone could make a game to his specifications he would donate $10,000 to the charity of Take Two’s chairman (Take Two is the publisher for Rockstar’s games). The game he proposed involved the father of a killing spree victim taking his revenge on the gaming industry.
Coincidentally enough, a modding group known as the “Fighting Hellfish” almost simultaneously released a mod for GTA called “Defamation of Character: A Jack Thompson Murder Simulator,” in which Jack does almost everything he asked for. Though the modding group did not request his donation to the charity, Thompson refused to make it when the mod became publicly known and the folks at Penny Arcade stepped up and donated the money to the charity in Thompson’s name.
Thompson retaliated by making multiple claims of extortion and harassment by the Penny Arcade team to multiple levels of law enforcement, including the FBI.
Furthering his woes, Thompson had his license to practice law in Alabama revoked in November. Also in the same month, Thompson’s book, “Out of Harm’s Way,” received hundreds of negative and prank reviews at Amazon.com. Thompson then submitted his own review attacking Amazon for allowing the negative reviews to happen.
When his review was pulled for violating the review guidelines, Thompson threatened Amazon with legal action over the entire process. He then followed that up with a letter to Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) invoking the First Amendment and making more threats. Currently, his book averages 1.5 stars on Amazon’s customer rating system, and has 36 reviews.
Due to all of the anti-gaming attention, Thompson claims to have received multiple threats against himself and his family. A 16 year old boy was charged with a misdemeanor for leaving threatening messages on Thompson’s answering machine.
Being in the limelight also hurt Thompson professionally. David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), condemned Thompson for his tactics and asked him to refrain from implying that the NIMF supported him. After his Alabama license was revoked, the Florida Bar Association opened up an investigation into his practices as suggested by judicial officers in Alabama.
All of which is why Jack Thompson was the Most Interesting Person in Gaming for 2005. Not because he designed a great game, or had visionary game theories, but because he forced himself into visibility and intensified the debate everywhere he went. Jack Thompson was a constant source of entertainment, and we will likely see his name in the headlines in 2006. Not on the side of gamers and game companies, but in another half-baked legal suit in the name of morality. While it is fun to laugh at people who seem eccentric when they attack our diversions, we must also remember that we need to watch such people and ensure that they are not successful.
Thanks Jack, you made the journey entertaining to say the least.