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    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Say Goodbye to Cash

    There have been a number of organizations looking at the concept of a cashless society recently. Here in Japan the Suica card, which started as merely an electronic railpass, has expanded to use at convenience stores, vending machines, restaurants, parking garages, and practically any business which chooses to use their card readers as a payment option. The ability to use mobile phones as Suica cards/accounts has been introduced as well. Now the GSM Association, responsible for the most widely accepted mobile phone standard in the world, is looking at bringing banking-like services, such as money transfers, bill payments, and savings to mobile phones.

    This would apparently be most beneficial to a large number of the world's poor who live without banking services but do have a mobile phone. People in this financial bracket spend an inordinate amount of time organizing these services, and making order of this chaos by tying everything easily to their mobile phone and its account would bring some much needed stability to their lives.

    I'm tentatively optimistic about the idea of a cashless society. Of course I see the benefit described above and believe this is a great step to improve the standard of living in third-world countries. I imagine it would take a huge financial burden off most countries by removing the major services and industries required to keep a cash-based society going. Financial crises could be averted or lessened as governments could minutely adjust their currencies. I'd also love to be able to stop carrying around a massive bag of change in my pocket.

    On the other hand, my inner luddite can't help but feel scared of letting go of such a central concept to modern life. My head is filled with nightmarish visions of the new kinds of financial crime and corporate abuse possible when our livelihood is converted to just 1s and 0s.

    But that may be part of its value. Converting this fetishized object of modern life to a digital number may aleviate some of the societal obsession with money and it's attainment. When all the money you have and the money you use in your daily life is simply a number instead of a physical bunch of things you can hold, carry, and hoard, accumulating those things is likely to weigh less on your mind. I'd certainly like to see our values change to shift away from assigning so much self-worth to how much money we make. Maybe a cashless society would be just the medicine we need for our collective psychosis.

    Saturday, June 6, 2009

    Arrr! Ripe for the Plundering!

    I ate, slept and breathed Lucasarts games throughout my childhood. Staying up until the early morning on school nights playing Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle. The lack of point and click adventures is a big gaping hole in current gaming culture as far as I'm concerned (as well as the deplorable lack of space combat sims).

    Monkey Island was the series that got me into those games, the first one being one of my very first computer games. So with glee I read the E3 announcement of not only Lucasarts releasing a graphically updated version of the original game, but a monthly installment series from the company responsible for the Sam & Max restart.

    However the E3 trailer for Tales of Monkey Island exposes the same failing that the new Sam & Max series had: the humor. The old, irreverent, clever wit you found in these original games is gone, replaced with "wacky" phrases and lame situational humor. ("Sword of Hot Monkey Vengeance" and Threepwood's "What just happened?" after his possession, etc.) What really made these games great were the writers behind them. Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer wrote with a clever, sharp wit (any gamer who lived through that period is familiar with "You fight like a dairy farmer.") and filled their games with unique characters that were riffs on pirate story stereotypes, like the vegetarian cannibal headhunters or used galleon salesman "Stan".

    I'm often against continuations of old intellectual properties both because of the careless manner in which they're often handled and because the stories told in the originals often are complete unto themselves. I don't mind seeing more games based upon Monkey Island or Sam & Max, because those games were more about the characters than a self-contained plot. However a quick slap-dash of Monkey Island graphics over a generic comedy script destroys everything that makes it Monkey Island.