A Rant on Female Leads in Games

January 27, 2011 -

The Border House, a site dedicated to bringing equality to gaming for the disenfranchised and marginalized, reports on some interesting comments from Microsoft Game Studios' Tom Abernathy. In a recent rant, Abernathy laments the lack of female protagonists in games and says that by not serving female gamers companies are only serving half of their audiences. Abernathy worked on Halo: Reach, Destroy All Humans!, and The Saboteur.

Abernathy's rant on the subject:

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Albany Paper Backs Free Speech Claim in Controversial Game Lawsuit

June 14, 2009 -

In an editorial published this morning the Albany Times-Union offers support for a federal lawsuit filed last week against the city of Troy, New York and its public works commissioner, Robert Mirch (left).

GamePolitics readers will recall that in 2008 inspectors invoked the city's building code to shut down an art gallery which was displaying Virtual Jihadi, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal's controversial computer game exhibit. From today's Times-Union editorial:

What constitutes free and protected speech in Troy, and what constitutes public safety and unacceptable building code violations, aren't merely matters of fiat. They aren't simply up to the whims of Robert Mirch. They shouldn't be, at least...


The public works commissioner, not to mention the majority leader of the Rensselaer County Legislature, had effectively appointed himself arbiter of public morals...

Mr. Mirch, meanwhile, seems to have a new beef with the media... He's bothered that the lawsuit, which after all is a public document, has made it into the hands of the media. Let's hope he doesn't try to use the building code to further retaliate...

Free speech and the building code should be kept separate.


City Sued Over Shutdown of Controversial Video Game Exhibit

June 9, 2009 -

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the city of Troy, New York and its Public Works Commissioner suppressed free speech by shutting down a controversial video game exhibit in March, 2008.

GamePolitics readers may recall our extensive coverage of the politically-charged situation surrounding Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal. His Virtual Jihadi exhibit employed a modded PC game which included a mission to blow up then-President George W. Bush. Bilal said that the exhibit was intended to express his view that U.S. policy in Iraq helped create terrorists.

Bilal, a U.S. citizen and a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, was invited to display his work at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy but was abruptly ordered off campus after the school's College Republican Club raised objections to the game. Bilal was then offered space to display Virtual Jihadi at a nearby gallery, the Sanctuary for Independent Media.

The gallery, however, was suddenly shut down for building code violations by Troy's Public Works Commissioner, Robert Mirch (left). Mirch, who is named as a defendant in the suit, had earlier led a demonstration protesting the exhibit. He called the suit politically motivated.

The Albany Times-Union offers comment on the suit from Melanie Trimble of the NYCLU's Capital Region Chapter:

City officials cannot selectively enforce building codes to shut down an art exhibition they find distasteful. Mr. Mirch abused his authority to suppress the free speech rights of people he disagree with, an unconstitutional act that must be challenged.

According to the Times-Union report, the NYCLU seeks a court order to block the city from using its building code to infringe on civil rights. The suit also seeks damages on behalf of the non-profit which owns the Sanctuary for Independent Media as well as for the gallery's executive director. The NYCLU has posted a press release on the suit.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of the complaint from the NYCLU website...


Troy, NY Sued Over City Shutdown of Video Game Exhibit

May 2, 2008 -

Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal's controversial video game exhibit, which culminates in the player attempting to shoot President Bush, has triggered a lawsuit against the city of Troy, New York, according to the Albany Times-Union.

As GamePolitics readers may recall, Bilal, a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, was invited to present his Virtual Jihadi exhibit at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in March.

RPI's Republican Club, however, objected to Virtual Jihadi, which Bilal said was designed to show how US policy in Iraq has encouraged terrorism. School officials subsequently ordered the exhibit off campus. A local venue, the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, then offered Bilal the opportunity to display his work.

On opening night local Republican leader Robert Mirch, who also happens to be Troy's Public Works commissioner, led a protest outside the exhibit. The following day, Troy code enforcement officials (who work for Mirch) shut the Sanctuary down over building code violations involving its doors.

The Sanctuary, assisted by the New York Civil Liberties Union, has notified Troy that it will file a lawsuit against the city as well as Mirch. Said Melanie Trimble executive director of NYCLU's Capital Region chapter:

City officials cannot selectively enforce building codes to shut down an art exhibition they find distasteful... City officials cannot chill free speech in this city by using their official powers.

Bob Mirch is the head of Public Works which oversees the code enforcement. Code enforcement came the next day and shut the building down even though they had approved the building's opening the day before. It's no coincidence.

Sanctuary co-founder Steve Pierce added:

There is a climate of fear in the city.

For his part, Mirch said:

This is nonsense. And a publicity stunt. At no time was the sanctuary closed. The two situations are not connected. Not connected.

Capital News 9 has a video report.

After Booting Controversial Game Art Exhibit, RPI Goes After College Republicans

March 13, 2008 -

At Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, New York, the fallout continues in the wake of the school's cancellation of a controversial game art exhibit.

As reported by the Albany Times-Union, the College Republicans, who were instrumental in drawing attention to visiting artist Wafaa Bilal's Virtual Jihadi exhibit, have had their website shut down. RPI officials said the action was taken because the College Republican site referred to the RPI Arts Department as "a terrorist safehaven."

With an official disciplinary review pending, Dean of Students Mark Smith ordered the website to be shut down, writing that:

[The terrorist safehaven remark is] slanderous, blatantly untrue, and can be construed to endanger the health, safety and welfare of members of the Rensselaer community.

Ken Girardin, co-chairman of the College Republicans, said:

[School officials] were looking at the term from the strictest interpretation. And we were looking at it with the loosest interpretation.

Ironically, the website shut down was the official RPI College Republican page. The terrorist safehaven comment resided on a separate blog not controlled by the school. 


ACLU May Sue Troy, NY in Game Controversy...

March 13, 2008 -

The furor sparked by Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal's controversial video game exhibit has seemingly taken on a life of its own.

In the latest news, officials of the New York Civil Liberties Union said that the organization may file suit against the city of Troy. As GamePolitics reported yesterday, city officials used local building codes to shut down Bilal's exhibit at a local studio. Executive Director Melanie Trimble of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the Schenectady Daily Gazette:

The city is suppressing free speech, and they will face consequences. You cannot prevent people from assembling. It is an infringement of their First Amendment rights.

At the heart of the issue is the role of political figure Bob Mirch (left), a Republican with deep political connections in local and state politics. As reported by the Daily Gazette:

Mirch is head of [Troy's] Department of Public Works, works for [Republican] state Sen. Joseph Bruno as a constituent liaison and is Republican majority leader on the Rensselaer County Legislature.

Steve Pierce, director of the Sanctuary for Independent Media, which was shut down by Troy less than 24 hours after Bilal's exhibit opened, said:

We have [Mirch] on video saying, ‘I am the director of public works, and I am organizing this protest.’ The next day they shut us down. It is an issue of selective enforcement.




GP Reader Offers First-Person Account of RPI Video Game Controversy

March 13, 2008 -

While the Wafaa Bilal controversy continues to rage in Troy, New York and on the campus of Renssellaer Polytechnical Institute, a GamePolitics reader offers some local perspective.Zachary Miner is a graduate of SUNY Albany, and did his Master's thesis on the effects of the extensive use of MMORPGs and whether such use can be properly termed as an addiction. He has what he describes as an ongoing interest in video games and culture and hopes to do more research on gaming in the future. From Zachary's account (edited by GP):

I live in Albany, which is right next door to Troy, where the Wafaa Bilal flap is going on... I attended an event [Monday night] which was held at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy... 

During his speech, Bilal said that the idea for the game started with Quest for Saddam... in which the object is to find and kill Saddam Hussein. Apparently someone in Al Qaeda obtained a copy of the game, changed the skins of the soldiers and Saddam so that now the player is an Iraqi killing Americans and hunting George Bush [the so-called Night of Bush Capturing game].

[Bilal changed] the game from the Al Qaeda version so that instead of the player himself killing Bush, he now has to recruit someone else - in this case, a character skinned to look like Bilal himself... to become a suicide bomber and attack Bush. Bilial said that the point of this is to show the vulnerabilty of Iraqi citizens to recruitment for such purposes.

There was a photocopied booklet provided before the event that, in cartoon form, gives the backstory of the suicide bomber character in the game. The backstory follows Bilal's life almost exactly, which might be the source of some of the controversy, since it paints him as a terrorist. In real life, Bilal's brother was accidentally killed by a US bomb, and his father died 18 months later, grieving for his son...

Troy City Officials Wield Building Code to Shut Down Game Art Exhibit

March 12, 2008 -

City officials in Troy, New York apparently used the municipal building code to shut down a controversial video game art exhibit.

As we've been tracking on GamePolitics, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal, a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, was invited to present at - and then abruptly booted from - Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute.

Following his RPI expulsion, Bilal's Virtual Jihadi exhibit was moved to the nearby Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. On Monday night, a local Republican political figure, Robert Mirch (left), led a protest against Bilal's work outside the Sanctuary. Mirch, by the way, also happens to be the Public Works Commissioner for the city of Troy. In that capacity, he is responsible for enforcing building codes.

On Tuesday, as reported by the Albany Times-Union, the Sanctuary for Independent Media was shut down by city code enforcement officials. Sanctuary spokesman Steve Pierce told the newspaper:

They put us out of business. They said we had doors that were not up to code.

Pierce made additional comments to the Schenectady Daily Gazette:

The only thing different between the day before and [Tuesday] is we have an Iraqi artist protesting the war. The next day, the city sent code enforcement to us and we were cited.

City Councilman Bill Dunne said:

This isn't the first time that code enforcement has operated in a fashion like this. It certainly on the surface smacks of political retribution.

Kathy High, an RPI Arts professor, added:

I guess we could cycle through all of the art galleries in the city and have the city shut them all down. This will make people afraid to show the exhibit and that is very wrong.

GP: Whether you like Bilal's work or hate it, to see political officials in the United States wield the power of law to shut down controversial expression is scary stuff, indeed.

Republican Leads Protest as Game-Art Exhibit is Expelled From RPI

March 11, 2008 -

The fallout continues at New York's Rensselaer Polytechnical University (RPI) following last week's cancellation of a controversial video game art exhibit by Iraqi citizen and Art Institute of Chicago professor Wafaa Bilal. 

As reported by the Albany Times-Union, the exhibition, suspended last week while school officials conducted a review, has now been officially expelled from campus. The head of RPI's Art Department has been ordered to have the exhibit hauled away by day's end. Of the decision, RPI VP William Walker said via press release:

As stewards of a private university, we have the right and, indeed, the responsibility to ensure that university resources are used in ways that are in the overall best interests of the institution.

Bilal's exhibit was moved to the off-campus Sanctuary for Independent Media where protesters, led by Robert Mirch (left), Republican majority leader of the Rensselaer County Legislature, expressed their disapproval. Mirch told the Times-Union:

We're upset about the video game. He can show it. I don't have to approve it...

This Mirch quote appears on a separate Times-Union blog:

The Sanctuary for Independent Media should cancel this exhibit immediately. Allowing for the portrayal of the assassination of a president to be staged is wrong, un-American and destructive. I support free speech, but this exhibit goes beyond the bounds of what is decent or acceptable.

A counter-protest, organized in support of Bilal, was also present at the exhibit's new location.  

RPI Controversy Continues Following Cancellation of Artist's Video Game Exhibit

March 10, 2008 -

Last week GamePolitics tracked the story of Wafaa Bilal, an artist whose Virtual Jihadi exhibit at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute was cut short following protests from some students and alumni, as well as a visit from the FBI.

In the wake of the campus flap, Inside Higher Ed reports that some RPI faculty members were outraged by school president Shirley Jackson's decision to abruptly cancel Bilal's visit. Art professor Branda Miller, from whose classroom Bilal was pulled by college officials, said: 

This isn’t just shutting down an exhibit. This is an assault on my classroom, an assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

I thought, ‘this must be what it feels like to be in Iraq.’ A moment of compassion crossed my mind. I was imagining professors attempting to teach their students in countries where academic freedom does not exist, where even their lives are at risk.

I think this is a very complex discussion.He’s an artist. He’s very intelligent, very serious, very kind. He is trying to make a point. My students play these games. Some of these games are embedded with violence and racism and the ability to dislocate your sense of self when you kill someone. [Bilal was trying] to get people to think about the games.


RPI Game Exhibit Nixed Over Terrorism Concerns; FBI May Be Involved

March 7, 2008 -

On Monday GamePolitics reported on a brewing video game controversy at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, New York.

The dust-up centered around objections by RPI's College Republicans organization to a planned exhibition by a visiting artist. Wafaa Bilal (left), an Iraqi who is on the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago and whose brother was killed in the current war, was scheduled to present a hacked version of Night of Bush Capturing, an al Qaeda propaganda game at the campus.

Bilal's exhibit, however, has been canceled by RPI administrators over terrorism concerns as well as protests by some students and alumni. As reported by the Albany Times-Union, Bilal said:

It feels like a military camp, not an educational institution.

Bilal maintains that the intent of his exhibit is to show how U.S. strategy in Iraq has helped al Qaeda recruit new members.

Alumni Christopher Lozaga was among those who objected to Bilal's appearance:

So long as RPI sponsors these kinds of events, giving absolutely no consideration to military alumnus, friends and family of the university, I will not contribute a dime to the school.

On Wednesday Bilal was removed from an RPI classroom by administrators during a meeting with students. Said media arts professor Branda Miller:

It was very unsettling for me and my students. It would be unfortunate if Wafaa Bilal's art exhibition remains closed. The whole point of art is to encourage dialogue.

Bilal told the Times-Union that RPI officials, on orders from school president Shirley Ann Jackson, questioned him about the game mod and whether it portrayed an attack on President Bush. He was also told that federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, were planning to attend his exhibit. 

While not commenting on Bilal's case specifically, an FBI official said:

I can state that there are situations where it would be appropriate for FBI agents to attend events which are open to the public if the FBI believes that there might be information relevant to national security. FBI agents can attend these events even if an investigation is not opened. But they would only report on information which is relevant to a threat to national security.'

RPI VP William Walker told the Times-Union: 

The university is considering various factors relating to the exhibition, and has suspended it pending a more complete review of its origin, content, and intent. Rensselaer fully supports academic and artistic freedom. The question under review regards the use of university resources to provide a platform for what may be a product of a terrorist organization or which suggests violence directed toward the President of the United States and his family.

RPI student body president Julia Leusner added:

If Bilal was making a point about the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war, I failed to see it, as did every other student I spoke to.

UPDATE: Newsday has picked up the story. Look for this to get some national attention. From Newsday:

"By taking [the exhibit] away, they destroyed the entire objective of it, which is conversation," Bilal said. "I think they're buying time as a tactic here, so they don't look bad. Let's call it what it is, censorship."

Bilal is no stranger to controversy. Some of his work was destroyed at an exhibition at the University of New Mexico, and he's also had government officials confiscate his work from an exhibit in Baghdad.

UPDATE 2: As expected, the RPI story has gone national. Here is Associated Press coverage in the Washington Post.

College Republicans Protest Iraqi Artist's Jihad Game Mod

March 4, 2008 -

An Iraqi video artist's  "Virtual Jihadi" exhibit is stirring controversy at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute campus in Troy, New York.

The artist, Wafaa Bilal, a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, modded an Al Qaeda propaganda video game, Night of Bush Capturing, in order to craft a message about his views on the inhumanity of the ongoing war. From the RPI website:

Bilal casts himself as a suicide-bomber in the game (left). After learning of the real-life death of his brother in the war, he is recruited by Al Qaeda to join the hunt for Bush. 

This work is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as Quest for Saddam; along with vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.’s failed strategy in securing Iraq. 

The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab culture with games like Quest for Saddam and other media.

But RPI's College Republicans have expressed outrage over Bilal's appearance, terming the RPI Arts Department, which is sponsoring the event, "a terrorist safehaven:"

Our tuition dollars are hard at work in the RPI arts department which is proudly hosting a video game debut that simultaneously embraces Islamic terrorism and advocates the killing of the American President...


This is something RPI should be ashamed to have its name even mentioned with, let alone be sponsoring. Hopefully, the folks in the arts department will get enough phone calls from outraged alumni and come to their senses.

The College Republicans also express concern that Bilal's appearance is part of a program funded by a New York State grant.

Via: Albany Times-Union

GP: A number of GamePolitics readers attend RPI. We'd love to have them weigh in via comments...

UPDATE: Geeks Are Sexy has a lengthy interview with Bilal, who said:

I don’t know if it crosses a moral line, because it’s still virtual, right? So, if games like “Call of Duty” or other games are fine, why should this be any different?

...I think it’s a strategy of engagement. I don’t see it as crossing the line at all - but rather calling attention to something really disturbing, this game and the Web site, and the rhetoric as well...

We’re going to see more and more of games as a tool to capitalize on political issues, and as people, and the medium, become more sophisticated, we’re going to see more and more of this.


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ZippyDSMleeI dunno I'd go to see it, seems liek dumb fun, better than half assed serious stuff that has so many holes large enough to drive mac trucks through(coughinterstellercouch).07/30/2015 - 10:58am
Andrew EisenGoth - Wait, you went to see Pixels just to spite Chipman?07/30/2015 - 10:49am
MechaCrashYou can see Pixels, which requires you to be a moron to enjoy it, or you can actually spend that time and money watching something actually good. Gosh, what a choice.07/30/2015 - 10:49am
benohawkHot damn, I'm sold. Why see something you can enjoy on multiple levels when you can nap through half the film and still get it all?07/30/2015 - 10:17am
james_fudgeSo what people are saying is PIXELS is a great movie to see if your are comatose.07/30/2015 - 9:47am
ZippyDSMleePixels is something to shut your brain off with and just try and enjoy. The rest of films not so much. LOL07/30/2015 - 8:49am
MechaTama31Child of Light looks interesting, but not "I'm willing to put Uplay on my PC" interesting.07/30/2015 - 7:51am
MattsworknameOn the subject of movies and video games, if you haven't seen it and your a street fighter fan, run down a copy fo Street fighter assassins fist. Its the best video game movie made, and its by a small studio07/30/2015 - 5:37am
Goth_SkunkSee, i didn't enjoy the Transformers films, but I don't really know why. I watched them for the sake of watching them, but I doubt I'd ever have a craving to watch them again. With Pixels, I would.07/30/2015 - 5:12am
Sora-ChanOn topics of movies in general: I usually find the argument of "shut down your brain and enjoy the movie" argument to be annoying. It was something that I was told to do when it came to the transformer movies from Bay, and it irked me when people said it.07/30/2015 - 5:03am
Goth_SkunkI did. And I didn't care much for it, but it was the reason I went and saw the film. The entire thing can be summed up in one sentence: "I didn't like it! If you pay to watch this movie, you're a big smelly poopy-head!"07/30/2015 - 4:56am
MattsworknameI think everyone here has Crono, we just don't agree with him or how he handles himself or his reviews, but thats us07/30/2015 - 4:55am
CronosonicThere are far worse problems Moviebob pointed out about Pixels than it not being 'serious'. Did you even /watch/ his review?07/30/2015 - 4:35am
MattsworknameAlso, newbusters verison. http://newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/tom-blumer/2015/07/29/venezuela-orders-food-producers-divert-output-empty-state-stores07/30/2015 - 4:25am
MattsworknameNot game related, but wow, Were are all those people who sand the praises of venezula now http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/L/LT_VENEZUELA_FOOD_SHORTAGES?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT07/30/2015 - 4:25am
Goth_Skunk... is one you can acknowledge, then you'll enjoy it.If you CAN'T acknowledge such a mindset, then you must be MovieBob. Welcome to GP. :^)07/30/2015 - 4:13am
Goth_SkunkIf you watch Pixels expecting it to be Film Of The Year, or if you expect a Best Actor performance from Adam Sandler, then yes, you will be disappointed. If the idea that a film can simply be fun and entertaining without needing to be serious...07/30/2015 - 4:12am
MattsworknameIm kinda torn goth, on one hand , the effects look cool, but im not sold on sandler as the star07/30/2015 - 3:54am
Goth_SkunkBut did the film specfically take elements of Space Invaders and dedicate scenes and acts to it? No, they didn't.07/30/2015 - 3:49am
Goth_SkunkThe whole film is kinda centered around a Space Invaders theory.07/30/2015 - 3:49am

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