Click and conquer

National | New game lets players be "God"; broadband hits a speed bump; Internet radio voices stilled

Issue: "Target: Taiwan," May 5, 2001

You will be as god
A popular new video game offers users the ultimate ego trip: a chance to play God. Electronic Arts' Black & White casts players as pagan deities ruling their own world called "Eden." The name refers to the choice to be either benevolent or malevolent ruler of the local natives. Neither path, according to the game's rules, is good or bad. Black & White gives players the chance to conquer up to eight different tribes and create animal-like spokesmen to control the populace. "As the epic story unfolds," reads the marketing copy on the game's website, "you can choose to rule a realm of darkness with powerful miracles and godly actions. Terrorize your followers and send your giant Creature to stamp your twisted decisions on the world." Since this is a multiplayer game, Black & White presents a polytheistic universe with various deities jockeying for power. The game includes its own renditions of Indian, Greek, Norse, and other societies for players to act out their own mythology. Simulated gaming worlds and role-playing simulations have been around for decades-from Dungeons & Dragons to The Sims-but few before have pushed the self-deification angle to such an extreme. The closest example was LucasArts' mid-1990s game Afterlife, which had players controlling a virtual heaven and hell. The gaming industry has heaped praise on Black & White, awarding it Best Original Game and Best of Show at the big E3 trade show. In its own way, Black & White seems the embodiment of the game stereotype: the intelligent, antisocial loner who prefers the virtual world he can control to the real one he can't. The player can be worshipped-literally-by his computer even if he goes unnoticed among humans. Beyond the obviously blasphemous elements, a game like this reduces religion to trivia and spirituality to something that can be fixed with a quick reboot. Narrowing choices for broadband
The high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) technology that was intended to revolutionize Internet access has hit a speed bump. Numerous DSL providers are running short of cash or going broke, and leaving regional phone monopolies-from whom the smaller providers lease lines-to gobble up the customers. "We're on the precipice of disaster, and it's not clear our industry is going to survive," said John Windhausen, president of the Association for Local Telecommunications Services, a trade group for those who compete with Baby Bells. NorthPoint Communications, once a shining star of the DSL world, went bankrupt and last month sold most of its assets to AT&T. Covad Communications, another powerhouse, laid off 800 workers and scaled back its operations. Even as DSL providers see their balance sheets blister, demand is still high. The market-research firm TeleChoice reports that DSL subscriptions hit 2.4 million last year and projects the numbers will more than double, to 5.7 million this year. This falls behind estimates for cable-based broadband Internet, however. We interrupt this program ...
Hundreds of radio stations across America are shutting down their Internet broadcasts as the result of demands from unions and the music industry. Just as millions of people were discovering they could hear a vast array of stations from around the country, an entire cottage industry has come to an abrupt halt. The music industry, which receives royalties from radio stations for the music they play, wants additional payments for Internet simulcasts. Broadcasters have fought back with a lawsuit, contending they do not owe anything extra. Another battle involves the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which seeks to collect extra residuals when performers' voices in commercials go over the Internet. Some station owners are scrambling to find equipment that cuts AFTRA-produced ads from their Internet streams so they can resume transmissions and build the audience base without having to pay higher fees. "We want to get back online as quickly as is feasible because our customers want us online," said Kevin Mayer, chairman and chief executive officer of Clear Channel Internet Group. Stations began putting their signals online in the late 1990s as a way to reach audiences in office buildings and out-of-the-way locations where reception is poor or impossible. In addition, stations with unique formats (usually specialty music or conservative talk radio) found they could pull in lots of listeners far from their hometowns. Radio websites that stream online usually put on their home pages a link that says "Listen Live" and points to instructions on how to listen, typically using free players distributed by Real Networks or Microsoft. One of the biggest dot-com IPOs was that of Broadcast.com, a company-ultimately acquired by Yahoo-that specialized in retransmitting radio stations.

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