I’ve been professionally writing about video games for almost two years now and I’ve never felt the need to incorporate politics into my articles (I did write an editorial back in 2008 on the election, but games never came into it). Two weeks ago though, our president made some comments that really got under my skin.

For those of you who may be unaware, President Obama was giving a commencement speech at Hampton University in Virginia when he began talking about the bombardment of the masses by varying news and information reports from every technological orifice imaginable. Now, this is a valid point and I do personally believe that society does have a problem, at times, when it comes to filtering its news. But he said it in a way that, basically, throws video games under the bus for a lot of our information consumption problems.

His exact words that I am calling into question were: “With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.” Personally, as someone whose life is dedicated to the reporting of and playing of video games, I took serious offense to this statement.

Firstly, the comment makes our president look like a Luddite and that he is out of touch with the constantly evolving technology that our lifestyles now demand. Secondly, as our president has admitted on camera to his BlackBerry addiction, to bash modern technology and those of us who use it, but to also admit to relying on it like a crutch himself, makes him look like a hypocrite.

Now I’m not knocking the President just to do so, the point simply is that most of us can process information effectively in today’s society and still play games. In fact, I’m sure many of the students he was talking to were gamers (maybe even gaming during his boring speech). For many of us, it is called a hobby (and a lucky few, a job). Most of us do not confine ourselves to our mothers’ basements surrounded by empty Red Bull cans and Doritos bags (and those of us who do are usually getting paid to do so)! Many people play video games and have a full social life. I know successful, intelligent people from a female medical doctor that likes to fly with Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 (yes, she’s married guys) to hockey players who double as Dark Jedi Masters in their spare time in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed to army specialists who practice maneuvers with zombie hordes in Left 4 Dead 2.

Video games are simply a safe, entertaining way, to pass time by oneself or with friends. I’m sorry that we’ve moved beyond the printing press Mr. President. Maybe you should look into banning movies, reality TV, trashy romance novels, the Internet, or any other of the plethora of things that people do for entertainment. Or maybe you’re just frustrated that Midway Games, who were based out of your hometown of Chicago, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Either way, games are here to stay and are nowhere near the reason why the economy hasn’t rebounded yet, unemployment is through the roof, and Iran is getting their hands on low-grade plutonium. Maybe, Mr. President if you added President Mahmoud Ahmadinjejad (the President of Iran) to your Xbox Live friends list and played him for a few hours in NBA Live (we’ll make Bill Clinton an unlockable like in the old NBA Jam if it’ll help) he’d be more willing to listen to those sanctions you’re always going on about. Until then, choose your words more wisely because as someone who is using his gaming column to criticize your words, I feel pretty damn empowered. Game on! 

Every day I come into work and I cross off another day on my Marvel Superheroes calendar (this month is The Thing from the Fantastic Four). Like most people, there are always dates I need to remember that are circled and with notes on them: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., etc. When I came in today though and looked at my calendar, I couldn’t help but look ahead to the middle of June.

Anyone with his or her finger on the pulse of the video game industry has already probably concluded that I’ve got E3 on my mind. And I figured that as our collective countdown clocks approach the 50-day mark for the most celebrated video game event in the USA, if not the world, that I take a look at just what is riding on this one for our beloved Xbox 360.

Last year we were blown away with controller-less gameplay and an A.I. named Milo (which I still think will cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to come back from the future to protect someone from it) when Microsoft revealed Project NATAL. We were then pleasantly surprised to find out that it would be an accessory for the current generation console and not pave the way for a next-gen console.

“Come with me if you don’t want to play stupid mini-games”

The biggest shocker came though when we heard the release date. Many of us (myself included) were predicting something like a 2012 release date since we figured that we were still a couple of years away technology-wise from what we saw at E3. I mean face scanning and voice recognition on a home console? But Microsoft released shortly later that NATAL would be on store shelves in time for the 2010 holiday season and our jaws hit the floor.

But now we are only eight months away from the holiday season when this revolutionary accessory is supposed to drop and we are still in the dark as to what it can do, what games to expect, how much it will set us back, and how effective it will be in living up to the promises it made at last E3. Sure, Microsoft has been promoting that Alleyway/Brickbreaker style game that everyone saw at E3 to the press as they’ve been holding small events around the country to show off NATAL to those of us who couldn’t make it last year to Los Angeles. But aside from that, there hasn’t been much in the way of demos or information leaked about something that is supposed to revolutionize our industry.

That’s why, I believe, this E3 will make or break NATAL. The industry does not deal with broken promises well (at least in the short term) and if NATAL cannot provide what it showed us at last year’s E3, with a comprehensive library of compatible games and seamlessly interactive features, you could see the ground Xbox 360 has made on the Nintendo Wii in terms of sales in recent months slip and possibly fall back even further behind than what it was. We could be looking at a new Power Glove, Super Scope, or bevy of other failed gaming accessories just due to a lack of software, never mind if the technology is not up to expectations.

Is this the extent of Natal’s ability? We’ll find out this summer.

There is hope though. Peter Molyneux (who I still think would make a great James Bond villain) has been toting NATAL since Day 1 and there are signs that Fable III could be NATAL compatible. There has also been a leak of a white water rafting game that seamlessly follows your movements as you head down the Colorado River. This looks like it would be a great aerobic workout and tons of fun for the family unit. Don’t rock the boat!

There is also much speculation. Gears of War 3’s trailer should at least be on display at E3. If Epic was one of the highly touted 3rd party developers who got one of these secret development kits mentioned last year and can throw in with NATAL, then all may be well in Xbox land. If massive titles that are predicted to come out well after the release of NATAL are not compatible with it though, then the accessory’s sales could be crippled before they even get started.

It could be a big step in gaming. Wireless controls blew people’s minds and motion control turned gaming on its head. Throw those out the window altogether, and the next thing you know we’ll have virtual reality helmets and teleportation devices in our homes (yeah, I’m really invoking my creative license on this one). Honestly though, we could be on the precipice of something really big in gaming and I hope that Microsoft knows from previous mistakes that it would be easier to have something revolutionary be delayed, but have all the kinks worked out and backing from a full compliment of third party developers, than to just rush something out onto the market in order to be the first. Either way, I know I can’t wait for E3.