DopeWars Game Offers Furtive Thrills 

DopeWars Game Offers Furtive Thrills 
Posted by FoM on March 15, 2001 at 08:50:23 PT
By Sam Lubell 
Source: New York Times
The person sitting next to you on the subway or train  the one who seems to be busily rearranging a business calendar on a hand-held computer  could very well be selling crack, buying Ecstasy and getting tips on heroin prices. Well, not for real. They're playing a game called DopeWars. DopeWars for the Palm is the latest incarnation in a series of drug-related computer games that emerged in the 1980's. Like the earlier versions, DopeWars lets the player adopt the role of an urban drug dealer, buying and selling a wide array of narcotics. 
The game has come under fire from politicians and law enforcement officials for glamorizing violence and the drug trade, and it has been removed from some software sites. But that has not kept it from developing a following that includes business and financial professionals, for whom it combines the adrenaline of the trading floor, a vicarious Bonnie-and-Clyde lawlessness and the latest in mobile gadgetry. Many people on Wall Street say they like to play the game, though few are willing to admit to it in print. Marlinda McPhail, a former employee of Wheelhouse, a marketing company in San Francisco, estimated that about a third of the people in her former office played the game. She admits that she gets strange looks from the other passengers on her bus when she discusses her virtual drug deals with friends. "I get to lead a lifestyle I don't normally lead," she said. "You're being bad, although you're not really being bad." The popularity of the game, one of the first developed for the Palm, is striking. Since DopeWars for the Palm was released in February 1999, more than 180,000 people have downloaded it free from -- is impossible to say how many people have the game because other sites have offered it and many users pass games along by beaming them through the Palm's infrared ports. But for nearly a year and a half, DopeWars has been on CNET's list of the top 10 programs that can be downloaded for the Palm. A version for Windows -- -- developed by a British programmer, Ian Wall, in September 1999, has been downloaded almost two million times, according to figures at CNET's Web site. Matt Lee, the graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who programmed the Palm version, estimated that more than 500,000 people had it, which would make it one of the top three Palm games available. "The game came out at a time when there were relatively few good games for the Palm so I expected at least some feedback," Mr. Lee said. "But the explosion in recent months is astonishing."Not everyone is so thrilled. Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, has spoken out against the game in Commerce Committee hearings. "Glamorizing violence and lawlessness is a dangerous thing to do," Senator Brownback said in an interview. "It is sad that an industry with as much talent and creativity as the video game business should choose to profit by stooping to such a level." Mary DeBourbon, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Richard A. Brown of Queens, who has prosecuted many drug dealers, agrees. "The drug trade, the drug culture, kills and maims thousands of people a year in this country, wrecking families, hurting people," Ms. DeBourbon said. "There's absolutely nothing fun about it, nothing gamelike about it." In September 1999, M.I.T. made Mr. Lee take the game off its server, in part because of a proscription against commercial software being run on the servers, but there was also some concern over the game's content. In January 2000, both and removed the game from their list of software available for downloading. Officials of Palm Computing, which developed the Palm and its operating system, declined to discuss the game. DopeWars is derived from a 1980's computer game called, variously, Drug Wars, Drug Dealer and Dope Wars. For the Palm, DopeWars is still just text, and it remains essentially an accounting game. Columns list the amount and types of drugs a player has for sale and the current price. There are adjacent listings how much the player owes to a loan shark (who must be repaid by the end of the game or the player's legs are broken) and how much room there is in the player's trenchcoat to transport the drugs. News flashes pop up in boxes to lend helpful hints like: "The cops just did a big ludes bust. Prices are sky high." The object is to make as much money as possible, and the game ends if the player is killed or after 30 days, in game time. Days change as the player moves from one borough to another. One advantage of the Palm version is that it can be played in relative secrecy in the office, on the train or even in a meeting. "The Palm is great," said Willie Torres, a computer animator at Sorceron, a streaming-video company. "People probably think I'm doing something really important when I'm actually making drug deals." The dealers and the police are armed, and the game includes violence and even killing, albeit in text. Mr. Lee said that the lack of sound and images or graphic blood made DopeWars less popular among die-hard gamers, and more popular among those who prefer simplicity. And for those working in the very bosom of the establishment, the game offers a peek into an imagined underworld. One player, Matthew Cook, said he had become obsessed with DopeWars while he was a graduate student at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. He said the game reflected lessons taught in his classes, including market testing, risk management, inventory control and money management. And of course, in the twilight of the dot-com age, it plays to the interest in sudden riches as players watch the price of drugs skyrocket. "It's like your company I.P.O.'s at five times what you expected it to," he said. (Mr. Cook's own company, an Internet start-up, recently went under.) Philippe Bourgois, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco who spent five years observing the drug trade in East Harlem and developing close friendships with dealers for his book "In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio" (Cambridge University Press, 1995), said that the American obsession with rags-to-riches stories was an important element of the game's popularity. "Drug dealing is every bit as entrepreneurial as any other business," Professor Bourgois said. These people are trying to get a piece of the American dream. Look at famous business people: Rockefeller oil, Pinkerton thugs, Prohibition. They all have skeletons in their closets." Professor Bourgois, who has played DopeWars, said he thought his former subjects in the drug trade would get a kick out of it, but not because of realism. Unlike the dealers in DopeWars, he said, real dealers generally did not carry several kinds of drugs at once. They also tend to work through a network of connections, not alone, and they don't move from area to area, as that would infringe on other dealers' turf. Mr. Lee admitted that his version of DopeWars was not much like the real thing. "Of course it's unrealistic," Mr. Lee said. "It's a game. Realism isn't very fun, in most circumstances. There isn't a realistic situation where one person could carry around a million dollars in cocaine inside their trenchcoat."Complete Title: DopeWars Game Offers Furtive Thrills as It Raises HacklesSource: New York Times (NY) Author: Sam Lubell Published: March 15, 2001Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company Address: 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036 Fax: (212) 556-3622 Contact: letters Website: Forum: DopeWars: Become Dealers In Dope Wars Game
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on March 15, 2001 at 09:43:46 PT
Governor Fights to Legalize Marijuana - Audio
Republican Governor Fights to Legalize Marijuana
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