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McGame

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It's a sure sign that a fixture in our pop cultural landscape is coming into its own when a big, monopolistic corporate entity starts sucking the independent spirit right out of it. Classic film had the overbearing studio system, food service has McDonald's, home computing has Microsoft, discount shopping has Wal-Mart… and now videogames have Electronic Arts.

Long ago--say, way back in the '80s--EA was an idealistic publishing venture founded to foster independent videogame development. Now, however, they're the largest games publisher in the world, and it seems like they won't be happy until they're the only one.

But world videogame domination is a rocky road: Look at the class-action lawsuits EA's facing from their employees for unpaid overtime, their controversial buyouts of the exclusive rights to the NFL, NCAA, and ESPN brands (shutting out Sega Sports and any other competitors), and their near-complete hostile takeover of their biggest competitor, Ubisoft. Clearly, this stuff isn't so good for PR--so EA recently ordered a squeaky new public image from Portland ad firm Weiden & Kennedy, who have used their special "branding" skills to fix up images for global corporations like Nike and Starbucks.

Of course, the one who's going to be paying for all this is you, dear gamer. In the gaming landscape, EA is a lot like Clear Channel--determined to clear-cut everything in sight and replace it with focus-tested, market-friendly, and utterly generic product. The downside for gamers is that the biggest guys with the most money always want to play it safest, and creativity will doubtless suffer as a result. The upside? An entity that's so big and unwieldy has trouble sustaining itself for long, so EA's flood of digital junk food (hopefully) can't last forever. In the meantime, enjoy your McGame. Would you like fries with that? STEVEN GAYNOR

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