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When the Machines Talk, They Talk About You

By Mike Musgrove
Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Xbox 360 has a blog, and it's starting to get on my nerves.

While I was off on a vacation recently, the slick game console spent the week talking about me behind my back and posting snarky comments on the Web.

"I was ignored . . . all . . . freaking . . . day," it complained.

"What . . . are you off reading a book or something?" it remarked another day. "Come play games!"

Finally, things got a little spooky. "I have a bit of a temper if I am neglected," it warned.

The blog is an automated software widget hosted at 360Voice.com that takes advantage of the Microsoft Xbox 360's extensive Web connectivity features, originally designed to let gamers compare their scores and game collections.

The service has about 50,000 registered users: Just enter your Xbox 360 name, or "gamertag," and your console can join the blogosphere, no charge. Every day, the personalized blog is updated with a list of what games you played and whether you made any progress in them. Leave the machine turned off for a day, and it generates a gripe like the ones above.

The site was put together by tech guys Trapper Markelz and Stephen Sopp, college friends and video game fans who now live in different states and stay in touch via the Xbox's online service. Markelz said in an e-mail yesterday that he got the idea for the automated blogs from a talk given by science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling at a tech conference.

Their service is a decent chuckle -- but frankly, I'd like to think my Xbox 360 would take a wider view of the world if given a voice.

There are a lot of other important issues I wish my Xbox were addressing, instead of ratting me out. Why, for example, did Capcom ruin its otherwise decent new zombie game, Dead Rising, by making the in-game text nearly unreadable for people not playing on a high-definition set? And what is it about the new game Saints Row that makes it less fun than Grand Theft Auto -- even though it's such a very close copy of that game franchise?

And, while we're at it, why knock my general lack of love for the current batch of Xbox 360 games when the real reason I haven't spent time on the Xbox system this summer is the PlayStation 2 game Guitar Hero?

I put on a rockin' toy-guitar performance last week, for the benefit of my girlfriend's two dogs, who were as surprised as I was when I made it through Ozzy Osbourne's "Bark at the Moon" on the game's "expert" level. But did my Xbox, parked nearby on the floor, deign to notice or even give this feat a passing mention on its blog? Nooooooo.

As for game consoles with blogs, I think I can see where this is heading. Eventually, all our gadgets and Web accounts will start blogging. Your gym membership card will have a blog.

This has already started: Netflix already has a neat-o buddy list that lets me see what my friends have in their movie queues, and Amazon.com lets me see what my friends have on their wish lists.

Eventually, somebody will put all these data streams together into one mega-blog, where my iPod will talk about the Supagroup albums I just fed it and my browser will report that I've been listening to WJFK online lately. Any GPS-enabled gadget in my collection will give up my whereabouts on the globe. Connect that with my Amazon.com account, and my friends will see that I ordered, say, the new Brad Meltzer book to read during a weekend in Ocean City.

And, eventually, someone will put all these mega-blogs together and make a profitable dating service out of all this information. What better way to check for compatibility with your potential soul mate? Some guy may boast that he likes to cook, but verification is a click away: Just check his Peapod account to make sure he's not buying mac and cheese every week.

If you're too wary to meet someone your blog is trying to set you up with, you can take the easier route and send your avatar out on the first couple of dates, maybe to attend a virtual concert while you stay home and defrag your hard drive or upgrade your router.

Anybody out there recognize a brilliant business plan and have a few million dollars of venture capital burning a hole in their pocket? Please -- have your Xbox get in touch with my Xbox. Gamertag: MikeShotgun.

Bonus Level

Reader Nik Carr-Voigt points out another item my Xbox 360 should be blogging about. This week, Microsoft updated the list of games that are "backward compatible" for the console.

Not all games designed for the original Xbox will play on the newish Xbox 360. But game companies and Microsoft are working through the back catalogue and making the old games playable on the new machine by way of downloadable software patches.

Odd thing is, the selections on the list include a bunch of games that no one ever wanted to play again, or play in the first place, such as Catwoman and Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis.

"Way to prioritize, Microsoft," grumbled Carr-Voigt via e-mail.

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