Log: Invasion of the dancing hamsters!

Published March 22, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Invasion of the dancing hamsters!

If you haven't seen the Hamster Dance in the last few weeks, you must have been offline.

Something about these rows of undulating animated drawings has captured the heart of the Net. Is it the crude simplicity of the page? The artful use of artless music (it sounds like Alvin of the Chipmunks scat-singing, but is apparently "about 25 notes of a Roger Miller tune from the Disney movie 'Robin Hood'")? The primitive appeal of rodential cuteness? Or a sign of collective mental breakdown among the people who have circulated its URL? Whatever the reason, the Hamster Dance is fast becoming the silliest and most popular Web craze since the Dancing Baby graduated to "Ally McBeal."

The Hamster Dance is apparently the creation of hamster-lover Deidre LaCarte, who first built the page on Geocities as a tribute to a pet named Hampton Hampster and later moved it to its own domain once its popularity began to skyrocket. (LaCarte, no doubt inundated with fan mail, did not answer an e-mail to talk about her work.)

Imitations were inevitable. Now there's also the Cow Dance, with an innovative DJ section that lets you pick different music for the bovines to bob by, from "Stayin' Alive" to "The Macarena." For South Park fans, there's a Dancing Cartman. If whimsical sacrilege is your thing, try the Jesus Dance. And a Shockwave-based parody called "The Hamster Blast" lets you mow the hamsters down as if they were rows of swarming Space Invaders.

At this rate, the Hamster Dance will be turning up on your favorite TV series in no time.
-- Scott Rosenberg

SALON | March 26, 1999

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"Bug's Life" games for Mac users? Sorry

At Macworld in January, Steve Jobs got up onstage to tout the Macintosh as a great new gaming platform and proceeded to laud a lineup of new games available for the MacOS. Well and good -- but Jobs may need to pay a little closer attention to what his other company, the animation house Pixar, is producing.

With the help of Disney, its golden-eared owner, Pixar has created a series of games based on its smash hit "A Bug's Life." Ironically, though, not one of those CD-ROMs is available for Macintosh users. Additionally, only two of several games based on "Toy Story" are available in a Macintosh format. If you want to play games based on Pixar's movies, in other words, you have to buy a computer from one of Jobs' competitors.

In Jobs' defense, Pixar didn't produce the games in-house. They are branded as Disney games, and, as Pixar spokesperson Katherine Sarafian explains, "Disney Interactive drove the process and we worked with them to art-direct the game."

Sarafian is, however, aware of the irony: As she wryly apologizes, "There should be Mac versions out sometime ... but we just don't know when."
-- Janelle Brown

SALON | March 25, 1999

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Starcraft invades Amazing Stories

Call it another victory for convergence. In its next issue, due on newsstands March 29, Amazing Stories, the science-fiction magazine founded 70-odd years ago by Hugo Gernsback, will be publishing a story set in the future history created for the Starcraft computer game.

This isn't the first time Amazing Stories has published what is now commonly being called "franchise fiction." Since its resurrection after a several-year hiatus in July 1998 by collectible card game publisher Wizards of the Coast, Amazing Stories has featured a "media tie-in" in each new quarterly issue. But until now, the flaunted franchises have belonged to such televised science-fiction staples as "Star Trek" and "Babylon 5." The new issue marks the first appearance by a science-fiction video game -- and not just as feature story: Starcraft also gets the cover.

The bestselling "real-time strategy" game -- in which three races, Terrans, Zerg and Protoss, battle it out for galactic supremacy -- is already highly regarded for having a compelling story line all its own. Several video games -- Mortal Kombat, Wing Commander -- have already spawned movies, and fan-written fiction flourishes for hundreds more. So why not a real Starcraft short story?

Too bad, then, that the story "Revelations," written by Starcraft game designers Chris Metzen and Sam Moore, reads more like an advertisement for the game than a work of intrinsic literary merit. The basic races -- engaged in bloody combat -- are introduced in vivid, competent prose (significantly better than your average Starcraft fan fiction effort). But there's no reason for the story to exist other than Starcraft's popularity as a game. Die-hard science-fiction fans can be excused for feeling that Amazing Stories is diluting the majesty of its venerable brand.

But at least the magazine is back, with room for new stories by the likes of Bruce Sterling, Pamela Sargent and Barry Malzberg. When the news broke last spring that the revived Amazing Stories would be featuring regular media tie-ins, minor outbreaks of disappointment and disapproval broke out in such science-fiction watering holes as the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written. How could Amazing Stories sacrifice its illustrious history to Trekkies? But the disappointment soon faded when it became clear that actual science-fiction authors were looking forward to the revival of an old market. Better a mix of franchise fiction and the real thing than nothing at all.

And who knows, maybe someday we'll get a dose of real convergence -- a science-fiction story or novel or movie, based on a video game, that qualifies as real art. It's not beyond the bounds of imagination, even if it would be, ahem, an amazing story.
-- Andrew Leonard

SALON | March 24, 1999

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The newest online consumers: Kids

E-commerce merchants have, no doubt, long agonized over the fact that kids and teens can't really buy stuff online, since the majority of online transactions require credit cards. Think of the tragedy: A whole demographic of spending-happy teenagers untapped!

No more. Thanks to a brand-new site called iCanBuy, kids and teens can now shop online as easily as their parents. iCanBuy CEO Paul Herman describes the site as "a permissions-based wallet": Parents start online accounts for the kids by making a monetary deposit, and the kids can either spend the money at one of 12 merchant partners (ranging from FashionMall to outpost.com), donate the money to a number of listed charities or save it in an online bank account and earn 2.6 percent interest.

Cynics will undoubtedly point out that a site like iCanBuy seems to serve retailers' interests more than kids'. Herman (who, incidentally, once drove the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile) simply says, "You can look at it that way, but it's really about managing money wisely." Not only can parents monitor everything that goes on in their child's account, he says, but the site also includes education areas that teach finance-management skills.

Perhaps sites like iCanBuy will produce a new generation of Net-savvy investors and philanthropists. The odds are also good, however, that those preteens will spend more time throwing down their digital cash for those oh-so-cute butterfly hair clips than learning the ins and outs of mutual funds.

-- Janelle Brown

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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