Monday, December 31, 2012

Ouuuuu-Yaaaa~

Ouya Touch. The system is pretty tiny.

Remember that Ouya console Kickstarter program? It’s heading out to potential Developers that have donated enough money to begin producing content. One has taken the time to give an in-depth overview of the system and the possibilities. 

The system is based off of the Android platform and allows users to hook up and play, downloading content from a web store. There are no discs. No boxes of games to manager. Everything is in the console.

As a whole, it looks relatively simple and the developer notes that there are some nifty features to help create titles. You’ll notice fast that the Phone Android version was used versus the Tablet. Why? Don’t know. Could be a development thing that the tablet wasn’t handy at the time of inception.

Another fun fact: The controllers do not have a Start, Select, or Menu option. You have to pre-program these into the game. A lot of people have been buzzing about this system, so I would be curious to see what content is developed over the next few months.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Simple Heart of Ralph

Rich Moore, director of the Walt Disney film Wreck-It-Ralph, took a moment to write a piece for the NYTimes regarding his gaming experience, what inspired him to create Ralph, and, of course, what he plays.

It's a simple article, but it also expresses what I love about Disney. They allow their creators to be big kids by following their hearts. Moore was a man of the arcade generation. He knew the quirks of the coins and why we're all gaga for QBert. And he expressed it quite well in the film. That's passion people! Why can't more movie studios be like this and let people follow their dreams/inspirations/ideas to their end? Instead we get a slew of squeals, remakes, and movies based off of other things.

Oh, and apparently he really wanted to play Skyrim this year. But you can't blame him that he had to wait so long. He was kind of making a movie.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bittersweet Symphony


I am still going to defend the need to have a bittersweet ending in media, video games in particular. But as I play through Mass Effect 3, at the end of it all, I’m feeling it. I don’t want to finish the game.


I’m not regretting skipping ahead and reading the Wiki story outline. However that sadness is kicking in. I know my main character is going to die and that really sucks. I know people on my ship are going to die, no matter how much time and energy I have put into the game to get them to like me and to stay safe. Doubly sucks. Hell I put in way too much effort in ME2 to ensure that didn’t happen. Everyone comes back alive. If I get knocked out in the process, oh well, but the rest of you are required to survive. Why? To validate my gaming experience.

What is the point in saving the galaxy if my comrades, who I have spent 3 games working my ass off to protect, die in the process? The emotional investment we have in this game is at a lost. I think a number of us can agree that our interest in media (movies, television, books, games, etc.) is based off of the characters. Whether it be a personal connection, similar circumstances, or mutual dissatisfaction, a story is moot if you don’t have solid characters to play it out.

That is why I’m ambivalent about finishing the series, something that I am sure a number of you can agree with.

Again, I do want to state as I did in my post a few months back that Sheppard has to die. I don’t feel that the series could reach a more cohesive conclusion without his/her death occurring. Even with the “multiple” choices made available to the gamer (and I use that term lightly because let’s be honest, the endings are about 98% the same with the exception of a different colored laser beam), the best possible resolution has to kill off the main character. The beauty of the story doesn’t hold if he/she lives. Even that slim chance of Sheppard clinging to life in the super, secret, extra bonus ending is a bit of a cop-out. I’d rather they focused on the secondary characters and ensure their lives are fulfilled because of Sheppard’s sacrifice. Insert your religious references here.

Of course that’s also a way to get EA to crank out another game and a really crappy anime. So, you know, whatever.  I just know for me personally, I don’t think I can physically finish the game. I’ll make it to the beam of light from the Crucible and stop. I want to end the game knowing that everyone on my team lived. Beyond that, let it be.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gaming Confessions


Not my image. I've done all of those things.
Beat Battletoads? Psh. Too easy.

#EndOfTheWorldConfessions is the hashtag, and people were happy to unload their secrets to the world, hoping that it would all end. And it didn’t. We’re still here. Skynet is still building it’s robots. Global Warming is still happening. Its 24 degress outside with snow, yes real snow not that fake icy-slushy stuff people complain about, in Texas. It feels like the end of the world, but it’s just another day. Tomorrow it’ll be sunny and 45. Just watch. I predict 80’s by this time next week. Go Texas go!
 

But the silly “confessions” along with the depressing ones (geek is still a 4 letter word in the real world, so calling yourself out can be problematic) caused me to wonder about my own gaming secrets and to-do list. It seems silly, I know. But how many of you were hoping that nothing bad happened to you before the release of Halo 3? Come on. I’m sure some of you started praying to whatever god would listen so you could gun down the Covenant one more time, because you would feel remorse about your death by not playing that one game.


My List and Confessions (which will be updated as needed):

I’ve never maxed out my Rupee’s in and Legend of Zelda.

In fact, Skyward Sword is still sitting in its original wrapping. I haven’t played it yet.

Dragon Age: Haven’t played. Never been inclined, no matter how many times I’ve been told it’s great.

Metal Gear Solid 2: I’d like to at least play through this once, just once, without laughing at Raiden. Not with him, at him. I can’t keep a straight face when he slips in the pigeon poop. I can’t help it.

Angry Birds is a lot of fun to play. If you can’t accept that as a hardcore gamer, then you’re doing it wrong. I’m sorry to tell you. But no, it is not a game worthy of “best music.”

GTAIV: Unfinished. I have a slew of side-missions to complete that I just gave up on. I don’t really know why, but I haven’t been motivated to pick the game back up. To add, I did, at least, finish up the primary story. Hopefully that counts for something.

Finally capture MewTwo in one of the original Pokemon games. That was the only one that eluded me.

Learn a combo move in Street Fighter. After all of these years, I still don’t know a damn one.

Destroy a town I built in SimCity. I never could compel myself to do it on my own creation. The pre-rendered ones? Different story.

Get a full stable of Golden Chocobo’s in FFVII. There is a way to do it, and it is real.

Make a level in LittleBigPlanet (1 or 2) that is worth something to someone other than myself and my friends. (Damn that h2h.)

Once, just once, be able to jump up the walls in Super Metroid without ever sliding down. (Swear to dog it happens every damn time.)

Take the 30 minute Super Mario World challenge.

Take the Level 1 Final Fantasy VIII challenge.

Shoot a perfect game in HotShotsGolf.

Make it to a Donkey Kong or PacMan kill screen. I don’t care about the points, I just want to get to that final level.

Play DDR. Yeah, I still haven’t played it. Not once.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Wishing everyone a fun and safe holiday season.

I'm keeping it light today because I have been sucked into Mass Effect, and I 100% blame you all for it. *points the finger of shame*

Yes, yes. It's fun and I'm amused by the banter between my crew, but I'm still going to defer to my previous statement.

Shame! *finger point!*

Friday, December 21, 2012

Theme Park + Video Games = Disney

It's not TRON until we get our Lightcycles.

Disney has been undergoing a transformation to update their park and meet with the 21st Century technology. I remember when the Epcot Center was the place to be in the early 90’s. It was the coolest part of Disney. And the characters were dressed up in these cool space suits. Their interpretation of the future was really unique.

But I think we can all agree, as does Forbes, that Epcot is out of date. The original Epcot opened in 1982 and hasn’t been through many changes since it arrived. “People will no longer need to walk and can use conveyer-belt like platforms!” Been there. Done that. Didn’t care to see the movie. Because of the massive changes in technology and innovation within the past few years, it’s prompting Disney to push forward with their updates to the main Epcot Center and Future World starting with their Test Track ride.

Working in conjunction with Chevy the new Test Track has been inspired by TRON (though it looks more like TRON on drugs because there are too many curves, not enough straight lines), and video games. The idea is to allow gusts to create their own car and drive it through multiple simulations. In doing so they can learn about how designing a car works, the math and science involved, and all of that learning stuff people keep trying to force on us. :D

How do video games play into this? It’s not just that guests get to test the cars, but they can reference score boards to see how well their car performs amongst others. They will also have take-home RFD chips so you can keep a virtual version of your customized car. Eventually this could lead into a video game designed just for Disney and this ride. But for now, you can take your car on a ride at the kiosks in the Epcot Center while waiting on your “real” test car to be built. Even race it against other guests.

Disney is still pushing the boundaries on theme parks. Thank you technology on making these visits cool again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Month Into Free To Play

Get it? Because EA/BW are trying to "smuggle" as much
money out of us as they can. Hah!

So we’re hitting up on a month since Star Wars: The Old Republic has gone free to play. Less than a year after its December release the game is struggling to maintain its subscription base. Millions of us signed up at release and yes, I gushed about it through multiple blog entries. Hey when the NDA lifted I went crazy. I admit it and I know quite a few people have found it helpful based on the messages I received.

But then it dropped. A lot of the promises BioWare had made regarding endgame, class diversity, and character selection fell flat. Many of the issues that we saw in the alpha and beta testing, and we kept harping on the development team about, were still there. It wasn’t that it was a glitch game. Any new MMO is going to have a few technical problems here and there, but nothing so extreme that it would distract from the game. There were just fundamental core problems that never were addressed. It probably started around the time EA took over and BW couldn’t stop boasting. This could explain what happened with Mass Effect 3. EA. Worse company of the year


Look. TOR is still a fun game in its own ways. BW has the ability to tell stories in a unique way that speaks to gamers. Mostly they are awesome at creating characters. Really weird, totally nonsensical, but somehow cohesive on a team, characters. Because of this, TOR suffers. The game is very much single player driven. You don’t have to group a single time throughout the entire experience in order to progress in the story. It’s forced upon you during the end, but even at that point it’s never mandatory. You can still do a bulk of the “end game” content without being in a group. Once you finish your class story, the appeal of the game falls off the side of a cliff. The drop is incredibly drastic. A number of people that I use to play with would agree with me. We were all hoping for this rekindling of Star Wars Galaxies, but with more character driven stories. Instead we got KOTOR online. Which isn’t bad, but defeats the purpose of an MMO.

I still play, in free-be mode now (which also means I can’t access 4 of my characters as only 2 are allowed on a free account). I still find enjoyment being my little renegade Twi’lik Imperial Agent. I said I was making one, and dangit, I was going to follow through on it. But the story that should have kept me going is long gone. Level 50 obtained. Epic gear has been received, and still looks like crap on the IA versus the Sith armor. What else is there to do then to shoot random Womp Rats on Tattoine? *shrugs*

When I saw this article on Gamasutra about how the FTP model is working with TOR I was a little bit surprised at how expensive and convoluted they were making the system. Yes I’m aware of the Cartel Coin system, and the restrictions on the “free” characters is a bit extreme. Even WoW’s 20 levels will give you a hot bar for your abilities. Try scrolling through all of your healing mechs as an Imperial Agent? Go ahead. Try. Your Sith tank will die in half a second while you’re still scrolling. So if you want that action bar, you need to buy it. $100+ dollars later you wonder if it was all worth it.

The FTP model is meant to help generate income. I get it. But usually this is done with micro transactions while still giving the gamers a good chunk of the content. TOR is lending itself to a much more restrictive model. Even the subscribers are expected to pay extra if they want to access all of the content. Those who are paying the $15.99 monthly fee receive a weekly stipend of Cartel Coins. This is enough for the basic stuff, but if you are an active player or even one who spends more than 4 hours a week in TOR, those coins can be eaten up fast. The coins allow access to missions, quests, group events, gear, pretty much all of the things you need to endure in TOR. Including the hot bars/action bars. Yep. You have to use coins to access those, a basic necessity in all MMO’s. So as a subscriber, when things should be open to you, you still have to pay more.

It’s backwards and confusing. Who would want to pay more when you’re already on a monthly fee? Not even WoW does this. Ok they sort of do this, but it’s for bonus items like a fire kitty, not to access quests and general gameplay. Seriously, they had a fire kitty on sale last week, where 100% of the proceeds went to the Red Cross. I was highly tempted to purchase it. One because of the donations to the Red Cross. Two, it was a kitty. On fire. But to spend money just to access a hot bar is, for lack of a better word,

I’m not sure what EA or BioWare plan to go from here. BW will be at the 2013 Game Developer’s Conference, where they will discuss their current stance on their products and what they hope to achieve in the coming year. One can hope that they will better map out the future of TOR. It won’t survive for much longer if this is their intended plan. Again I enjoy the story. But outside of a first person experience, it’s greatly lacking in content. So many high hopes, all dashed. Yes, I still blame EA but I do that for a lot of things that don’t quite go right. See Spore.


Additional Reading:


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

THQ - Chapter 11 Filed

I’m really starting to feel the age of reckoning is coming. THQ has announced that they have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. THQ currently owns 4 studios that developed Darksiders, Saints Row, and currently in development for South Park: The Stick of Truth (do want!), and a sequel to Company of Heroes.

The publisher is attempting to sell and restructure as needed in order to keep profits afloat. Basically they’re pulling an AmericanAirlines. The company is not going to stop current production and they have full intent on recouping their losses. This is more of a step to prevent the really bad bankruptcy that could happen with the way the gaming market has been lately.

Everyone will still keep their jobs for the time being, there just might be some new faces in the executive line-up and some different owners. We’re still getting The Stick of Truth, and another Darksiders. Past that, it’s up in the air.

Video Game Co-Created by Skynet...I Mean AI

I don't know if this is a step up from HAL.

I’m telling you all. If the Matrix doesn’t happen at the rate we’re going, we are already in it.

Michael Cook, a PhD student from Britain’s Imperial College has launched a video game that was developed in part by an AI named Angelina. She, or it, automates the process by learning from other video games, picking apart features, and rejoining them into a new product. It sounds cool, even though Angelina is limited to arcade platforms because her algorithm is still in the early stages.

Cook does acknowledge that the system isn’t perfect. Angelina does not have the ability to gauge difficulty levels or how humans will interpret a product after use. To help “advance” Angelina, Cook has designed a system that gives her/it an impossible task. She must then use video games to create a program to overcome the task. The hope is that this will better prepare her/it with developing future games for humans.

It is multiple levels of creepy and interesting. From a programming element, it’s interesting to see how an AI is able to create a game, but still referring to the human entity to create the elements of design, difficulty, and connection. But still…creepy. AI’s are taking over.

The game itself is ok. Not good or bad. A Puzzling Present is a basic 2-D puzzle game, if you couldn’t tell the subject by the title. Angelina has a lot to learn. I’d be curious to see how her/its games develop over the years. Again. Creepy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflecting This Week

This will possibly be a low writing week. Not because of the holidays but because I’m stuck on what to write. So much of the focus in the journalism world is on the events in Connecticut that any new, thoughtful, or critical thinking has been pushed aside.

I’ve already contributed to it and I really don’t want to add to the mess. A number of people are going to be looking for other resources for their gaming fix to get away from the mess of “video game violence this” and “school shooting that.” I want The Geek Spot to be that kind of blog that doesn’t always follow the mainstream trending stories.

Hopefully I will resume the writing tomorrow with something different.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Respect To Those Lost

I knew it the moment that I heard the story that Fox News would find some way to tie in video game and media violence to the Connecticut school shooting. Interesting that they always want to blame media for airing violence, and look at what they report on? Hmmm. 

Ok. I’m not going to make this a political piece. A lot of people have long since begun to play the blame games. Ever the disbarred Jack Thompson had to throw in his point of view. 

Whatever you think or feel about gun control in the U.S., this is what should matter: These were the actions of one man. There has always been violence, anger, hate, suffering, death, and happiness, cheer, joy, and love. Billions of us have gone through life without having that thought that killing another human being is acceptable. Millions of us play video games every day and never once thought about picking up a real gun to harm another. Don’t lay blame on everything and everyone except the man holding the gun. A gun is a tool. The person who yields it is the one that makes the ultimate decision on what to do with it, not violence in the media, not video games, not movies, not the NRA or the PTA. That person holding the gun should be the focus. Just like someone getting into their car after a night of heavy drinking. They made the choice to get behind the wheel drunk. They made the choice to try and drive home drunk. And they should bear full responsibility for whatever happens while behind the wheel.

The actions of one should not dictate the view of many.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Educational Gaming



I read this article in the NY Times about a class divide inthe toy isle. Many of the creative, outstanding toys that have been proven to help give a step up for children in their education cannot be found at most mass market stores like Walmart or Toys R’Us. You have to look to the smaller, independent stores, typically nestled in more of the high-end communities. 

This applies to video games as well. A number of the software that encourage creativity and intellectual discussion are not ones that you can easily pick up at a Target. Many of these manufacturers of such toys find themselves in a catch-22 scenario. They want to stay small and independent enough that they can still create these unique toys without the influence of the corporate world. At the same time, because they don’t play “the game” they are not going to get the funding needed to push their products to the chain stores. Instead they are limited to local toy stores or museum gift shops.

I’m addressing this as a post today after reading another article in the NY Times about how not all educational toys are educational. Other then the obvious “no duh” sign, it’s not surprising that a number of the educational toys that are on the mass market shelves are not as intellectually stimulating as the ones that you can find at a small, local, non-chain store.

Is there any way to change this? Probably not. Part of the problem is that a number of parents and adults are still unaware about the importance of “Play.” I won’t begin to link the numerous studies, but they all agree that play time with games all improve cognitive, creative, intellectual, and social functions for children. When we keep them at their desks, they miss out on real world stimulation that they desperately need. And yes, not all educational games are alike. We have to think and reach outside the box to get to the good ones.

I’m an advocate of all children being allowed access to all resources for learning, but part of the trouble is getting that access. It kind of sucks. So when you think about donating to Child’s Play next year, consider going to one of your local toy stores instead of Target.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Everything Is Offensive. Get Over It Australia And Let It Be.



Now I don’t know how legit this article is. I am not an expert in Australian politics nor will I ever claim to be. Australia has some pretty strict rules regarding video games in general. I needed to be aware of those at the very least when I worked at GameStop and they called in asking why they couldn’t buy Grand Theft Auto. But the way the article reads, they are wanting to make everything and anything offensive be illegal and punishable by the law. Um…what? The continent founded by criminals is now wanting to be the most prude society in the world. Queue the irony music!

Australia currently has anti-discrimination legislation to help safe-guard some of their native inhabitants. However, they want to bolster it and make it completely illegal to call someone a name. Any type of discrimination or defamation would be prohibited in Australia. Again, I’m having trouble believing this, but that’s what the Aussie Herald Sun is reporting.

And what would be “offensive?” Well we’re in such a touchy society lately, everything could be offense to everyone. Even saying slang terms that are inherit in Australian culture like “mate” or “walli” could be enough grounds to bring someone to court. If you thought Singapore with the no gum chewing was bad, Australia just made it 10 times worse. The Attorney General is leading the charge.

My hope is that this is not as bad as it sounds. Yes they are going to want to be more strict. It took them 20+ years to even allow for an adult game to be brought into the country legally. But to make every word potentially offensive is insane.

If that’s the future we’re going to live in, I’m going to fight until my last breath to make sure it doesn’t happen. To reminisce on a South Park episode making fun of Family Guy, someone is going to find something offensive. At one point you just have to say enough is enough. It’s either all ok or none of it is, and if we are going to let the actions of a few make up the laws for the many and prevent free speech, is that the type of world we want to live in?

And that just killed my dream vacation. Thanks Australia. I won’t be visiting anytime soon if I’m going to get fined for saying “hello.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Games "Would" Make For Good Movies?

I know I write a lot about the failure of video game movies. It’s almost a hobby in itself. “What can I poke fun of for game movies this week?” The truth is that I mildly enjoy it. There are a lot of bad video game movies. Picking them a part is what I do best.

So when a reader prompted me on what games I felt would make good movies, I really had to sit down and think about it. That’s not an easy question. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. I could rattle off a few games and hope for the best, but that’s not how it works. Video games are not designed to be like movies, and vice versa. That’s one of the reasons why movie games don’t fare as well in the market. They don’t properly capture the essence of the film, and try to stretch a 2 hour story into a 20 hour game.

Does anyone remember the Avatar video game? Not the Airbender, the blue people. So far the most entertaining thing I can find about the game is a “mini-quest” where you cut down trees. Wasn’t this suppose to be a Fern Gully movie where we love nature? Whatever you want James Cameron. I’m not going to argue. (By the way, I still think the movie is horrible. Please stop trying to convince me otherwise.)

But in essence what happens is the movie based games become a joke; a simple means of expanding product line for profit. “Oh! Cars the game! The movie was so good, we got to get the game.” Simple name recognition and association leads to disappointing purchases. I’m sure someone, somewhere, out there, loves the Avatar game. And they would be the only one.

Since we can’t simply take the story of a game and slap it onto a movie screen, I really needed to consider which games would best fit the movie model. Difficult. But I’m up for the challenge so let’s see what I can come up with.

How about Infamous? It’s more of a sandbox game. There are a few primary objectives, but for the most part you carve your own path. You can choose to be good or bad (but still good enough to still be considered a hero), and the story could easily transform into a movie plot. The superhero craze is still going strong and I do see a potential market for new, non-comic book heroes. Hancock sounded like a really good idea. In fact it was! And then the last 20 minutes of the movie happened, and well, there you go.

I can already see the movie pitch: “A military experiment gone wrong destroys half of a city, leaving it to be quarantined and ravaged by gangs. But one man, Cole, survives the blast and finds himself with new powers to help bring order to chaos. Think Escape from New York meets Spiderman or whatever super hero the kids are into these days.”

The fact that Infamous is an open story also means that a lot of the content could be restricted for the purpose of a film without disrupting the original intent of the game. We can still see Cole being his crime-fighting self with moral ambiguity. This is the type of story that would probably lend itself best to a big screen adaptation. It allows the film makers the ability to use their personal style and keep the game intact. Also, Infamous is short. You push through the main missions and you can probably get everything square away in less than 8 hours. At least that’s what I did. What a lovely bonus for the film industry. “You have a game with an open story that we can easily manipulate with a plot that takes under 8 hours to complete? Done.”

Which is why GTA would never work as a movie. There’s a difference in experience between Infamous and GTA. The former is a game you could watch someone play, understand the story and enjoy it. The latter requires you to interact with it. You can never completely comprehend GTA until you play. It’s the type of game that requires you to immerse yourself and find a connection to the main character. With Infamous, the game tends to keep the player at a distance. Enough to care about Cole, but mostly to show off the neat things you can do with your super powers.

If Infamous represents sandbox for movies, Beyond Good and Evil and Heavy Rain would be the character driven stories that Hollywood loves to eat up. Hell Heavy Rain already has the makings of a great movie. Even the style of the cinematic sequences draw the gamer in more as a viewer and less of an active participant. The game centralizes on character and story development, less on movement and control. BG&E works the same way. Yes you have to make choices and do stuff, but what we take away from these games is that they feel like you were playing a movie. They were built to be a bridge between movies and games so a transition from one format to the other seems plausible.

And that’s all I’ve got. Honestly, it was difficult to come up with 3 titles. The problem is everyone is so focused on the “popular, hit making titles” without breaking down the game. A lot of video games are not designed to be movies. So many have such in-depth, expanding stories that to summarize them into a film doesn’t make sense. You would need a Lord of the Rings trilogy going on, and studios are not always so gung-ho to front the money for that. They want the one movie, and if it does well then maybe you’ll get a sequel.

Halo, Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, these are games designed as games. You would have to completely retool the plots, characters, and subtext to make them approachable for movie-goers. How the hell can you do that with MGS? I don’t know. Kojima is wanting to try and I wish him luck.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Video Games Are Still Making A Profit



Apparently sales dropped by 11% from last year. Even with the sales numbers outranking the predecessors. Black Ops 2 beat its $1 billion total by one day earlier from last year. Halo 4 raked it in, in a quarter of the time of Halo 3. So the numbers are there. So why are sales slipping?

A combo of fewer games are being purchased in bulk and slower console sales. Most people already have the system that they want. The new holiday bundles for Xbox 360 and PS3 are selling moderately. The Wii-U was just released, and the sale are doing pretty decently. The industry is still turning a profit. It’s just not AS BIG as it was last year.

I think that’s where people are forgetting their focus. You see these stories about “this business dropped sales at 20%” or “that business is down 35%” to throw out the scare tactics. They very rarely focus on the fact that those numbers are being compared to the same sales dates as the previous year, when the economy and market were very different. Hell the economy is a lot different today then what it was yesterday. Unleaded gas at the station near my home was $3.06 two days ago. Today it’s $2.98.

A lot of things can happen to a market within the span of a month. Image the span of a year. So while yes, the sales from November are not the same as the sales from 2011 November, the industry is still turning a profit. And big ones. Billion dollar sales for games is nothing to scoff at. I think it’s doing just fine. But if they want the numbers like they had in the past, they’re going to need to give us new content.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Grammy Gamer

Shabam!

Grammy nominations are out today. This year has been a nice surprise for my music tastes. I’m open to all genres, except country and rap, but I have an affinity towards alternative. And this year is looking to give lots of love to The Black Keys, Gotye, and Fun.

But gamers have something to be proud of too. We have a full soundtrack in the running. Journey from thatgamecompany was nominated for Best Soundtrack for Visual Media. This is the first video game to ever be nominated for a soundtrack, and a good choice! It’ll be up against the likes of John William’s for Tin-Tin, Hans Zimmer for The Dark Knight Rises.

This isn’t the first video game to be nominated at the Grammy’s, but it is for the full soundtrack. Civilization 4 won a Best Instrumental with Vocals in 2011 for one song. This is a nice leap forward for video games to be appreciated as an artistic medium. Music is a crowning achievement in video games; something many of us look forward to when we open that package. And if anything has been more influential or memorable in music, it’s been video games. Right up there with Star Wars and Rocky.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Myth of Gender Equality in Video Games

So much focus lately has been on the over-sexing of female characters. From Lollipop Chainsaw to the newest Hitman with the latex nuns (seriously guys?), slutting up women is still the same-ol, same-ol. However, people haven’t been touching the other end of the spectrum: women that assume more male dominated roles.

When it comes to video games we’ll typically see women in one of the following roles: sexy eye-candy or military hard ass. All of the in-betweeners are few and far, or completely down-played that they border on being unnoticeable. The NPC effect. They exist to keep the story going, they are not the story.

While people have been discussing how women are interpreted in video games as sex objects, they have been overlooking how the “military hard ass” can be equally as deprecating.

“But how is that possible? Isn’t it a good thing that women are shown in a man’s position? They’re not running around in skimpy outfits. They’re charging the battlefield, bloodied up, toe-to-toe with aliens and what-not.” My question to you is, just because a woman is taking a man’s role, does that make it equal? There is a lot more going on, typically hiding in the walls of subtext, then what is immediately apparent on the screen.

When you look at something like Gears of War 3 or Mass Effect, which are more of the atypical models of women taking combative roles, it would be easy to assume that women are being treated the same as their male counterparts. It’s a nice thought that a woman is perfectly capable of saving the world/universe/galaxy the same as a man. With Mass Effect you swap out a gender and you’re still getting the same story, the same characters, and a lot of the same interactions. Gears 3 with Anya, you get a sense that she’s just like one of the boys and not the atypical, whiny, female character in need of rescuing.

That’s the surface. Games that give the illusion that women are taking control of their destinies and the characters in their world are completely ok with it. That’s the fantasy.

There are so many other things going on outside of the primary story that subvert whatever intent developers had for these characters. These women that are meant to represent the non-sexy, non-eye-candy of the video game world are still objectified, harassed, and made to feel inferior to their male counterparts. No woman character is immune from this.

Note: Because there are so few female characters in First Person Shooters, I’ll be pulling in from other game genres where the “military hard-ass” is a dominate figure.


Issue One: Armor. There is no such thing as Boobie Plates for armor. And yet, every woman has them! Anya from Gears 3 is the tamest because it best replicates her other squad mates who all have big, hunking circle pads on their chest. Anya’s is just a bit more prominent compared to the men to indicate that she is female. Although the lack of armor covering her arms and her waist being accentuated doesn’t help matters either.

There is a great piece on Mad Art Lab titled Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits that goes into detail on why the fantasy female armor makes no sense. Even with Anya and femShep, the Boobie Plates are counterproductive. They can’t work. Men and women are not naked under their armor. They are padded up and out for additional protection and to help with movement. Have you tried running around with metal armor on without anything underneath? I haven’t, but I’d imagine it would not only be uncomfortable but painful. Imagine that metal rubbing up in your business while you’re jogging across a field. Ow. But the point is when you have those additional layers of protection, everyone becomes flat- chested.

The boob plates do nothing but accentuate a woman’s body, making her into a sexual object. Simple as that. If you want to use the femShep example take a look at her normal clothing outside of the armor, and then in the armor. She goes from a B cup to a D in armor. How? Why? It makes no sense! If anything, that would give her even less protection because the armor is made to hug her every curve; meaning that less material was used and she would be more vulnerable to damage. Hmmm…no wonder my femShep seems to lose her shield faster. Or maybe it’s because I run her through Insane mode.


Issue Two: Speaking of clothing, there’s a lack of it on the female NPC’s and in social events for your main character. When you have these types of games, again the assumption is that everyone would be covered up to fight a war. It just makes logical sense, right? Even in “down-time” male characters are still fully covered. If you’re lucky you might see a shirt with rolled up sleeves. Sexy.

The women, however, are not so fortunate. Anya’s exposed arms and fabric covered torso are just the beginning. Final Fantasy with its glory of costume porn always seems to forget to give their women pants. No, the short-shorts do not count. Even now as I think about it, Alma the Chocobo Knight from FFX probably had the most body coverage of all female Final Fantasy characters, and even she was wearing cropped pants and limited armor compared to the male Knights. Even military hard-ass Lightning from FFXIII, who oozes every bit of the female trope, wears a mini-skirt. I didn’t know skirts were part of the uniform for her job, but there you go. The men get to wear pants. Women in skirts. More power to her for being able to fight with such a tight skirt on?

When you think about, none of the primary female FFXIII characters wear pants. Even in 13-2, they wear skirts. Skorts if you want to push it, but talk about double standard. All of the men are covered and maybe giving us a little big of a forearm. Women get skirts and low-cut tops. In their resolve to try and make more Type A personality female characters, they forgot about the pants. It’s still showcasing them in a sexual manner because they can’t be perceived as anything BUT an object of desire.

The first Mass Effect does decently enough for the female characters on your crew. Excluding the boob armor, you don’t really feel that the characters are being sexualized until you pursue a romantic relationship. Even with Tali’s curve hugging suit, her presentation and characterization are not one of an object of desire. She’s still a tool being used to extract information about Saren, and we can go off into a million different directions on that one.

But when it comes to the non-Normandy crew-members, sexify! Matriarch Benezia alone is a head shake. She’s boob-tastic. I can only speculate that the reason she wears such a low cut dress is to prove how awesome her biotic powers are. Gravity would never keep that top up, so she has to keep her biotic senses active 24/7. And all of the Asari…just pick one. Any of them. If they are not in a super clingy dress, they have everything hanging out in the bars and clubs. Not to mention the constant reminder that the Asari are deemed beautiful by every race in the galaxy. More sexual eye-candy. Your only means of escape is to stay parked on your spaceship, and not get a damn thing done.

Aside, has anyone else found it odd that there are no females of the other species available anywhere in Mass Effect? It’s as though they don’t exist. But we know they do. When you get into the background of the game, you find out that every one of these species has a male and female to make bebies. Asari are the odd ones. So what the crap happened to all of the other women? You get humans, Asari, and Quarians, the latter two resembling humans. Again this is further pushing the eye-candy factor. The citadel is littered with pretty, half-naked, human-like women. Reinforcing those stereotypes.


Issue Three: Forced Romance. I’m going to use Gears 3 for this example, because it’s the most tragic. Anya is presented to us as a very strong person with a connection to her feminine attributes. She knows she’s a woman, but carries herself as a human-this combo of male and female where she doesn’t act like one gender, but both.

And then! Anya falls hopelessly into love with Marcus. One of her primary reasons for moving from Communications to the Front Line with the other gearheads is to be closer to Marcus. She has an unrequited, secret love for him. And that just knocked her into the first category of “clingy, sexy woman.”

The only thing that I can determine as to why developers keep doing this to our heroines is so that we, the female gamers, can feel some real-world connection. Because we all, apparently, have a secret love interest and are willing to bend our entire lives around just to be near that person. Right. (Please note the sarcasm oozing from the last two sentences.)

I understand the need to identify with the heroes. However, when a woman loses her shell and becomes a stereotypical character again by being that clingy girlfriend, you have lost the intent behind identifying with the character. She’s no longer this strong woman that we look up to. She’s the woman willing to completely transform her life and risking it for a man that barely knows she exists. Great. She just got typecasted again. Thanks Gears. 


Issue Four: Warrior /= sexist free zone. The future and war is not a place where sexism magically vanishes. Unfortunately. Video games make it very apparent that women are still, and always will be, fighting for equality.

I have to use Mass Effect 2 for this example, because it caused me to stop and try to determine if what happened did in fact happen. So we’re on the Omega station, signing up to join a mercenary group to take out Archangel. Or rather subvert the entire effort to take him out and add him to my team. femShep walks up to the recruiter and  the offensive dialogue of being a woman merc starts flying. Ok really guy? Do you not see the giant ass gun strapped to her back? There’s a Renegade option to punch his lights out, but I was so stunned that I couldn’t react. maleShep would never have to deal with that. At most he’d be picked on for being a human.

On the one hand, I can appreciate BW taking into account that a woman would probably have to work twice as hard just to get the recognition a man would. She’s going to get berated and questioned because of her gender. However, there’s no risk/reward system for being a woman. Any extra effort you put into the game based on your gender doesn’t pay off. To put it in another way: as femShep you hear the comments and can’t do jack crap about them. I found myself getting kind of pissed off at certain segments because now I have the viewpoint of being a woman, not a soldier. I’m jaded and the responses I hear from NPC’s put it in that light, versus the super-soldier self that my character is suppose to be.

Anya doesn’t get much better treatment. She gets called a bitch a lot in Gears. One moment is more memorable than the rest because her team attempts to protect her. (Oh how sweet. We need big strong men to help save the poor little woman and defend her honor.) But there are little bits that you hear throughout the game that reinforce the stigma. Being a soldier means you’re a man. Being a woman means you’re a bitch, slut, whore, or some combo of the three. You’re never looked at as anything but. These games do no better than those that relish in the bikini armor and latex.

For all of their attempts at realism by creating women that would be the heroes of tomorrow, females are still being held back in these types of video games. They still become objects of desire, sexual fantasy figures, and stereotyped into degrading roles that we all know too well (housewife, clingy girlfriend, sexpot, bitch, slut, I can keep going). While at the surface they may seem like much better role-models, they are no better than their gaming counterparts.


Additional Reading: Technorati and The Mary Sue

City of Heroes Epilogue

City of Heroes, the crime-fighting action game that allowed you to create the hero of your nerdy little dreams, came to an end earlier this week along with City of Villains. Servers went down on November 30th, but a few souls were able to stay in until December 2nd.  

The studio mentioned back in late September that they would be shutting down and terminating the game.  The reasons behind it are still in question. From a developer standpoint, CoH and CoV were still turning a profit. Not World of Warcraft or even Final Fantasy XI numbers, but still a profit. It was a small enough studio to keep going and had a very large and loyal fan base.

People took to twitter with the #SaveCoH hashtag expressing their love for the game, as well as the unexpected closure. Quite a few people are unhappy about it, because it seemed so sudden. Again, the game was still making a profit, so it wasn’t like an Age of Conan type of situation where everything crumbled from the start…until they went free-to-play that is. It maintained a very consistent user-base. I enjoyed my time playing too. I loved the idea of being your own super hero or villain and having these wide array of powers to use from. I especially loved the Ninja Minions. So cool.

My problem with CoH/CoV was the lack of interaction with other players, and some ridiculous installation guidelines. “Quit telling me I have malware. That’s my virus scanner!” But as a longer time MMOer I can understand the community’s distress. In this case, Paragon Studios completely closed their offices. The community forums that have long been a place of congregation are gone. It’s almost as though they wiped the place clean and are pretending that CoH/CoV didn’t happen. That’s why fans are not happy. You can watch the war on Twitter. Some fans are trying to get the rights sold to another company willing to keep the game going (again, for a profit!).

Well here’s to you City of Heroes. Where dressing up in spandex with your underwear on the outside makes you cool. 8 years of high-flying, ninja butt-kicking, laser eye shooting, car smashing fun.

Monday, December 03, 2012

#ManyReasonsWhy

From: http://www.dorkly.com

I’m not an avid Twitter fan. I originally registered the account so I could get the free Xbox360 Chocobo Avatar item for the release of FFXIII. The last time I touched it was 6 months ago, prior to submitting something for Critical Distance last week. But with #1ReasonWhy taking off, I felt like I needed to contribute. However, backlash is my fear. I’m a woman. That alone will get my at least 10 inappropriate comments. And I have a lot of things to add to the list of #ReasonWhy.
 

Needless to say, Twitter is too limited in the amount of responses I could provide. And again, I cringe at the potential backlash. Posting here at least gives me some safety net. Not the numbers of twitter, and all of you have been civil so far. Thank you.

#1ReasonWhy:

Because when I say I’m a gamer, it’s immediately followed up with a blank stare, “what?” or “really? Why?”

When Fat, Ugly, or Slutty is my only resource for female empowerment. 

When I’m told that it always has, and always will be, a men’s club so I should accept it as it is.

I’m always asked to be the female fighter in every game because I’m not allowed to play as a male character.

When we’re told that if we stop talking about it, sexism will just go away.

I’m not allowed to demo a game. Men have to show me how to play because apparently I’m not capable of basic thought processes.

When I refuse to wear a headset for any online game, because I know what lurks on the other end.

Because if I try to stand up and say something is wrong, I get called a bitch, a slut, a whore, or any other myriad of inappropriate terms.

Because I’m told that I have to be quiet and take the verbal abuse. It just gets worse if I try to speak up.

If I go to a gaming event, I’m always asked if I was dragged there by my boyfriend or younger brother. Never once have I been asked if I wanted to attend.

It’s because of the former that I always have at least one male friend to accompany me to gaming events in case of harassment.

I avoid any and all social occasions outside of the gaming halls so I don’t become a target for being a woman.

And it makes me incredibly thankful every time I leave a gaming event where I didn’t have to use my self-defense training.

It prevents me from having any normal discussion about video games with anyone outside of my circle of friends.

I can’t dress in my normal geeky clothes outside of my home because I’m always called out as a “fake.”


#1ReasonToBe:

Because when you are finally get through wading among the assholes of the gaming world, the few good ones are some of the best people you could ever hope to know.

Katamari Is In A Museum!



Permanent collection. Right there. Score.

As an extension of the Smithsoian’s Art of Video Games, The Modern Museum of Art has added 14 games to their permanent collection as a part of their interaction design selection

The selection of games might confuse some of you, because they’re not all popular material. A few of these games are small-fry’s/independents. The focus on the collection was the unique design elements each game presents that are uncommon. Katamari Damacy gave us a completely different gaming experience and control scheme unlike anything we have seen before. Or flow, a very simple visual concept with incredibly detailed algorithms that would make Call of Duty pee its pants.

I also feel that there are artistic elements to the games selected that are unusual. They’re not copy/pastes of what was already out there. At their time they were different and stood out. It caused some of us to scratch our heads, and open our minds to new design. The Modern Art plans to add more in the future, but I like the start.

Friday, November 30, 2012

#1ReasonWhy

Oh. Well if CNN is writing articles, then I guess I have to talk about it.

Sometime during the week there was an explosion on the Twit-sphere. It started with a question: “Why are there so few lady game creators?” And then someone started the hashtag #1ReasonWhy. Which developed into #1ReasonMentor.

This year has been about women standing up against sexism in the gaming industry. Most of it has been focused on how women are treated amongst men. I can’t even call them counterparts or peers because most of the time, they don’t treat us as such. We have boobs so we’re the enemy. Oh no! A peer would see you as an equal.

This is one of the few times where the discussion is involving creative decisions being made at gaming companies, along with the sexual harassment that we typically receive by working with/being involved with the gaming industry.

Several women have commented via twitter that their creative input is limited. One even commented that she was given confused looks when she was asked why a female soldier she was creating was dressed like a porn star. Another noted that at every trade show or event she’s groped at least once. (Seriously, men? Ok. You’re not men at that point. You’re boys. The laws of social decency and, well, logic, are not excluded when you start working in the video game industry. Grow up.)

A few people have commented that the industry has always been male dominated and if more women were involved, it wouldn’t be like this. Well that’s part of the problem too. Girls are always encouraged at a young age to be moms, nurses, kindergarten teachers, or any profession that deals with children. Boys are encouraged to be police officers, firefighters, and math and computer geniuses. When boys and girls flip the roles, people spaz out. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I get weird looks when I would pick up a camera on set. As if I was going to break it. That camera is worth more than my life, 3 times over. But yes. I know how to compose a shot just as well as any man, if not better. So chill out, and let me do what I’m being paid to do.

It’s a social stigma to think that women can’t do certain things. And it works both ways. How many times do you give the o_O face when you see or hear about a male nurse, or a male nanny? We need to stop labeling professions and divisions as male or female only, and begin to encourage all children that they can go after any profession, any of their dreams. Gender should not limit their choices. As such, we need to help change the culture to be accepting of both genders. Gamers come in all ages, sizes, races, and genders. Characters need to reflect this too.

My two cents for the day~

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Morally Unambiguous



A new research paper titled “Mirrored Morality: An Exploration of Moral Choice in Video Games” by Dr. Weaver and Nicky Lewis, attempts to confront the idea that what you do in a video game does reflect onyour real life morals and values.
 

Nice tie-in to an old Forbes article about if real world morals can, or should, be supplemented in video games. 

They took 75 gamers, 40 men and 35 women, and observed them as they played Fallout 3, a game chock-full of moral choices. As they observed the gaming sessions, they found that people typically made choices that best mirrored their real-world selves. It could best be connected with “identification” a mode of media that connects the user to the character. But as people chose actions that were against their typical moral code they felt distraught, anxious, and unsettled throughout the game.

To take it a step further, the people that were intentionally bad to be bad did so not because of moral choices but because they were curious in what the game had to offer.

“It’s not about morality. It’s about, ‘What kinds of weapons can I get,’ or, ‘What kinds of worlds can I visit if I do this?’ It’s not that these people are being bad. It’s just they’re driven by curiosity and game strategy.”

A quick, but interesting read. Morality in video games is going to be a topic that will be discussed extensively for decades to come. When I think about my own playing habits, I can see the correlation. Yes I enjoy being the asshole that shoots the bunny, but I feel bad about it. Most of the time. Typically I play through a game the first time making choices that best reflect my values. The second time is when I’m a total dick. Die bunny! *pew pew pew*

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's Not A Space Game


Ok. I get it.

I now understand why people went nutso over Mass Effect. This is one of those games that has the Star Wars/Godfather syndrome where the second movie is the best. ME2 is better then the first one. By far. I’ve been tinkering with it in-between dye sessions with fabric. There’s only so much space on the floor so I need something to occupy my time.

*surfs Amazon.com* I can get ME2, 3, and Fallout: New Vegas for $30 with free shipping? Done.

I was still hesitant to play after seeing the chaos that ensued with ME3. Even the wiki overview made me depressed. My main character is going to die and so are some of my comrades. That blows. But anytime I brought it up, I was told that I had to play. I wouldn’t be able to fully comprehend it until I experienced it. So I am.

30 hours into it, and I get it.

I was forced to go to the Collector’s ship for research and salvage. I still had one person left on my dossier to get. The Engineer: Tali. My girl. Yes I’m playing femShep but she’s still my girl! I was unhappy. Really unhappy. The type of fearful unhappy that I was going to be stuck on this course of pushing through to the end of the game with no way out and wouldn’t get my Tali. Of course a quick walkthrough glance and I realized I would be fine as long as I didn’t go directly to the Omega Relay, but with that twinge of pain and self-loathing I started to understand.

Mass Effect isn’t a game about saving the universe but about defying the impossible. The relationships (which borderlines insanity rather than impossibility) that you build with your team are quite incredible. The political and social dynamics are far beyond the norm, but at the same time feel very real. These computer generated characters have a spark about them that compels us to keep going. We want to see their personal missions through.

I’m seeing Mass Effect as less of a shooter with gusto and more of Lord of the Rings meets Star Trek. It’s about the journey, not the final destination. The thing that makes LoTR so grand in scale is the stories of the adventurers. We care about them in ways we normally wouldn’t for fictional beings. They have lives beyond the paper and the movie screen. We care about who they are, their past, their future, and how they will become a team as their quest continues. Star Trek is much like that, but from a more forced peaceful “hey everyone has to get along because we said so” type of momentum that Mass Effect picked up on. But Star Trek really was about the characters, not the missions. The missions were pretty subpar. Go here, Kirk tries to charm that alien, blow something up, lesson learned, next quest! The episodes and movies that had an impact were the character-centric ones where we learned about Spock’s history, the Klingon’s, and Quark’s completely backward pensive need for money.

ME also has Collectors, which are basically drummed down Borgs. Obvious connection. By the way did anyone else see the planet Kobayashi and started giggling like an 8-year-old Pokémon fan, or was that just me?

That’s how I see Mass Effect 2 playing out. I don’t care what the end of the game holds for me. I’m having more fun learning about these characters, exploring their stories, and watching as they interact. Even Joker has grown on me. He was annoying in the first game. I think the near death experience made him more of a wise-ass. However I do miss the random dialogue exchanged between characters as you’re walking around, or being able to talk to them after a fight. You get some staged moments, but outside of the Collector’s ship it’s been a feature that I miss. Random elevator banter, away!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stop Call of Duty

Back from a few days off and we have another Monday. A digital shopping day, no less. Though Amazon.com and a few others are trying to spread it out over the course a week, aka less deep discounts and more of the normal discounts you’d expect.

If you’re looking for a “holiday game list,” you’re in the wrong place. If you know what you want you’re going to get it. I’d hope you have done enough research that you don’t need my help in finding the best price.

Today we’re going to explore a subject most of you might be offended by. Why we no longer need Call of Duty

Yes. I’m biased. I dislike the game. Before you all go psycho on me, I actually like the first game. You know the original? The one made by Activision and Infinity Ward? It was only 2003. Barely 10 years ago. I’m not that old yet, guys.

At the time, it was pretty nifty. The few “war games” that were on the market were from one perspective, the American side. You had Civilization that allowed you to play another country/culture/group/etc. but it wasn’t a first person shooter. Call of Duty allowed you to experience World War II from the view point of British and Soviet soldiers. That was unique at the time. We take it for granted now, but it was a new thing not that long ago. It also brought in computer controlled allies; people and vehicles that assisted you on missions while you make your way through the game. You had to keep them alive, or kill them off as you wish. You developed bonds with your computer AI’s. Again, unique for the time.

You have the “shell shock” feature, where if an explosion went off nearby, the action on the screen would move as if your character were disoriented. Sounds would become muffled, the images on the screen blur, and your character would be unable to run or sprint. Even the idea of covering behind walls, using group tactics to direct your NPC squad was unimaginable.

We have come to expect it all of these features with most first person shooters and action-adventure games. Think about Gears of War; that was 2006. 3 years later and Call of Duty really did change the way we approached the genre. You could look at the FPS genre as a BCOD and ACOD: Before Call of Duty and After Call of Duty. BCOD we had Doom. ACOD we had Gears of War. Look at the two and you can easily see how much CoD changed the landscape.

It was a good time for gaming.

And then we were bestowed with the sequels. I’ll admit that COD 2 and 3 have a place in the world. They improved upon the original formula and refined it into quality FPS gaming while adding some new features here and there. After that they stuttered. The rush of Modern Warfare, Black Ops and World at War turned the uniqueness that once was into a money machine.

What makes Modern Warfare worth playing? It’s the same game as the original, but in a modern setting. The things that made COD stand out are no longer important. That innovation that thrived at Activision and Infinity Ward is gone (literally and figuratively). Modern Warfare and beyond no longer coexist with their predecessor. These are games about what’s cool and hip right now, not about creating a new legacy for future FPS to follow.

Not even the FPS tournament groups of the world will recognize COD in their ranks. Professional gamers dislike COD for multiple reasons. Excluding the fact that one is pushed out every year thus voiding the previous version and giving the pros little time to understand the game on a competitive level, the games are no longer the unique symbols that they once were.

I saw COD as a vessel for change. It helped to create a new path for FPS that we hadn’t seen in decades. And now it’s sitting there. Like a lump of coal catering to the masses for more money. I guess it’s a symbol of everything that is good and bad about capitalism. Creativity will get your foot in the door but after that you need to focus on the coin.

I’m sure a few of you will argue that Modern Warfare, Black Ops, and the rest brought COD to the here and now. It’s the type of game that gamers want and go after. That’s fine but think about what they have lost out in the process. Is there anything “new” in the series other than a change of the date and scenery? What new gaming elements have been added that aren’t a copy/paste from another series or an older COD? And please don’t tell me that they have new weapons and Nazi Zombies. Those are not innovations.

It’s time for us to stop caving in to the COD warlords. We’ll continue to see the same game year after year until people refuse to buy the products. I want the old COD and what it stood for. I want a game changer. I want COD to stop being produced until they can provide me with a completely new and radically different experience.

Innovation is the word of the day. Use it. Explore. Be open to ideas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Origins: What Makes the Gamers/Person That We Are



I decided to give Critical Distance’s monthly round table blogging topic a shot. The topic is “origins,” such as what are your earliest moments in gaming, if or how have they influenced your life, etc. Coincidentally, I started writing a piece on a similar topic earlier this month, but shelved it. I didn’t like where my mind was at and where the writing was going. So, we’re on to Round 2!
   
Fight!

*cue the Mortal Kombat music*

Oh so cheesy. Testing your might? Yep. That’s my childhood right there. I was the 8 year old that played Mortal Kombat back at Dan’s Arcade in downtown Chicago, IL. Of course we had to get the Sega Genesis version. It was a requirement. My brother and I would play for hours upon hours, perfecting every combo, and making sure we always did the most gruesome finishing move. Spinal Tap from Scorpion? Yes, please.

Before anyone gets up in arms about an 8 year old playing such a violent game, my parents were always there to supervise. In fact, they started it. I came out of the womb watching Apocalypse Now, China Town, and A Clockwork Orange. And yet, I’m really passive aggressive. I have enough trouble killing a fly. I could never imagine harming another person, or an animal outside of the bug zone. And no: no pleasure in killing the fly. I hate killing a bug every time, not from the gross out factor but because I care that they live their life. I’m very lucky to have the parents that I have. They have always been there to explain movies and games to me when I didn’t understand what was going on. They helped me realize very early in my life the difference between reality and fantasy. In doing so, they allowed me to explore so much creative freedom that most kids today barely see a fraction of. I’m incredibly thankful for them and allowing me to seek out media to my heart’s content.

See Jack Thompson. Kids can grow up to be outstanding, law-abiding citizens even when they play violent video games. You can go back to your cubby-hole now. 

Now that I have that warning out of the way, Mortal Kombat is not my earliest of video game memories. It’s one of my more amusing since it was a fighting game I could beat my brother at. He was always better at Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter.

My earliest of earliest memories go all the way back to the Atari days, Pong, Frogger, and Pitfall. I don’t remember too much; it mostly revolves around my dad, brother, and I sitting in front of the television, joysticks in hand, watching the white ball bounce back and forth between our paddles as we happily tried to distract each other. They were simple games in comparison to the behemoths that are available today, but they were fun times. These weren’t just countless hours of fun, but months. Pitfall is a bitch if you’re not completely focused on it. We made it a game within a game if we couldn’t get past a section, such as “how many times can you get killed by a croc in 2 minutes.” I also remember being very inquisitive about the games. It wasn’t just pixels on a screen; I wanted to know how they were made so I would prod my dad constantly with questions. How did they make this? What does the machine do? Why is the joystick like this?

These were all when I was just a baby, maybe 2 or 3 years of age. But I feel it’s important to bring those incredibly early memories into play because of their influence on me when I was so young. Keep reading, I promise it’ll all tie in together.

What I really want to focus this post about is the game that helped define who I am today: Final Fantasy IV. Original IV, not the fake numbering system the U.S. versions started.

And no. I’m not going to issue a FF Fan Girl Alert. If it’s not obvious by my user name I’m a FF Fan. I’m an original fan at heart (which isn’t to say that newer gamers are not fans either. Let’s not go down that path, shall we). I started with the first game back on the NES and haven’t stopped. A friend’s father would travel to Japan a lot and would bring back games as gifts. That’s when we first got our hands on Final Fantasy. She would help with translations where needed, and we did our best to interpret the story. Not bad for 6 year olds, huh?

FF4 was the first game where I felt real emotion towards the characters, and I believe that’s why it stands out so much more than anything else I played as a kid. Yeah I remember the first time I unintentionally killed Bowser in SMB by doing this jacked up slip and slide move. Or the time when Link first pissed off some chickens and was pecked to death. Or the first time you “think” you have finished Ghosts n’Goblins only to realize that it’s the fake ending and you have to replay the entire game all over again. That one sucked.

There’s a magic to Final Fantasy IV that stands out above all of the other FF games. In its complex framework I developed relationships with the characters. It was the first time I remember feeling invested in their welfare. I was upset when they died in battle, or “died” in non-playable scenes and were removed from my party. I never cried, but I was really unhappy, particularly when it came to Tellah. That was just wrong and mean on so many levels that I had to stop and couldn’t pick up the game for a week.

At the same time, it taught multiple life lessons that I still carry with me today. The importance of friendship, believing in yourself when the world seems against you, and standing up for what’s right. I’ve never had any adult figure, school, or entertainer tell me how important it was to be me. I.E. I don’t have to conform to what society wants me to be. Video games allowed me to understand that it’s ok to be different. In fact being different is more normal then being the “normal” people expected out of me. Adults and schools wanted me to be smart, but also to be popular and have a lot of friends, and to be a girl that wears pink dresses all day, every day. Entertainers wanted me to be thin, and pretty (to their standards), and either be sugary sweet or a slut.

The characters in Final Fantasy IV were so diverse and unique, but they worked together to achieve their goals. How is that not a great message for a kid? It’s ok to be different and still work as a team. Schools, start teaching that. Whatever life lessons you’re trying to impart on us are not found on state tests.

Final Fantasy has always been about embracing individuals while creating teams to help for the greater good. 4 was the first time where I felt like the characters were well defined. They had names in 1, 2, and 3, but they were still best viewed as generic Warrior, Black Mage, White Mage, and Monk. 4 gave them depth, personalities, back stories that were rich in content, and events that had real world applications.

It was also the first game that I remember that felt tragic. People were “dying” left and right! They came back in the end, but as a kid that forced you to confront with a lot of things at an early stage. You don’t really consider death until a pet passes on. It gave me a lot to freak out about, and helped me to understand what the emotion was. It also allowed me to appreciate how precious life can be. We get too stuck in our routines that we forget how awesome the world is around us. FF4 allowed me to see that.

Tragedy also applies to the character’s personal quests. When you sit down and think about it, Cecil is one messed up hero. For all of the good he tries to accomplish, his friends are “dying”, the world is faltering, and he constantly struggles. I felt like that a lot as a kid, thinking I was doing the right thing by telling on a bully or helping clean up a mess. Instead it felt like a constant battle where something else went wrong by trying to do the good deed. Eventually you triumph, but that fight is something your parents and teachers never tell you about. Cecil, on the other hand, taught me what to expect. Doing something right doesn’t mean you get a cookie. Sometimes more bad things will be dumped on you. Eventually, if you keep going, karma will kick in and the good deed will be done.

It also allowed me to open up my heart and care for the villains. Hey. Golbez is not a bad guy. He was misguided and caved in. FF4 allowed the gamer a chance to understand the meaning of redemption. It wasn’t just a story about our heroes, but about Golbez as well. Once he understood his error, we find his true self coming back, a man who is caring and willing to sacrifice himself for good. Its proof that in reality, sometimes the bad guy can be good. Oh hey! Reck-It-Ralph is calling! Redeeming ones-self, no matter what the odds are, is possible. To make a bit more sense of this, what I’m trying to get at is don’t judge people at face value. Just because they may not have done something right the first time, it doesn’t make them a bad person. You need to open your mind and your ears and understand who they are. You might be surprised how wonderful some people can be if you give them a chance.

Those seeds of my early gaming days are just the beginning and contributed to the type of gamer, and person, that I am now. I’m still that person that questions how and why things work. I love knowing about the intricate details of a machine. It’s also applied to my relationships with friends and loved ones. I want to know more about people, listen to their stories, and figure out who they are. Some might see that intrusive, but I don’t berate people with questions. I sit and listen. Not many people can claim that they are good listeners. Ok well maybe they can, but how many actually are? I’m one of those people.

FF4 also allowed me to be aware of my reality. Not everything is going to work out like a fairy tale. I walk through life knowing that bad things will happen no matter how many good deeds I try to accomplish, and that’s ok. We all find a way through it eventually. It makes me practical and pragmatic. It also makes me more sensitive to people’s problems.

Most of all, FF4 taught me that it’s ok to be myself. I’ve spent so much of my youth questioning if I belonged. I was never like the other little girls and hated myself for it. But when I thought back to Final Fantasy and the obstacles that stood in Rydia’s way because she was so different from everyone around her (the last of her kind!), my problems didn’t seem so bad. I was able to like myself for being different because of Final Fantasy 4. And isn’t that the best lesson of them all?