Tag Archives: critical thought in gaming

Persona 3: Wowie

So I have been in a bit of a gaming rut. I am stuck in AC2, and I really had the need for something low key gameplay-wise. Something new. Or old. Or whatever. Just something that didn’t test the boundaries of my twitch reflexes on a few hours of sleep. That was when I thought of handheld games… cause handheld games NEVER have anything more than turn based strategy (she said ironically holding her PSP and God of War: Chains of Olympus). I happened to be in an EB, and saw Persona 3.

Persona 3 is by Atlus and I loves me some Atlus. This game is an odd combo of your typical turn based JRPG. Your character is a typical high school student: you know, the kind that has a busy social calendar by day and fights demons at night? That kind. What makes the gameplay interesting is it’s a JRPG combined with a social simulator. One of the many ways to power up your summons is to strengthen social links: friendships you create and maintain during your daytime life as a regular high school student. 

If at the outset someone would have said that it’s a social simulator on the one hand and a JRPG on the other, I would have thought that the social sim would have been the worst part of the game. I am happy to say otherwise. This aspect of Persona 3 can be a lesson in game theory. You only have a certain number of actions that you can take in this part of the game, undertaking any action advances the clock and calendar and you only have one in game year to complete the game. There seems to be too many social links, I don’t think it’s really possible to max out them all. This pressure fits in nicely with the narrative. Will you go to volleyball or attend student’s council? Walk home with a friend or go to your part time job? Will you study for your mid-terms or get a much needed decent night’s sleep. It’s actually fairly intense, and makes you feel like the student who is just taking on too many priorities.

The relationships that you form also provide layering to the narrative; the summons (personas) that live inside of you are strengthened by relationships with others. It seems as though your persona colours your own personality. For example, your volleyball team mate is too intense for the rest of the team. they want to go on dates, she wants to hit spikes. The social links that you create with her strengthen The Chariot summons: the most powerful of the personas. Her intensity is due to her inner persona. The story that is told while ranking up in the social links are well done. We see high school students who are all at odds with themselves and they all feel out of place with their classmates and with the school. It does bring back memories of high school, all that drama and awkwardness.

The other thing that I note with this game is it has a really, really odd ERSB “feel”. It’s rated M, yet it;s very high school. Supposedly you can have sex as part of the storyline, but that’s only after maxing out a certain social link and it’s blacked out. Also the way in which you summon a persona is by basically pointing a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. Shards of blue ice fly out like blood. Oh, I mean they call the gun an “evoker” and say that it’s not a gun… but it’s a gun. This is the first time I have seen something rated M for what so far seems like an art direction decision. I am not complaining, not at all. It does look fantastic and it does highlight the intensity of what you are doing. You aren’t fighting baddies by waving a magic wand. No, no, no. You have to shoot yourself in the HEAD.

It’s also odd in that parts of the game seem “rated T”. For instance one of the battle cries a guy says “Come here you son of a…” instead “Come here you son of a bitch.” It’s just weird.  I am not convinced that the translation was really done properly. One guy talks about his drunk father and he says that his father used to spank him, when I *think* he should say his father beat him. It’s an important difference, one is a form of discipline (no matter what you think of spanking) the other really is child abuse.

Anyway: so far, it’s one kick ass little (actually, really big) game. Highly recommended.

How about you guys? Have you been surprised by an aspect of a game that you weren’t sure you would enjoy, but it turned out to be the best part of the game?

Dickwolves and False Equivalency

So… Been a tough week for women in gaming .

The most recent controversy to hit gaming concerns Penny Arcade, and a comic concerning the Dickwolf.  Check out this link for a very detailed timeline, including links, of this debacle.

I think by the tone of this blog, you may get where I stand on this issue. However, I have been trying to figure out the other side’s argument. I gotta practise what I preach.

Let’s see: A piece of art is accused of promoting rape culture. Accusations of censorship arise.

Wait. I think I have heard this one before.

A piece of art is accused of promoting violence. Accusations of censorship arise.

Is this JT (Jack Thompson, noted anti-gaming activist)all over again? Is this why members of the gaming community have circled the wagons on this one? If this is the reason why some gamers are supporting PennyArcade, here is why the dickwolves-promote-rape-culture controversy is a false equivalent to violence-in-games-make-people murderers controversy.

1. Bringing down the dickwolves t-shirts or even calling for a retraction of rape jokes is not censorship. Calling upon the judicial system to make it harder to purchase games is censorship.

Remember, you or I can’t censor anything. We can make our displeasure known. We can implore others to boycott. But we can’t censor anything: only the government and the lawmakers can censor. The dickwolves controversy is some gamers stating (loudly) that certain actions aren’t okay, in their eyes. There was a business decision in response to stop selling the offending merchandise.

JT bringing an argument before the Florida judicial system is trying to censor games. Not the same thing.

2. One argument stated that the art would cause an individual to act in a reprehensible manner. The other argument stated that the art in question adds to a culture in which reprehensible acts are minimized, such that victims no longer come forward to report crimes, and thus further victimized. The minimization of the act makes it easier for reprehensible people to justify their reprehensible acts.

No one said that the dickwolves joke, or the t-shirt would make a person rape someone. Rape culture is a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women is common, where sexual violence is excused and encouraged. A quote from shakesville on a description of rape culture:

… Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what they wear and how they wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you are in a group, if you are in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you carry something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you are wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what kind of jewellery you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door for the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sounding-machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert, to always pay attention, always watch your back, always be aware of your surroundings, and never let your guard down lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and you didn’t follow these rules it’s your fault.

The argument in a nutshell is that the dickwolves controversy is one of a multitude of things that promote this rape culture, a culture that we all live in, and why promote it if we don’t have to? Art A (plus C, plus D, plus E, etc) leads to a place in which act B is minimized to the point where B is normalized and then brushed aside.

The violence in games argument was such that playing a violent game would make individuals who played that game more predisposed to violent acts. Art A leads to individual performing act B.

Again: these two arguments are not the same.

3. The arguments against the controversy in one case held up the theory as true and on one case did not.

The arguments that were made, that the PA guys were in the right and that there is no such thing as rape culture contributed to rape culture. What did we hear? That rape victims should get over it, thus minimizing the effects of rape. That rape victims weren’t really raped and should provide evidence supporting the fact that they were raped. Strawman arguments from PennyArcade saying that rape culture means that guys will go out and rape a woman if he reads a comic. See- rape culture is idiotic! There were people who sent disgusting emails to rape victims saying that they wished that they would be raped to death. Victimize the victim for speaking out. That feminists should get a sense of humour – deflecting the actual argument by attacking the person making the argument.

On the other hand, when JT was making his arguments, no gamer went out and assaulted him and thus confirmed his theory.

All this to say, sometimes gamers, we are just too sensitive to anyone telling us that our passion is somehow wrong. I get it. We have a supreme court date to decide the fate of mature gaming and all that. However, the way in which we can respond to criticism is telling. Why can we not sit back and think for a minute? Why are we incapable of saying that the criticism is correct and maybe yes- we need to clean up our act. When it comes to sexism and gaming, why do gamers deny that it exists?

There is nobility in self-reflection, contemplation and change, it’s not a weakness.

There’s No Crying in Video Games! But Wait. Why Not?

My husband is a great guy, but sometimes misses the mark. Often on a date night, he will download a Top 10 list of some sort. He gets me to guess the list, we debate, and yap about the subject at hand over a bottle of wine. While usually a fun start to the evening, this past weekend he “wisely” chose Top 10 Depressing Disney Moments Of All Time.

An hour and a half bottle of wine later, I am crying my eyes out and any hope of a romantic rendez -vous were dashed.

Only #4... it get's worse. Much worse.

“For every smile, a tear” is a quote attributed to Walt Disney. He knew that the tears you shed during the movie made the comedy funnier, the songs more enchanting, the happy ending that much sweeter.

Sadness and crying in other entertainment is very well established, yet, I really couldn’t find too much on really sad gaming moments. One top 10 listed the Red Ring of Death as a sad gaming moment. Compare this to Disney: Bambi’s mom dying was only #4. Marlon, Nemo’s dad in Finding Nemo, comes home to find his wife and 99% of his children dead; this moment didn’t even make the top 10.

 Say what you want about Disney, they tell a damn fine story and in this important aspect, gaming  can’t come close. Disney can make us weep, gaming at best can make us sometime sniffle.

Why can’t gaming compare to Disney when it comes to these scenes? 50 movies versus an entire library of games. I believe it’s for two reasons. Disney movies commit to being emotionally touching, whereas gaming seems to ease up at critical times. Disney also focuses on the relationships that are the deepest to our emotional condition, gaming has missed the mark.

Commitment to Sorrow

Disney commits 100% to making scenes remarkably touching and sad. Take #5 on the above list: Dumbo visits his Mom in the Cage.

Disney fully and completely commits to this scene. Dumbo’s mother is gone, so it doesn’t add to the plot. But Disney knew better. Their parting was quick, violent, confusing. Over before it happened. Horrible, but you didn’t have time to digest what was going on. So Disney made another scene, one that was slower, that made you see the love that was taken from the two, and juxtaposed it against other happy families. Yes, Dumbo losing his Mom was bad, but saying goodbye is much, much more bittersweet.

Regicide? check. Fratricide? check. Emotional abuse of a minor? Check. It's the Disney Villian Trifecta!

Each viewer at different ages can and will see different aspects of this scene. Children can understand that losing a Mommy would be painful and can fear abandonment of someone they love so much. An older child might mourn the loss of their childhood, remembering pictures of themselves as babies, knowing that they can’t go back to the way things were. Teenagers, deep down, maybe they miss their mothers. Parents can think the unimaginable: what if they had to say goodbye? But as all parents come to realise, parenting is a series of goodbyes. There is one last nursing, one last kiss on a skinned knee, one last tuck into bed. You never know when these last moments will happen, but that’s what it’s all about. Loving them and letting them go. Disney makes us cry on many different levels.

Gaming, on the other hand, does not fully commit to creating sadness. In Fable 2 we lose our dog at the very end, but we actually don’t have to go on without him. We fight the boss, make a decision, and yep: we can bring him back. But we never say goodbye. In fact, we never play the game without him. We never have to run through an open field, alone for the first time. Less emotional impact.

In Mass Effect 2, if you dilly-dally, only Dr. Chakwas survives the prothean stronghold. There is a conversation between her and you as Commander Shepard. She says that it was horrible watching the crew get turned into people soup. Shepard: “We had to prepare for the mission.” Chakwas: “Oh, I wasn’t blaming you.”

Would Disney have brought the horse back? Hell no!

Thank goodness she didn’t blame me… I was starting to feel bad for a second.

Again, Bioware could have committed to the scene emotionally. We know that Chakwas is a damn hard woman, and to have her break just a little would have given this emotional gravitas. Being a soldier prepares you for many things, but not for watching your friends get homogenized while you stand helpless. This feeling of helplessness could have been explored, but it wasn’t.

Teen Angst: Gaming Misses the Relationship Mark

It’s almost a gaming trope now.

Q: What’s the saddest moment in gaming? 

A: Sephiroth kills Aeris.

Player characters have been killed off, but presumably this one is the saddest because of the relationship Aeris had with Cloud. It was a new love type of relationship that was lost early before if could blossom. It was shocking, and yes, a bit sad.

But the point was is was a new/adolescent relationship. An (almost) first love. But here’s the thing about this kind of first/puppy love. It is always replaced, it never ever lasts. One of two things happen. Either you move on, and 10 years down the road you think about that other person, smile at how stupid and young you were and chuckle to yourself. Or it becomes a mature love.

They touch hands - while reading!

Mature love comes from really understanding someone, knowing that this other person is not merely a “girl with a heart of gold that was too good for this world”, but a person with whom you can share a lifetime of adventure, as well as dull days of taking the garbage out. Real love is snotty noses and realising that the other person has flaws, and loving them anyway.  This type of love, and the loss of this love, was at the heart of Up. After a lifetime together, Carl Fredricksen is bereaved of his wife and best friend. How do you complete life’s adventure without your partner in crime?

Disney does explore teen love in The Little Mermaid. The fact that Ariel is a teen is oft-repeated, and her infatuation with Eric is originally shown to be rather adolescent. She talks to the statue of Eric “Why Eric, run away with you? This is all so … so sudden.” Women don’t say that. Girls do. And so, the heart of The Little Mermaid is not the relationship between Eric and Ariel, the heart of the relationship is between Ariel and her father.

It’s a little dusty…

Ariel’s love really isn’t for Eric, so much as it is for the world above. Her first song, Part of Your World is about going on land, nothing about wanting to meet a guy. Ariel wants to go on land, to be her own person, her father wants her safe. This is at the heart of teenagerhood and growing up. Ariel’s wilfulness forces her father’s hand. He doesn’t just smash the statue of Eric, he smashes all of her treasures from the world above and thus, smashes her dream. The father/daughter relationship is now broken. Yet, they love each other. We see Triton’s panic when he realizes Ariel is gone, he is despondent. A king is brought low through his own actions.

Thus, the most important kiss in the movie is not between Ariel and Eric, it’s when Ariel throws her arms around her father’s neck and whispers “I love you, Daddy.” BAM! not a dry eye in the house.

So… Why No Tears?

Okay, some games may make you a bit misty, they definitely can make you care for the characters. But are they on par with the Disney moments in that top 10 list?

The funny thing is, there have been Disney games. Kingdom Hearts tried emotional loss but didn’t hit the mark either. So what is going wrong?

I can only assume that developers don’t put this much emotional depth into a game because they don’t want gamers to cry. Why is that? Are we not comfortable enough in our own skin that a few tears will crush our self-image as tough guys? Are we making and playing games as escapism and we don’t want that kind of depth? Bad business decision? I hope not, because I think that is selling ourselves short.

Has a game made you cry? Honestly, like Bambi’s mother dies kind of cry?

Need a Helping Hand: Accessability

Gaming with newborn makes me wish more developers emulated Dragon Quest VIII. Not because it’s a very well done turn based RPG, although it is that. Not for its adorable art direction, which it has. But for its control system.

One sleepy baby (12lbs of deadweight) who seems to only sleep on Mom, means I am somewhat sleep deprived and confined to a chair. And I like gaming. But I also like (need?) sips of coffee and you know, holding onto that newborn thingie. Dragon’s Quest VIII allowed me the option of playing the regular way, or one handed.

One handed. I could drink a cuppa and game. At the same time. Brilliant. I suppose you could say I was indulging both “addictions” at the same time.

My reason for loving an accessible game is, granted, a bit silly. There are others who for whatever reason, lack mobility in their hands or fingers making gaming itself a difficult task. Yet, a company found a way to make a turn based RPG a bit more accessible for more gamers.

So if it is so easy, why don’t more people create accessible games?

Accessibility Means Different Things For Different People

My daughter was sick last week, and so I decided to get her something that would lend itself to hours on the couch resting. Nintendogs. I looked up how to play the game: stylus and voice commands. OK should be good for a kid who doesn’t game using a controller. Perfect, right?

Nope.

Little did I realize that in order to get past the tutorial “level” you had to teach the dog his name by saying his name into the mic many times over in the exact same way at the correct time. Impossible for a) a three year old and b) a SICK three year old. I did it for her (WAGS! WAGS! WAGS! over and over again) then I had to do the same thing with the “sit” command. And this is how you teach your new dog old tricks; a pretty big part of the game was locked for my daughter.

So for a person with limited mobility, this is perfect. For someone with difficulties with speech this is horrible. And that’s the difficulty… accessibility means different things for different people.

Why Should I Care?

When I was chatting about this idea with my husband, he said to watch it. People’s eye glaze over when you talk accessibility, no matter how noble the cause. As I mentioned, accessibility can mean so many different things, and there seems to be a limited pay back for the amount of effort required. I really do pity developers sometimes. They need to make a game that is awesome in so many different ways, produce it on time and on budget and then we throw something like this at them. It’s no fair.

 So rather than talking about how it’s the right thing to do, or how choice in how we play is good for gaming, I will give people a really good reason to care.

You are getting old.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it soon will. You will hurt yourself sleeping. You will get up from a chair going “ARGggg!” You will get arthritis, and need bifocals. The whole bit.

And you may also suffer injury in your time. It may not be a life changing event, but it could happen. My Mother can’t console game. She cut herself on a sharp tin can lid and sliced through tendons in her thumb. Cant move her thumb well, therefore can’t console game. Could happen to you and right now you have no options other than moving to PC gaming.

The Good News

The good news it I am not that smart.

You better believe that there are people who are thinking of this stuff; how the changing demographic will change everything, including gaming. They will create it and make grand amounts of money off of it. It’s already starting to happen, we have already seen Nintendo bring out the Nintendo DS XL which has a much bigger screen for us decrepit old bats. Everyone is doing motion control which is good for those with limited fine motor skills. Kinect has a voice control option. So it’s starting.

Now if someone could come pour me a cup of coffee, that would be awesome.

Morality/Play – Being a Baddie in RPGs (aka Evil Is Stupid)

Warning: Contains Spoilers for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

It's like a choose your own adventure!

I’m a good girl. Well, at least in my gaming I trend towards playing a lawful good type character. Most RPGs have some sort of morality decision: play one way and you are a good guy, play it another and you are a bad guy. Pretty straight forward. Typically I play a defensive type of player with a heart of gold, even if I steal your stuff.

But once I am done my “nice guy” playthrough of a given RPG, I try it the other way around and I attempt to break out my bad guy persona, but I find it difficult. My good character tends to be VERY good, my bad guy still is a bit good. Why is that?

I wonder if my reluctance to play a bad guy is cause EVIL IS STUPID.  There are two flavours of bad guy. First is the all out baddie. But let’s face it. This type of Bad Guy just doesn’t seem to have many smarts. They leave the Hero in a death machine –  and then leave, secure in the knowledge that the Hero will escape dramatically die painfully. They weave these intricate webs of deceit, yet can’t seem to understand that if they invested a tenth of that cash into the most conservative investments they would have more money than they know what to do with. You could sacrifice a one thousand year old, loyal,kick-ass warrior for a devious, murderous, sexual predator who is liable to kill off members of your crew. Thankfully, these guys are so stupid that you never play AS these characters. Whew.

Second type of baddie is the “renegade” type of baddie as personified by Commander Shepard in Mass Effect: assuming, of course, you take the Renegade route. This baddie will still ensure that the day was saved, but they are going to shoot to kill, punch out annoying civilians and probably commit a war crime or two. But still, it’s all in the name of saving the day.

Except…

Except when they take on every little request and problem that the masses throw at them. You know these side quests. I think of them as “Kitten in the Tree” requests. You are walking by the market when “sniff, sniff… Mister… sniff sniff. Please help. My Kitty is Caught in a Tree!” (Go Save Kitty? Y/N) Of course this is more of a space heist story, so the parameters are adjusted accordingly, but the premise still sticks.

The only difference between the “paragon” (i.e. good guy) reaction and the renegade is that the renegade might be more rude, and may extort a higher reward, but the kitten still makes its way down from that tree. Granted, instead of patting Little Susie on the head, you may punch her in the mouth. But still, this seems to ring hollow. Doesn’t a renegade have better things to do with her/his time?

A true renegade is going to push past the little girl and continue – you know – saving the world from the big bad. But in gaming, there is no benefit to doing that. I only get credit (experience/resources) from doing requests. I can’t get a reward for a non-action, even if a non-action, like not helping save kitty, makes sense to the story and character. And some of these  save the kitty quests are really silly. I am supposed to be assembling the best team in the universe and I offer to find some bigot’s lost credit card. Really? My renegade Shepard is going to spend his time on that?

I wonder if there is a better way. Here’s one idea:

What if as a paragon, I could do all these kitty in tree requests and earn EXP. As a renegade I do none of these. Obviously reality is a blend of the two. My paragon would have an easier time of it through combat scenarios in the real mission. I have gained good karma by helping others, therefore my load is lighter. Fewer grunts to mow down, rooms that are empty. My renegade, on the other hand, would have more combat to get through in the main mission and earn the corresponding EXP.

Basically the payoff is this: more side quests means easier combat. Fewer side quests means more combat. It kind of works: Live by the sword, die by the sword. What goes around, comes around.

Obviously this is fairly simplistic. You could make the kitty in the tree missions interesting, since they often are kind of neat, and you could make some of the combat only scenarios really cool too. Make it more fun than simply more grunts in a room. Certain stretches in combat could be almost puzzle based or something like that. There could be cool and unusual enemies awaiting the renegade Shepard.

What I like is that you can REALLY play the game differently. Currently, with Mass Effect, the only thing that the Paragon and Renegade changes is story events, not gameplay. Some people really like side quests. Some find them a waste of time. This way players can really play the type of game they want to. Two different playthroughs would really be different.

This is one idea. Another is to write it into the story where the universe is more ambiguous. In Fallout 3 and Fable 2, your quest is  selfish: find your father, take revenge for a fallen family member. Yes, you save the day, but the motivations are initially selfish and can be twisted further.

This is a hard one to tackle. How do you make a story that makes sense to be both a bad guy and a good guy?It’s one of the challenges that gaming is sure to figure out in the long run. But what about right now? What games do you believe really make sense to evolve a character as either good or bad? Which ones are doing it right?

Why I Love Bungie (Just not Halo)

Guess which one is me? |Hint: I'm not the one holding the sword. (Courtesy of Bungie.net)

One time, I was sitting not really watching the TV, and I got a craving for a burger.  I said as much, and my husband looked at me, “Babe,” he said, “There was just a Burger King ad on… get it together.” Yep, I am susceptible to marketing. At least I acknowledge and admit it. I revel in it in a way. Go ahead. Sell me your crap. If you can’t sell to me, you can’t sell to anyone.

When it comes to game developers, the one that I love the most, with respect to how they market their product, is Bungie. I really wish I loved Halo.

I have played a bit of Halo 3; it was my first FPS. I had fun with it, but I am more of a Call of Duty gal, should I choose to play an FPS, which isn’t often. But whenever a Halo games comes out, I am always a bit miffed at myself. Why can’t I just get into Halo? Cause Bungie, the company, always gets me excited for their product.

I will leave the Halo Reach reviews to people who know what they are talking about. The ladies and gents who can actually *make* a kill in Halo, those are the ones who you should be reading about map balance, weapons, gameplay and whatever.

But here you can get a perspective of the rest of the package and why Bungie  just kind of reeks of awesome.

Forge: Games Move from Social to Social Media

So, Halo really took on-line FPS and raised it a million notches. It was suddenly the go-to game in the genre that almost defines “Hard Core Gamer.” Games weren’t something that you did alone, suddenly we have clans and people making real friendships with their XBL buddies. Games became social in an on-line community. Then Halo 3 introduced Forge, and pushed this concept further.

Forge does two things. First, one can create (well, alter) maps to your own liking. Two, it allows people to share their creations with one another.

Camcorders are cheap. Get one  and viola! Combine that with YouTube and anyone to make and share a movie, and so anyone can be a director and producer. Blogs allow anyone to be a published writer. Forge allows anyone to be a game designer.

Granted, not every Forge creation is a winner, just like every blog you see isn’t gold either.  The point behind social media is not that everything out there is great, but the challenge lies in finding that diamond in the rough. Social media can also spark creative synergy. Something I write here can create an idea in a fellow blogger and so on. A map quirk can create an idea in another would be forge designer. And on and on it goes.

With Forge I can create a new map,  share it with the world. Make gaming a bit more social, and a bit better.

I like it.

Theatre: Games as Sport

The second thing Bungie did right was Theatre. Theatre allows you to record and replay games. You can invite friends to view your “film” too. It’s quick and it’s easy.

And it too has the potential to make gaming better.

Theatre allows for quick and easy “taping” of a game. Sports was revolutionized once coaches figured out that by taping games one could a) see and learn what the other guy did and b) see and learn what your own guy did. Theatre allows for the same thing.

This just isn’t for MLG players. I have used it to see what I was going wrong in my games (hint: I was dying a lot. I should try not doing that). A friend would invite me into Theatre and show me basics of Halo gameplay. By seeing the silly things I was doing, I could improve.

Theatre, once again, makes it easier for people to share what they did in their games. Did you do something awesome, funny or just kinda stupid in game? Post it up on youTube or Bungie.net share it with everyone. This, again, is using social media in game format.

Forge shared user created maps, Theatre shares gameplay.

Bungie.net : Reach out to the Fans

Forge and Theatre are in-game add ons as social media. The game itself is self promoting. Bungie has not forgotten the plain old internet either.

Bungie.net is a site that allows Halo fans to come together. While I admit to not being an expert on the ins and out of the site, I do know that Bungie features gamers and cool things that Halo fans do. I can easily find anyone’s stats. (Guess my K/D ratio and get a cookie. hint: it’s REALLY bad). I can see amazing kills of the week (courtesy of Theatre) and tons of other stuff.

To top it all off: I can always tell if I am playing with a member of Bungie: watch for flaming helmets! They have basically put a badge on themselves identifying themselves in-game as members of Bungie. This allows gamers to know that they are gaming with the people who made the game they are playing. They reached out to gamers where gamers are: in game.

Final Thoughts

Basically Bungie took a great, but standard FPS, and using the principles of social media, made it even more social. The good  news is that no matter what Bungie decides to do, they can take these principles with them.

Anything else you would like to see from Bungie that is NOT strictly gameplay? Any other ways you think developers can use social media to make the game more fun?

Do you Trust Advance Multi-Player Reviews?

Halo reach

Well, see the problem with multiplayer advance reviews is.. umm.. see... you just aren't enough of a jerk. (image courtesy of IGN)

In case you have been living under a rock: Halo Reach has dropped and the reviews are kinda sorta positive. Like mind-blowing, bust-a-nut positive. But does that mean you actually trust these advance reviews?

This is not a slam against the game reviewers or their sites. These are presumably honest men and women who are big enough to get advance copies of the game. This means that they have proven themselves, and that means that they are generally not cheaters.

We should also take reviews for what they are: one person’s opinion at one point in time. The “one point in time” thing is what concerns me. AND as I mentioned, the fact that these people who are reviewing, are NOT the type to be cheaters.

When reviewing an advance copy, the reviewer is in a rare situation. She or he is playing multi-player with a very select group: in this case a group of pro reviewers. It’s almost like playing a custom game with friends: you play with you know, and these people all have the same goal: in this case to kick the tires and see what the game can do.

The problem comes once we compare this scenario to real life. Once the game hits the tray, it’s thousands, if not millions of games being played that first week. It’s the mass of cheaters who are really good at finding, and exploiting weaknesses in the game. It’s the sheer number of hours being put into the game from so many different  shows us where the problems are in-game.

The advance review of multiplayer will tell us some things about the game, but it can’t tell us if the true multiplayer experience is one worth having. In short: it’s not the expertise of the reviewer that will tell us the worth of multiplayer, it is the drooling masses that will expose the problems.

Engaging the Enemy: Discourse about Gaming

I was thinking of writing a piece about Medal of Honour, what I thought of the controversy, and so on. It’s brilliant insight, moving and inspiring – makes angels weep. But I canned it.

Rather, it occurred to me that this really is same old, same old. We have had these discussions whenever a controversial games comes out, and usually the arguments break down the same way. They are so much the same that I think there are some general “rules of engagement” that we should know and understand before mucking it up with people who think gaming and gamers are the work of EVIL or just other gamers who may have a difference of opinion.

1. Cut Down on the Rhetoric. She says all the while acknowledging that the previous paragraph is full of it (sly wink). The gamer stereotype is that we are all 14-year-old LOSERS who live in Mom’s basement. If we are the ones who can argue critically, and intelligently we will have won half the battle. So this means not attacking the person making the claims, but the claims themselves. Don’t be  alarmist, be realistic and balanced, even if, especially if, the other guy isn’t.

2. Acknowledge that there are still issues in gaming. No medium is perfect. It’s okay to be less defensive and acknowledge that there are some issues that we, as gamers, still face. Some of these issues are not easy to rectify overnight and if we sweep them under the rug, then we actually look ill-informed, or maybe even a bit Polyannaish (Oh everything is FINE here…) Coming across as balanced is the mature thing to do.

3. Make sure you are actually arguing against a point or a person that you can “pinpoint”. Okay… I am sure if you look at previous blog posts, you will find places where I don’t do this. I try to avoid it, but I’m not perfect. If you are just arguing that everybody says “this” without any evidence to show that everyone does think that way, no one can actually debate with you. No one can engage, and it weakens the debate.

4. Avoid the strawman argument. Ug. This one bothers me. It’s when you do one of two things. Either a) take the most ridiculous “point” on the opposition, exaggerate it, shoot it down and then say “HA! see! the whole argument is stupid.” or b) like point #3, you argue against no one or an opinion that you make up and thus, are able to shoot it down easily. Just be aware and don’t do this.

5. Enjoy the Debate. We live in a much different time than when movies, television, books and other new forms of media came into being. Today we have the 24 hour news cycle that must be fed. We have social media meaning that everyone can, and will, engage and give their opinion regarding everything and anything.

These are positives. People have different opinions. Be open to learning. Hell, be open to the fact that yo may not be right. This is how we grow as people. If you aren’t having fun, or you aren’t learning, it’s time to shut down the computer.

6. If you think that the other person is an idiot: stop, and acknowledge that they probably aren’t as stupid as you think they are. Look, you aren’t that smart, I’m not that smart. We are both average. Most people we meet are average. People we argue against are of average intelligence: that’s kind of how average works. If you go into a debate believing that the other person is stupid, you will argue “down.”  Instead, argue “up.” If you have to, pretend that the other person is just as intelligent as you, and then make your argument better, rather than dumbing it down, or being condescending. 

7. When talking the big “isms” check your privilege.  Privilege is something given to you by society that you don’t really earn. If you are born to affluent parents, you get certain privileges. I am a fairly pretty white girl: I don’t have a hard time getting a cab. So when the debate turns to racism, I make an effort to watch myself. I have never been the target of racism (that I know of) and so I have to be more aware of what people who have been the target of racism are saying in the debate.

So if you are going to argue against the “isms” (sexism, racism etc.) just make sure that you acknowledge if you have or haven’t been the target.

8. Be educated on your Terms. Know what you are talking about. For instance: I can’t censor anybody or any thing. I am just some chick with a blog. Only the government can censor. I *can* (if I so choose) use my free speech and call for the censorship or boycott of something. That something can in turn can call for my censorship and for people to boycott me. And around and around it goes. Point is this: individuals can’t censor, only governments can. Having these terms in order will make your debate better.

Sometimes, especially when the debate turns into a legal issue, there are more factors in play than we can acknowledge. If the answer seems easy, and it still isn’t fixed, it probably isn’t as easy as a fix as you think it is.

9. When in Doubt: Don’t be a Dick. Break out those rules we learned in Kindergarten. Do I have to expand? 

So:what rule am I missing to make this an even 10? Are there any boards that are better or worse at having interesting and civil debates? Gaming boards are (sometimes) not known for polite discourse: when have you seen things go off the rails?

One positive I can think of was in my old community. I was asked by one member to explain why and how a thread went off the rails as badly as it did. I ended up translating the discourse so that both parties could understand what the other person heard or understood as the debate continued. I was happy that one party saw that he didn’t understand, and asked for help from “the outside” to gain understanding.

The bad debates, for me, are always the ones where people just trash the other side without acknowledging that there may be something there, or that they may be missing a piece of the puzzle. Seen lots of that! 

But what about you? Let the flame wars begin!

Excellence in Characterization – Dr. Chakwas: Mass Effect

This is the first part of what I hope to make a reoccurring series on excellence in characterization. Be warned. This edition contains minor spoilers on Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

One part Bones, One part Hollywood Rebel.

Take one part Helen Mirren, one part Bones of Star Trek fame and you will come up with one Dr. Chakwas of Mass Effect. Dr. Chakwas has become one of my favourite female, minor characters in gaming.

I have loved the way she was written from day one. She represents the best in what I feel minor characters should do; she adds flavour to the series, she further adds layers and nuance to other main characters and to the universe in which they all coexist. She also leaves you wanting to know a little bit more.

First: the facts. Dr. Chakwas is the Chief Medical Officer on board the Normandy, and thus is under the main protagonist, Commander Shepard’s, command.  She is a veteran military doctor, I’ll put her around 50 or older. When tragedy strikes the Normandy, she ends up once again under Commander Shepard’s command, this time with Cerberus.

Pretty standard “the good doctor” fare. Nothing new so far.

Where things get interesting is when you speak with the doctor about her motives for being on board the Normandy.  Her answer is simple yet nuanced. She talks about how she wanted to save the lives of brave soldiers with steely eyes and deep, sensitive souls (le sigh). The writing could have been hokey, and perhaps a bit insulting, however she comes across as poking gentle fun at her much younger, naive self. Yes, that is what she thought then, and how silly. Yet, there is a twinkle in her eye. You see that she had an adventurous streak in her, and you can see that still as the game progresses.

Later, Commander Shepard basically has a chance to ask Dr. Chakwas this question again. After Normandy v1.0 got blown to bits, she had the opportunity to go anywhere. Shepard also makes  a point of stating that it’s a suicide mission, they probably aren’t coming back. Once again, is she SURE she wants to be here? 

Again, it’s not a simple answer.  She says how she has gone through hell and high water with the Alliance Military, suicide missions don’t bother her. What this shows is that she is not the same bleeding heart romantic that she once was. She ditched the romantic, but kept that sense of adventure and duty. She could not be herself anywhere else but in a military type outfit. Damn what she is “supposed” to do or want. She is doing what is good for HER. Even if it means a not so comfortable life.

I stated in the opener that Dr. Chakwas is one part Helen Mirren. I said this for a reason. although there is a physical resemblance, the similarities are deeper. I once read somewhere that Helen got a tattoo ages ago: before it became the norm. It was a *statement* back then. Something you did if you prided yourself on doing and being the unexpected. There would have been consequences. Women DIDN’T do things like that. And I suspect that Dr. Chakwas has many such stories of her past, ones that she may not shout on the tallest mountain (like Jack) but that she quietly keeps close to her self.

When further pressed, Dr. Chakwas does what a minor character’s role is to do. She provides insight into the other characters. In general, we come to know characters not just through their own words and actions, but from the words and actions of those around them. Dr. Chakwas performs this role perfectly. She speaks about how she would basically follow Shepard to hell and back. Now we already established that Dr. Chawas is no one’s fool. She does her own thing, she has her own mind. If this strong woman is willing to follow Shepard, what kind of person must Shepard be?

She also provides layers to the universe. She says that another reason why she is on the Normandy is that she feels the need for family. She can patch up soldiers, and they will go do their job, but Joker- the ship’s pilot-  has special needs. His brittle bones mean that he will always need medical care, and she has come to care for him. She needs him, as much as he needs her. There is a real caring and empathy. 

In the middle of a dire, dangerous mission for the very survival of humanity,  Dr. Chakwas gives us reasons why humanity is worth saving: we love each other. This is a distinct counter balance to some of the terrifying and shocking things that the universe of Mass Effect shows us. It gives us hope for better and this hope was written as a realistic interplay between two people and it didn’t hit us over the head in some ham-fisted manner.

When we look at the overall picture we see a distinctly feminine character, but one that is different from what we are used to seeing. She is strong, caring but there is steel and humour. She has a naive history, but grew up fast. She provided insight to other characters and to the universe of the game itself.  Although she is a minor character she is extremely important to the game and her part is played with perfection. I want more.

Geek Feminism – On Catfights and How We Can Possibly Get it Together

I hate the term “catfight.”  It often trivialized when women had genuine disagreements with one another. “Haha – the Ladies are all in a lather! Sexy!”

But, perhaps in the geek world: we women have been guilty of bringing each other down. Meow!

This topic was explored in an amazing post on GamingAngels.com, please read and comment. It is truly a wonderful piece, inspired by geekfeminism.org.

As I stated yesterday, I honestly believe that in gaming culture we don’t do that great of a job at picking up on social issues. Personally, I find that social issues are often hand dismissed as “stupid PC BS by Really Stupid People who Love Censorship.” Now, this isn’t always the case, obviously, but that sentiment is out there.

Some readers and gamers are thoughtful, critical people who engage. Others just don’t understand why these social issues mean more to other people, or why other people see and experience sexism when they don’t. It’s a question of privilege, and I know I can’t change that. Still others, well… are just nasty and condescending: they fight the person and not the issue. Debate on issues I love. Straw-feminist rants: not so much.

I have seen this often, and for some reason, I am always more surprised when it is other women who mock and deride these issues and each other.

I think that by dismissing the sexism you are protected from it. I know I have been less happy with gaming, gamers and geek culture in general since I started to see the sexism that is rampant. Once your eyes are opened to it, you can’t ever go back. And, personally, the lack of decent discourse is even worse. I’m a talker. I need to talk these issues through, yet I sometimes feel like I am one woman fighting this alone.

It was gamer culture and gaming that made me a feminist. Now I stand here, wondering how to proceed and not knowing what to do.