Not Man Enough for LOTRO

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I could barely even walk straight. I was swinging my camera wildly and even straight through my head. I stumbled around knocking into walls and trees. I had just “entered middle earth” for the first time as my newly minted elf huntress avatar in Lord of the Rings Online, the massively multiplayer online role-playing of the World of Warcraft variety. I was experiencing firsthand what I had only before glimpsed over a guy friend’s shoulder. I had never thought that I would be playing a game like this myself. I got incredibly frustrated multiple points in just the Intro alone, shoving my computer away and muttering “How can I be so bad at this!” and “Ugh, I can’t believe I have to do this.”

I continued to feel uncomfortable with the game as I was assigned multiple gameplay levels to beat or quests to finish over the next few weeks. I was self consious and realized that I was always behind on my LOTRO’ing because I avoided playing it in public spaces like the library (where I do a majority of my studying) for fear of judgement. First, I thought I was embarassed for someone to see how bad I was at playing and how I couldn’t help walking in zig zags or straight into trees. But as I got better at the game and started levelling up, I still felt a certain anxious avoidance and made sure to sit so the least number of people in the library could see my screen.

When friends commented on the fact that I was playing LOTRO while we were studying together, I felt the need to explain myself. I joked that I stayed in my room all the time now secretly playing LOTRO because I wasn’t “hot enough” to be doing it in public in an intriguing and “cool” way. The joke was laughed at but it left a sour aftertaste in my mouth. I reflected afterwards and realized that my comment had nothing to do with my “hotness” and everything to do with my “women-ness.” No matter how beautiful, as evidenced by the lovely ladies I know who are avid gamers, no one is exempt from the confused head tilt upon finding out that they play video games, especially games like LOTRO. While my joking remarks were highly problematic in themselves, they could also be revealing some pretty widespread issues in gaming.

First of all, I hadn’t thought about what was “cool” or not since I was thirteen, yet being forced into playing a game like LOTRO suddenly made me feel gainly and self conscious. Was I suddenly regressing and having flashbacks to caring so desperately what people thought of me or was moving into the boundaries of what had been conditioned into me as socially acceptable causing the inner anxiety? Were there implicit social norms about what kind of person are “allowed” to play video games in public and who are not?

In the NYT article, “Women Get In on the Action in Video Games”, it is exclaimed with triumph that almost 50% of gamers are now women. So am I imagining all this? Maybe not. The article does admit that males are more likely to play “immersive, narratively complex games” while women preferred” ‘casual’ games” like Candy Crush or Farmville. Are women simply not interested in the immersive, richly layered stories and experiences? I was frusterated by my gender for a moment and asked myself were we not “sophisticated” enough to appreciate a richer more complex and demanding medium? No. I think that while the growing playership in casual games is an exciting development. The continued gender gap in MMO’s like LOTRO reveal that there is more than just a steep learning curve barring the way for a lot of women.

Even after I started to really enjoy the game, I was sad when I realized that if I had stumbled upon the game casually, I would have never played for this long, not because I wouldn’t enjoy it but because I would have run into too many invisible social barriers and given up. I know there are hundreds of thousands of happy and carefree non-white male players in LOTRO. But for each of those, I wondered how many dozen young girls were deterred by the same creeping self consiousness I faced when playing for the first time.

-Diana Zhu

Not Bad, But Not Great

•September 12, 2014 • 2 Comments

In order for me to evaluate LOTRO, I can only draw on my past experience with MMO RPGs. Most of my MMO experience comes from Runescape, a game with a far smaller map and a much less involved quest-line, so LOTRO wins in those regards. I would also give LOTRO points in the visual design department. The graphics are impressive given the size and usually quick render time of the environment, so another win for LOTRO. I also really like the class and race system of LOTRO, it’s not super complicated (like Skyrim) but the decision has a meaningful impact on how you play the game. When it comes to the negatives, I’d like to first say that I’m not far in the game, so some of my current problems may be solved later on or by buying a membership.

The sheer size of the map, while can be a positive, is often a detriment, as it’s impossible to remember more than one or two of the cities (I don’t know much about Lord of the Rings) so I find it difficult to get back to places that aren’t a fast-travel location. I also don’t like that there isn’t some level of consistency with the stables; there isn’t one city that all stables can take you to (at least that I’ve found). This is especially problematic considering the learning curve with the controls and the fact that we sometimes teleport places (kinship house, Rivendell) for class and have no way back except the home-base teleport. Further, while quests are very well done (not too easy, not incredibly difficult yet), the guiding system is not very intuitive. I find it hard to keep track of what quests I’m on and what quests are inactive. This is probably because the game just has an overwhelmingly intricate control panel that isn’t well explained in the tutorial. Combined with the hours it takes to walk somewhere in the game, the complicated control panel takes away from my enjoyment of the already one-dimensional gameplay.

Playing as a lore-master so far, I have been pretty much forced to do quests, with not many other ways to level up. In other MMOs, you enter a sandbox-like world and can choose to go out and fight other players or NPCs or do Quests, but in LOTRO it’s quest or die (sometimes even literally). When fighting, I mostly use the same rotation of 2 spells, and have my bear kill everything while I heal it. I rarely have to do anything but click on spells, I never feel in danger. Finally, my biggest complaint is a lack of clarity or explanation about how items, shops, weapons, and armor work in the game. I don’t know if I can only get new weapons by doing quests, what other options I have for weapons, or where I can buy them. I figured out how stores work on my own, but there’s no indication of if any stores sell better items than others, or if it gets better as I level up. I haven’t seen any other players using anything other than an axe, sword, or bow, and I really hope that those don’t turn out to be the only options (though I use a staff) as the game goes on. Overall, I find it’s taking far too long for the game to get into full motion or at least show any indication of doing so, though controlling a huge bear and hurling lightning everywhere is pretty damn entertaining.

-Challenor Robertson

True Life: I’m a LOTRO Addict

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I am very proud of myself… I’ve made excellent strides in the gaming world. For those of you that don’t remember, I am the newbiest of newbs (the writer who basically had only played iphone games), so when I downloaded LOTRO and was told that it would be a part of my grade for the course, I was wary at first. Initially, I struggled with the controls of the game, not realizing that the arrow keys could be used in place of the “a” “s” “d” and “w” keys for movement; not being able to move with ease was frustrating and really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Another issue I had at first was navigation through the game with the quests. I did not realize that one merely had to follow the glowing ring on the map to find the next part of the quest, and because of this, the going was excruciatingly slow. A silver lining the this issue was that I learned how to move before I learned how to navigate, and so I spent a long time fighting wolves in Thorin’s realm and reached a higher level by the end of the intro period that most. On the issue of navigation, I wish that staying on the epic quest line would be more self-explanatory because I’ve spent a lot of time doing side quests that I would in some cases prefer to avoid.

With that being said, these were just issues I had at the beginning of my journey. Since I’ve managed to get over these problems, I have become completely enamored with the game. If I’m waiting around, I play the game. If I’m bored, I’ll play the game. Not feeling like going out on the town? I’ll visit the Prancing Pony in Bree. I am seriously getting addicted to LOTRO!

One aspect I really love is the role playing. I love the fact that I can customize my character’s wardrobe and appearance, as well as the specific skills I can gain as an Elf Champion. I think one reason why this part of the game is so appealing is due to the fact that I am an English major and avid reader. When I am reading (especially in the Lord Of The Rings series) I can imagine myself in the protagonist’s position and wish I were apart of the action. By playing LOTRO, I am able to engage with the narrative in a way that has never been open to me before, and that helps to fulfill this desire.

Additionally, the quests provide just enough challenge to be fun and engaging, but are not difficult to the point that I want to abandon them as a lost cause. Even if my character dies, I feel like I can evaluate my performance and improve enough to give the challenge another go and ultimately be successful. While this game isn’t as strongly based on learning as the game Braid was, I still think it is an important factor here. In playing this game, you learn new strategies to help you play more efficiently and creatively.

One thing that I have learned since starting this game is that apparently Lore Masters get to have animal pets. Since I have been enjoying playing so much, I think it is time for me to create a new character of the Lore Master variety so I can acquire some of the cute and friendly creatures I’ve spotted along the way!

-Sparling Wilson

Lost in Cyberspace

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

theguild

(Image source)

My only experience with online gaming before taking this class was watching the web series The Guild. For those who haven’t seen the series, it’s a show about a group of people playing “The Game,” an online game based on World of Warcraft. Also, if you haven’t seen it, you should watch it, because it’s excellent and even has some great cameos (Neil Gaiman was in an episode, people. Neil Gaiman).

 

Because of The Guild, I pictured playing online games in a certain way…and for the most part, I have actually found the show pretty accurate. The game in the show is about creating guilds to beat the game, in the same way that players can create kinships and fellowships in LOTRO. Sometimes in the web series, there will be moments when viewers get to see the actors as their avatars actually interacting in the game. That part is interesting to me because it really feels like an entire other world, because there really are real people on the other side of the characters. That’s what the first episode of The Guild deals with a lot–how interactions within games translate to real life.

felicia

All that being said, the actual gaming part of LOTRO is NOT my strong suit. I really like logic games, like Sudoku, Minesweeper, etc. When I was younger I was really into ClueFinders. Anyone play Cluefinders?? That game was THE BEST. Because parents thought it was so educational, so they’d let you play it for hours, but joke’s on them because it was sooo fun. Why don’t they make college Cluefinders?

Anyway, LOTRO, as far as I have gotten, deals with a lot of running back and forth. I am TERRIBLE with directions in real life (literally got lost in Towers yesterday, no joke) and this unfortunately translates to the game. When my character ends up in dark caves, I get so turned around. If I could choose any quest, I would want to stand in place and solve a riddle like the one the sphinx gives Harry in Goblet of Fire. Instead, I’m getting lost in fields while trying to deliver messages for elves. Come on, middle earth–invest in cell phones. Or at least carrier pigeons…


Once I get past the early levels (if I don’t get too lost in the process) I’m looking forward to the higher level quests. I’ve been inspired by Codex.

codex

gif source: tumblr.com

-Julia

Do Video Games Normalize Concepts?

•September 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

As someone who is afraid of guns in real life, for some reason I never really thought about why watching video games in which people shoot other people doesn’t bother me. That being said, I’d much rather play a fantasy game with swords, bows, or magic as my weapons. But I’ll happily watch my boyfriend play Titanfall and obliterate opposing players with flamethrowers and bullets.

A new game by Andy & Sophie, two high-school girls from New York, tries to examine why violence has been normalized in video games by identifying a subject that is a societal taboo at large, and certainly wouldn’t be found in many video games.

The game: Tampon Run.

Screenshot 2014-09-12 08.34.46

The game’s opening message is intriguing: “Most women menstruate for a large portion of their lives. It is, by all means, normal. Yet most people, women and men alike, feel uncomfortable talking about anything having to do with menstruation… Tampon run is a way of discussing the taboo in an accessible way. Instead of holding a gun, the runner holds tampons, and instead of shooting enemies, the runner throws tampons at them.”

Screenshot 2014-09-12 08.39.43

While I applaud their feminist message (as a proud feminist myself), and agree that menstruation doesn’t need to make anyone blush, I’m not sure I agree with the idea that video games themselves are able to normalize objects or ideas. I would argue that our gun-centric, second-amendment culture, and prevalence in the media of stories about violence (murder and assault), have made violence more “normalized” in our culture. Video games are more of a reflection of society than an agent for change or acceptance. Games with a social message, like Tampon Run, are more rare than the shoot-em-up style games that Tampon Run itself is critiquing.

So while a game about tampons will probably start more conversations about why menstruation is a taboo, I don’t think that menstruation will become a fixture in many video games, or other media, until our society at large has realized that periods or tampons aren’t such a big deal after all. Hopefully, this unique and quirky video game will be a first step in that direction.

Max Payne or Just Dance?

•September 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

See how most men and women answer in this interesting article in the New York Times:
“Women Get in on the Action in Video Games.”

http://nyti.ms/1lTE4ob

GAME OR BUST. Probably Bust Though….

•September 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

By: Squid

 

In King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters we witness the underdog, Steve, tackle the task of getting the world record score in the arcade classic Donkey Kong by practicing for hours a day and performing under pressure. The other side of the story shows a demigod of the arcade world, Billy, as he constantly displays a smug grin while maintaining his super star status from the comfort of his home. It really is a great story of a clash of titans that have mastered their craft to an uncomfortable level. By the end of the story, Steve’s works pays off and the audience is left with the knowledge that he successfully holds the top scores on Donkey Kong (live and recorded). Everything is right in the world – Billy and his goons don’t come out ahead, and the audience can stop feeling sorry for Steve. But what if he didn’t get the record? What if he just failed and I was just left there….cringing and feeling sorry for Steve, his wife, and his kids? Well, if that happened, Steve’s story would be like thousands of gamers around the world — thousands of gamers in the United States that all play the same game: League of Legends.

League of Legends is a notoriously addictive game. It has everything it needs to capture gamers and keep them playing the game. One of the biggest features of LoL is the immense professional scene that allows top gamers to make salaries and become famous like Billy Mitchell. But unlike Steve, most League of Legends players will never come close to becoming professional because they lack the work ethic and skill. The saddest stories are the players that come close to making it and end up failing; they put their money on the line, they move to a gaming house, take off college, and walk away with nothing…their dreams shattered. For young players that is a huge fear when trying to become the best. In Steve’s case, not as much was on the line, but he was clearly obsessed and had the risk of walking away as a failure who threw away valuable time.

Games can consume so much of an individual’s life. From the hours spend casually, to thousands of dollars gambled on the opportunity to become do what you love most, professional gaming is risky. When watching King of Kong, I couldn’t help but imagine the Steve that could have been: a sad, broken dude who obsessed over an arcade game. Steve is more than a character in a great documentary. He is a vivid example of what it takes to be a professional gamer; it’s hard; it requires countless hours of practice and dedication; you have to juggle real life with your dream; the chance of failure is high. In the end, you might fail….or you could play video games for a living….which is rad.

 
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