Troll Culture

Like most of you, I cannot get this election off of my mind. I have not been able to focus and write these blogs like I usually do without glancing at my social media every five minutes to see if some new, terrible act has been committed in his name. There is also a part of me that still wants to believe that this cannot be happening, and, despite this dread, I cannot help but know that it is insignificant compared to the legitimate fear that is felt by my black, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, immigrant, Latinx, etc. friends. This lack of focus lead me to conclude that I have to write on something related to the election, but also related to video games.

Enter the troll. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, think of I-r0k from Ready, Player One. They are someone who enters the online community and intentionally stirs up trouble or negativity in a variety of ways, only to sit back and enjoy people’s reactions. They can be innocent and fun, like the infamous Ken M. of Facebook. His comments are often briliiant in their stupidity, and, admittedly, it is a little fun to see people fall for the bait and “feed” him, only leading to more laughs.

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However, there are certainly parts of the internet that are less friendly, and, here, there are much worse people with little regard for social customs or common decency. I would rather not include a picture of some of those comments, as they are incredibly hate-filled, ignorant, and generally unfunny. These sorts of trolls either believe in the validity of their racist, homophobic, misogyny, etc., or do not care enough about these issues to see the impact of their words.

Given this election, I expect that the online community is in for an increase in the number of these sorts of trolls. How do we respond? Do we “feed” the troll and oppose their hateful words? As someone of privilege, I see that words have power, and this is the response that I want to take, but online arguments are extremely unproductive. I’m still very much confused, and there are much larger issues ahead as well. Would love to hear y’alls thoughts.

 

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The Modern Game Climate: Gimmicks and Quirks

For the past few years, there have been the releases of several games that were very much hyped up and expected to do very well, or sold on one or two interesting points that made the idea of them stand out while the reality of the games were very hollow and unsustainable. There seems to be an increased prevalence of these sorts of game gimmicks, and for whatever reasons developers are opting in to investing heavily into these sorts of games that try to break or expand genres more than games that would be effective within their own genre.

There are loads of recent games that attempt to do this. Destiny, with its half a billion dollar funding, attempted to merge the FPS and MMO genres, and delivered a game with the mechanics of both but less quality aspects of each. Titanfall’s main sell was being a FPS with giant robots, and while it delivered on that and refreshingly added some spice to the shooter formula, it had no single player options and its campaign consisted simply of multiplayer games with some small voiceovers to make the player artificially feel like there was some kind of story occurring. And more recently, the Skyrim Special Edition offers the same game that was released in 2011 plus DLC for the original price, but with the only difference being improved graphics. While it’s not my place to tell the capitalist world how they should develop these games, there are serious flaws with these titles. The idea is what drives them, not the actual content of the game.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to think about your quirky ideas. I’ve used mine to develop some cool short stories, and my sister is still going to become a millionare once she figures out how to pull off her porta potty scheme. But when the only real contribution to the game is the minor theme, not something solid within the game’s foundation, the medium will sometimes not be enough to salvage the game. While there is more leeway in video games for cliche storytelling and underdevelopment, games with weak characters and stories don’t work as well as ones with compelling narratives. 

The original Skyrim had hundreds of quests throughout the world, and part of its appeal was that almost all of these quests had interesting stories and narratives that were strong on their own – add hundreds more to that experience and you have a game that feels impossible to “finish,” and that isn’t a bad thing. But if the only thing you’re contributing to the community is better graphics, how much are you really giving to the community? 

While these sorts of games aren’t going to be sustainable, they certainly can make a lot of money right out the gate. Even though probably a majority of buyers have already played it, the Skyrim Special Edition has sold enough copies to place it at #2 in the UK this week. And hey, if it works, it works, right? But if companies are looking for longer term success, I’d encourage them to look less at the few shiny gems of quirky ideas and more at developing good foundations for the games.

Two Eyes are Better Than One

Hi friends, I’ll be posting with the wrong group today, because I 100% forgot that the syllabus was incorrect about which group was up last week.

Since our time exploring different types of virtual reality and with Ready, Player One on the schedule lately, I haven’t been able to get VR off my mind recently.  That had been one of the things I was looking forward to most in this class and I must say, it certainly lived up to the hype, having never used VR before.

I always knew that the Vive, Oculus, etc. would bring the next level of immersion to gaming, but without actually being in one of the headsets, I suppose I never fully grasped what that meant.  And sure it was great having such a large “screen” and essentially using my hands for controllers, but none of that was really what set VR apart from other forms of gaming.  If i had to boil it down to a single feature that really sold the immersion and general feeling of VR, I would say it’s the inclusion of depth perception.  Most of the features of VR can be simulated, if not flat out replicated with other devices;  there are tons of input devices besides a controller/mouse and keyboard and I’ve seen some pretty impressive fields of view with the use of multiple monitors or projectors.  But depth perception is something that has never been possible in gaming before virtual reality machines.  If you’re looking at an object in a game, it doesn’t seem like it’s really there any more than something in a movie feels like it’s in the room with you.  No matter how good the graphics are, no matter how nice a game looks, there’s always the glass in your television separating you from the game.

It’s such a subtle difference, but adding that tiny bit of parallax is, for me, what really makes the difference between gaming on a regular console or pc and gaming with a VR headset.  Once you get the feeling of really being there, there’s no stopping the development of better and better immersion in video games.

I don’t know if VR machines will change the gaming world forever like some say.  In fact, I’m fairly certain they won’t, but I do believe that they will drastically affect the way games are made.  Whether or not we see a vive in every house in however many years, I think the thing that will be changed about gaming will be the level and type of immersion and the attention to detail in more and more regards.

Harassment in VR Spaces

(Spoiler warning for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline in first two paragraphs. Links contain sensitive content relating to sexual harassment in online/gaming communities.)

Ready Player One: 80’s nostalgia trip, celebration of gamer culture, cyberpunk dystopia, hero’s quest, and – teenage love story? I’ll admit, I haven’t finished the book yet, but from the beginning our protagonist Will Wade/Parzival is smitten with Art3mis, a fellow gunter and popular online personality. He even has pictures of her (or at least, her avatar) saved on his hard drive. When he first encounters Art3mis in the Tomb of Horrors, he gives her advice on how to beat the lich king. Once they’re both High Five celebrities on the famed scoreboard, they begin a casual romance. Art3mis breaks it off when she feels their time together has become too much of a distraction from the hunt. Parzival, lovesick, sends her unread messages, flowers, and stands outside of her virtual castle with a boombox: part persistent “good guy,” part slightly creepy stalker.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One has not (yet) examined gender politics on the OASIS, but it acknowledged the age-old mantra: “There are no girls on the Internet.” Even in a world where virtually the entire population uses OASIS and a game event with a massive prize, the default is presumed male. Parzival persistently questions Art3mis’s gender until he is assured that she’s “actually” female, accusations that Art3mis takes with good humor.

(Spoilers end here.)

But as we all know, there are women on the internet and in the gaming world, and they have been there since the beginning – even when the climate is hostile. Shortly after starting Ready Player One I found this article about the writer Jordan Belamire’s experience with sexual harassment in virtual reality. Despite all players having identical avatars, another player recognized her voice as female and followed her around attempting to touch her avatar inappropriately. She finally exited the game. The game’s developers were shocked and dismayed when they heard of the incident and in response developed an in-game “power gesture” that creates a privacy bubble around the player. They hope that other virtual reality developers will take harassment into consideration when designing their games. Online or in-game harassment is nothing new, but as we pioneer exciting new platforms and experiences, it continues to be a thorn in the community’s side.

Ready Player One might take place in the distant dystopian future, but in characters’ interactions with each other the culture seems closest to the Wild West of the 2000s internet – complete with flame wars and skepticism on women’s presence in the OASIS. Presumably, harassment continues to be an issue in this brave new world of the OASIS – but is the response closer to QuiVr’s developer-implemented “power gesture,” or the old advice of “just ignore it and it will go away?” Perhaps it isn’t even a talking point in the OASIS’s community – why worry about it when, after all, there are no girls on the internet?

What do you think of QuiVr developers’ response in implementing the power gesture? Do you think that this is a valid solution, or do you believe it is too much/too little?  What responses to harassment have you seen on other platforms and games?

Achievements in Video Games

 

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An example of what an Xbox One achievement looks like when earned. Source

Achievements are a huge part of video game culture.  Almost everyone who owns a console or Steam has earned at least one, and many gamers stake their gaming reputation on how many achievements they’ve gotten or how hard the ones they’ve completed are to get.  There are multiple websites and videos designed to help gamers complete their achievement list for the games they’re trying to complete, and there’s even an entire YouTube channel called The Completionist geared around, among a few other things, collecting every achievement in whatever game they’re covering that week.  There’s no question that achievements help give gamers a goal to work forwards when playing games, especially for open-ended games or match-based games where there might not be that much drive to continue playing the game without them.  However, are achievements really helpful to gamers, or do they merely distract players from the important parts of gaming?

Continue reading “Achievements in Video Games”

I Really Hope Mobile Gaming is Not the Future

I usually have a short attention span with games. Unless something really snags my attention early on, I leave it after a few hours of playing. Because of that, console or computer games can be a big commitment for me. I do my research, I watch game play videos, I read reviews, all to make sure that I wont be sinking $30-$60 on a product that I’m going to put down a few days after buying it. the hectic schedule of college doesn’t make this process easier, but it’s my tried and true way of finding games that I enjoy.

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Copyright Clash of Clans

Enter my issue with mobile gaming. I loved it when it started. I could drop a small fee of often $.99 or a bit more and have access to some classic concepts and games like Angry Birds or a pocket-sized Civilization game. It was easy to get a quick gaming fix between classes or while “on the go.” I also didn’t feel such a threat of not falling in love with a game either, as the costs are so small that it really doesn’t matter, and it’s pretty easy for me to rationalize spending a buck on even five hours of entertainment.

This all changed with the invention of “free” games like Clash of Clans, Mobile Strike, and Game of War that seem to dominate in grossed money and advertisements. I got in to some of these games pretty enthusiastically. It didn’t cost anything to try, and I loved some of the strategic concepts and settings of the games. I mean just look at this ridiculous commercial for Game of War. The budget for something like this from a mobile game is absurd.

 

All these games have the same problems though. They’re just barely fun enough to keep people interested, and they all involve waiting as the main way of playing the game. Upgrading buildings and units eventually takes weeks! However, players can pay real money in order to speed up this process, often separating the players in to two groups: one’s who don’t care enough to pay, and those who do. What’s even more troubling is that they seem to play in to people’s addictive personalities. Playing these games feels like a trip to a slot machine in some ways, with the frequent level ups, random rewards, and “check-ins” that reward you simply for playing the game repetitively.

I’m pretty good about not falling for these tricks, despite my personality type very much being the one that these sorts of games are meant to entice. It’s really concerning to see the top grossing app list dominated by these games, because we know that many people can rationalize paying $.99….but then do it a LOT more than once. With all this money being made, I can’t really blame the developers, but couldn’t these games at least be a little more…fun? Have a little more staying power? I’ve noticed myself literally spending a few weeks on one of these games before bouncing to another setting, another iteration of the same concept. It’s frustrating. There’s still a lot of great games being made for our phones and tablets, but I wonder how much creativity and brain power is going towards perpetuating these cheap imitations that capitalize on people’s impulsive behaviors. I hesitate to say that I want a game genre to die out, but I really think a lot of the potential for mobile gaming is being wasted on some of these base attempts to recreate an online gambling culture.

What do you think about “free” mobile gaming? Please leave a comment!

Virtual Hopes

VR is an exciting way to experience media in a more immersive way although it still has a long way to go before it is truly available for everyone to experience in their daily lives. This is largely because of the cost for a single setup even before you buy any games or interactive experiences to enjoy with your headset. You can either have no interaction with your environment other than turning your head or you can have a fully immersive experience that costs a ton. Another major setback is that these expensive setups that can track your movements are not always very accurate which was a problem we ran into while solving a puzzle in our first experience with the HTC Vive. We were far enough from the walls and close enough to an object in the game that we should have been able to pick it up but the tracking system believed that we were much closer to the wall and prevented us from being able to grab the object until other people in the room moved around and the tracking started working correctly again. It is also rather obvious that you have a screen right in front of your eyes no matter which virtual reality setup you were using and depending on how clear the resolution is and how the screen is created it can get hard to watch really quickly.

Even with these limitations there is a lot of space for VR to expand in videos, games, and simulations for educational purposes. For example, it would be cool if they could have doctors practice surgeries in virtual reality so they don’t have to get cadavers all the time and they can practice over and over with different representations of peoples bodies. Personally, I would like to see VR improve with its tracking capabilities so that it becomes more immersive and can truly simulate real world experiences. VR has already been able to explore many concepts and styles of play by transforming regular three dimensional media into something you can stand in the middle of and feel like you are actually interacting with your environment rather than just sitting in front of a screen where you can’t touch any of the objects surrounding you. For example, there are many VR experiences that allow you to experience things that you wouldn’t be able to do in real life. This includes climbing Mount Everest and becoming a bunny in an animation. Experiences such as this where you can walk a plank at great height can even allow people to experience the things that terrify them without facing any real danger. VR can even transform games that start out as PC games into an immersive experience  allowing you to become a surgeon or play fruit ninja in almost real life. A great side effect of games in virtual reality is that it allows you to become active and practice archery or tennis without ever having to go too far or find a gym to work out in. And if you want to be able to play sports with friends or strangers around the world then you can do that as well though you can’t play with any friends who do not own their own VR setup. Virtual reality can even allow you to experience completely impossible environments that have an animated, drawn, or dreamlike feeling. Though these are all really cool advances in virtual reality that demonstrate how it can be used socially or in an active or dreamlike environment to enhance the way you experience a piece of media the tracking and visibility are not quite at the level they would need to be for it to be used in a truly educational sense for surgeries and other applications. Once these advances can be made and the price comes down to an accessible level then it everyone will truly be able to experience and enjoy virtual reality.