Going, Going, Gone Home

e7c3424f88fd8a2cdd5a0787c54e7770
One of the many objects you can pick up and interact with in the game

Playing Gone Home this week I was struck by the notion that it seemed like large chunks of the story were either missing or obscured by a false sense of horror. As you explored the house it was easy to follow the story of Sam and Lonnie because it was read out loud in the form of journal entries Sam wrote to you. Each entry was tied to an object or location in the house so that the story naturally unfolded with your exploration and you could hear the inflection in her voice as if she was telling you her story in person. If you were an observant player you could also notice what was going on in the lives of the other family members and the history of the house. However, this part of the story was told entirely through scraps of notes and objects left lying around the house. You could read letters written by various family members and look at your past school projects but it was easy to miss the details of the story when presented with a wall of text. The story was also obscured by the fact that the game insisted on attempting to be creepy when there seemed to be no real reason for it. There was just a constant sense of dread since the lights kept flickering and turning off so you got the sense that something would jump out at you even though it never did. I would have enjoyed the game much more if it didn’t have this false sense of horror and I was able to equally explore each of the characters presented instead of just focusing on one story that was read aloud since I often missed details and had to go back to figure out what was going on with the rest of the family.

Advertisements

The Place of Video Games During Finals Season

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. What should be a wonderful and beautiful time of Christmas music and holiday cheer is spoiled by the crushing realization that we all have a lot of work to do before we can enjoy the seasonal cheer. I find the behavior of many people very interesting during this time of year. Some folks seem to maintain a quasi-cheery attitude, knowing that they’ve done this before and they’ll do it again. To them, worrying only doubles the pain, so what’s the point of getting too wrapped up in your studies? On the other hand, some people are quite open about how much they’re struggling. It’s some kind of odd coping mechanism, I think. This (false) dichotomy, though, has shown me one rather interesting thing about the use of video games during this time of the year.

a-very-retro-christmas-to-you-all-video-games-3136465-584-416
A very retro Christmas to all

For the “chiller” group, as I will call them, they keep most of their habits the same, in terms of leisure. Sure, they’ll devote more time than usual to their studies, but they still find time to game, watch some Netflix, or go to the gym. I think this group tends to do better in the long run. Go ahead, search if it’s better to take breaks while studying, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find some good data that suggests we do better sectioning off our work in to chunks, rather than punishing our brain for 8 hours straight. Even my pre-med roommate finds time to play some mobile games in between his intense biology slides. I’m certainly not saying that you should devote this weekend to beating every side quest of Skyrim (ha), but it might not be the worst thing to knock out one.

To all you “thrillers” who lock yourselves in Stevenson for 12 hours on the weekend, only emerging for food and water, take some time during this final season and try out some sort of quick breaks. Even if it’s to check social media or listen to a few songs, try giving your brain a break to synthesize everything that it’s taken in. I was once like you, I had a lot of internal guilt to overcome when I would enjoy some leisure time. I told myself that I was wasting time that I would need to work. Give it a shot, though. I think you’ll be surprised at how much stronger your work will be when your brain isn’t a heaping pile of mush.

beth_christmas_2007_topper

What Makes a Good Boss Battle?

While preparing for the upcoming presentation, I’ve been asking myself what makes a game good or, at the very least, what makes people enjoy them.  Since I mostly play RPGS, I mostly pulled from my knowledge of those games and thought about what I did and did not enjoy about some of my favorite games.  This brings me to Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game which, while mostly enjoyable, had one of the worst boss battles I have ever played.

The final boss of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus. Source

In order to figure out what makes a boss battle work well, I want to use what Inquisition did poorly.  By figuring out what Corypheus did poorly, we might be able to figure out what to do well.  NOTE: there will be spoilers ahead for the end of Inquisition.

Continue reading “What Makes a Good Boss Battle?”

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.

tumblr_mty00tij2m1supmlto8_500

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.

 

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.

ready_player_one_cover

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?