Category: opinion

Girls are dumb… …according to Sony


So this guy’s girlfriend is so dumb she doesn’t notice the guy pushing buttons on the controller or that certain scenes keep happening over and over when he dies? Or are they saying that Uncharted 2 is full of long cut scenes? It is nice to see Sony stretching out and advertising games to new markets like straight white men… (seriously though who is this commercial for? Any guy watching it who might be remotely interested would already be interested in the PS3. Maybe it is just to generate general brand awareness?)

Wasted away again — multiple games, multiple cultures

In the world of videogame studies there has been a lot written about Wow and MUDs and MOOs and fairly little written about FPS players so I’ve looked at the MMORPG stuff to see where it is similar to or different from my research interests.

I was listening to the latest episode of the podcast, A Life Well Wasted the other day and it got me thinking. If you don’t know, A Life Well Wasted is kind of like the This American Life of videogame podcasts. It is really good even if it doesn’t come out as often as I would like.

The latest episode is “Artists, Fans, & Engineers” has some great interviews with cosplayers and fanfic authors. Felicia Day’s work on The Guild has also been getting a lot of attention and in particular her song “Do You Want to Date My Avatar.”

Back in the 90s I participated in a comic book APA and did a little bit of comic book fanfic and I’ve read Henry Jenkins so I am familiar with fandom. I’ve never played WoW but I have played a little bit of City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online and I’m currently playing the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons Online. Through none of this experience, however, have I done much team questing and never joined a guild. My experiences with anime, manga, and jrpgs is also pretty limited. I’ve seen a few anime shows (I grew up with Robotech), I’ve read Lone Wolf and Cub, and I’ve played Final Fantasy 7 and part of 8. However, when it comes to a lot of these less popular jrpgs I am clueless.

I got to say, this kind of cosplay and fanfic just doesn’t happen in First-Person Shooters. Sure, there is some but it just isn’t at the level it is among the mmorpg and jrpg players. There are certainly reasons for this, more story, a different perspective so you can see your character and character customization, and so on. But because of this they really seem to attract different kinds of people. There is overlap of course but the hardcore mmorpg and jrpg players don’t tend to be hardcore fps players and vice-versa.

I think that perhaps we really need to stop thinking about “videogames” as a monolithic thing and about “gamers” as belonging to a single monolithic group. Just as figure skating fans and hockey fans don’t tend to be the same people despite the superficial similarities of the two, neither are mmorpg, jrpg, and fps players (there’s some gendered aspects to those sports and I don’t think it is a coincidence that female mmorpg and jrpg players are much more common than female fps players. However, that is a matter for another post at another time.).

I guess what I’m saying is that videogames aren’t the same and neither are the players.

cryostasis and trying to use yahoo pipes to manage rss

I’ve been playing Cryostasis and wow it is pretty scary. Before it came out people were saying it was like Bioshock but I think it has a lot more in common with Penumbra: Overture. Like Penumbra: Overture, Cryostasis also takes place in a cold snow and ice-bound environment and while Cryostasis does have combat, it pretty well stinks and the majority of the game, like Overture, seems to be about figuring out what is happening and the scary environment.

I’ve also started playing an MMORPG that is in beta. Since it is in beta I’m not supposed to say anything about it which is weird since it isn’t really a “beta” but rather it is a big budget, MMO that is transitioning from a monthly subscription model to a free to play model. So although the game has been out a year or two and is based on a pen and paper rpg that started the whole pen and paper rpg genre I am not supposed to say anything about it. So I won’t. Except to comment that I’m amazed that it is also just like the only two other MMOs I’ve played, City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings Online. The combat is a little different but that’s about it. Since it is free I’ll probably play it every once in a while.

Finally, I’ve also been messing around with trying to use Yahoo Pipes to make a better way to keep track of any interesting sites people tag on delicious.com. Because delicious doesn’t really have a legitimate search, if you try “game” you will get something different than “games” for example. So I’m trying to use Pipes to aggregate as many variations on “videogame” and “theory” that seem useful. If anyone cares, here’s a link to the delicious videogame theory mashup pipe. I’m adding more delicious tags to it as I go so I suppose I should be cool and call it a “beta” (although the cool kids seem to have moved on to labeling thing as from their “labs” now rather than “beta.”). I don’t really know what I’m doing with programing the pipes so if anyone has a better method please let me know.

Most Insulting Paper Title Ever?

I’m currently writing about LAN parties as third places and in doing some research I came across this article: Appeal of violent video games to lower educated aggressive adolescent boys.

Wow, could the researchers have a lower opinion of videogame players? So the only reason someone would like violent games is if they were uneducated and violent? Crazy.

I haven’t read the article so it could easily something more reasonable but as a title it sure is ponderous.

Resident Evil 5 Racism From Someone Who Hasn’t Played It

“I didn’t see any racist imagery in it”
“No one says anything about the Spanish people in RE4”
“Why does it matter what color zombies are?”
“Why do people have to read so much into things?”
“Games are escapism”
“They didn’t mean to be racist”
“This is made by the Japanese so why would they know about racism?”
“Someone who thinks this is racist is racist”

These are all comments that I’ve seen on places like gamepolitics, Kotaku, and Joystiq. I’ve been putting off writing about this because I really don’t know if it will do any good and I don’t want to get into some flame war. I imagine that the people who have made up their mind probably won’t change them very easily. However, with N’Gai Croal leaving Newsweek, it came up again and it seems like it will keep coming up. That coupled with a website story about an “expert” talking about the game has made me decide not to hold my tongue any longer.

For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about Resident Evil 5. More accurately though I’m talking about people’s reactions to Resident Evil 5 (more accurately than that I’m writing about people’s reactions to people’s reactions to the Resident Evil 5 trailer). I haven’t played RE5. I don’t have any current gen consoles so I probably won’t be playing it any time soon. But that’s ok because most of the online discussion has been about the trailer.
Now, at this late date it is kind of hard to understand what people are talking about because there have been several trailers for RE5. The one that people first picked up on was an early first teaser trailer which didn’t really show much.

Even a later trailer which showed more included the questionable lines, “there’s no reason here… no humanity.”

There is a lot more known about the game now than there was back when this first started. There have been countless articles and blogs written about the issue. N’Gai Croal got caught up in it when MTV’s gaming blog asked him about it and he gave his opinion about the trailer. Despite the fact that he didn’t bring it up and didn’t write about it himself, when people commented on him leaving his position at Newsweek, RE5 was inevitably brought up

I’m not going to say the game is or isn’t racist because, as I said, I haven’t played it. I’m not going to say the trailer was racist either. I do think that the early trailer did contain some imagery that was troubling in terms of its depiction of race when presented in isolation the way in which it was. The trailer has imagery that perpetuates stereotypes that everyone in Africa is poor and all of Africa is a desert.

Reading through the numerous comments on some of the stories some common themes seemed to come out. Most of the comments were pretty kneejerk and reactionary. It seems as if any criticism of videogames calls out the internet fanboys and the mere suggestion that a trailer for a game might be a bit racist is a horrible thing and requires vehement defense. One of the oddest and yet more common comments was something along the lines of “Anyone who thinks this is racist is racist themselves!” Ummm, what? So thinking something might not be the best way of depicting race makes you racist? That’s just bizarre.

Another common comment was “it is just a trailer.” Well that is true but that trailer just didn’t happen. They picked those scenes specifically because they wanted them to represent their game. When that trailer came out, no one knew what the game was like. All we had togo on was that trailer.

“They didn’t mean to be racist” No. I’m pretty sure they didn’t. So does that make it ok? I didn’t mean to break the law so I won’t get arrested? More importantly, people often use the excuse of “they didn’t mean it” as a way of forgiving something or dismissing criticisms. However, can we ever really know someone’s intention? We don’t have telepathy so all we ever have is perception. Even if someone says they don’t mean it, how can we know that they aren’t lying? No, intention isn’t ever possible to discern with total certainty and so all we have is perception.

“This is made by the Japanese so why would they know about racism?” Sadly, the USA doesn’t have a monopoly on racism. No they probably don’t know much about the history of racism in the USA. But Japan has a history of racism all its own, just ask Korea. Also they are pretty ignorant of other races. Japan is really homogeneous in its people. So they don’t have much experience with people of other races so they aren’t aware of it. Heck, blackface is still acceptable in Japan. And people of African descent aren’t the only ones stereotyped. In 2005 the UN called racism in Japan “deep and profound.”

More recently, a videogame site asked an anthropologist to look at Resident Evil 5 and lead their article with the pull quote: “‘It’s silly to call it racist’, says leading anthropologist.” I’m sure that Glenn Bowman, the anthropologist in question, is an excellent scholar but the fact is he is not an expert on videogames or even media in general and I think that really undercuts the authority of his opinion. The reason for this is that he, like myself, did not actually play the game so neither of us knows what it is like to play it. Perhaps more importantly, he doesn’t say anything about the camera angles used and I really think that this is what people are latching onto when they have a negative reaction to the trailers.

Because I’m talking about the trailers, perhaps the most appropriate way of looking at them is through the lens of films studies — yes, I of all people, am advocating applying film theory to something from the videogame world! Let’s be honest, these are little movies. Based on the comments and articles I’ve read and podcasts I’ve heard (and Rebel FM’s episode where they Discuss RE5 is pretty good), people are responding to these films as if the camera didn’t exist and looking only at the world presented within the game and not the camera angles, lighting or editing. Ignoring the fact that these are computer generated and not actually filmed (which perhaps make the filmic elements more important since all of them were purposely chosen and nothing within it “just happened” or was “already there.”), all camera work is subjective. Camera angles do not just “happen.” They are chosen and they are created. They picked camera angles to make the Africans look threatening. They used shadows to make the distinction between human and zombie blurry. They edited it in such a way that nothing was fully shown. We cannot just ignore the kino eye in these situations.

When attempting to look at these trailers critically it is a mistake to allow ourselves to be sutured into the game. The Resident Evil games have always taken cues from cinema and replicated dramatic camera angles and so especially when it comes to this game series we must not allow ourselves to pretend that we are there and that this is not a constructed work.

This is especially important when countering the claims of those who argued, “No one says anything about the Spanish people in RE4.” Look at the trailers for Resident Evil 4. None of them use camera angles, lighting, or editing in anything like the same way that the early trailers for RE5 do.

In the end, like I said in the beginning, I’m not saying that the game or the trailers are racist. I am saying that a lot of the things people have written aren’t taking the manufactured and, dare I say it, “cinematic” nature of the trailers into account.

Review of Mia Consalvo’s Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames

I’ve been a fan of Mia Consalvo’s work for a while so I was really looking forward to her book, Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. If you haven’t heard anything about it you can find a pdf of the introduction (and the index too, but that seems to be less valuable) on the MIT Press site.

Despite the book being from MIT Press, I found it a bit less academic than I would have hoped. This isn’t to say that it is a bad book but it isn’t the hardcore theory-filled analysis that I was hoping for. As it stands, the book seems to sit somewhere between Masters of Doom and the stuff in the DiGRA Digital Library. I found the book to be entertaining if a bit too mainstream. There is some very interesting analysis of cheating, game guides, and faqs to be found in it though.

Am I out of Touch?

I’m starting to wonder if I’m out of touch with the gaming community. I don’t have any of the current generation consoles. I have never played WoW. Because of this a lot of the stuff I read or listen to about new games doesn’t really apply to me.

I really got to thinking about this when listening to the latest episode of the Rebel FM Podcast that features ex-staffers of Electronic Gaming Monthly. In it they had a discussion of the feel of shooters. Throughout it all they were talking about console shooters. It was then that I found myself becoming a computer-gaming-fanboy.

I kept saying, “You are talking about console-First-Person-Shooters and therefore your opinion is irrelevant!” In my opinion playing a First-Person Shooter on a console is like playing basketball with a flat ball. Sure you can do it but I can’t imagine why anyone would actually do it if they had the ability to do it the right way. Halo may have had some nice play mechanics like the regenerating shield but it is the Candy Land of shooters — it is fun for little kids but any normal adult should tire of it quickly.

So am I just out of touch? Is it possible that Halo isn’t lame (I find that hard to accept)? Or is everyone else just crazy? (The truth is probably somewhere in between…)

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Evolution of strategy in Left 4 Dead

I don’t think I’ve ever been in on the ground floor of a new multiplayer game before so it is interesting to see how Left 4 Dead‘s Versus mode has changed and evolved since its release.

One of the most noticeable areas has been in regards to the witch. When the game first came out we all generally took Eminem’s Not Safe For Work advice and don’t “mess” with the witch. Now people just go right up to her and shooter he with the automatic shotgun and killer without getting hurt at all.

Similarly, people used to just run from the tank and hope to survive. Then people figured out that molotovs would take the tank out. Now the cool think seems to be for everyone to hit it with the automatic shotgun and sniper rifle (maybe the automatic shotgun needs some tweaking?)

The latest tactic I’ve seen is that someone realized that in some cases the hunters do more damage by swiping at the survivors rather than pouncing. The logic behind this is that if you pounce you don’t always do damage and might get knocked off before you start doing damage. If you swipe someone you are much quieter, can almost always get one hit in, and can perhaps get in more without having to wait to recharge the pounce.

Right now there’s a lot of debate over exploits within the game. One that pretty much everyone agrees is an exploit is the minigun jump

I’ve only seen people use this in Versus mode once and it is pretty much a jerk thing to do.

Another exploit that is definitely wrong and a real jerk thing is the spectator glitch in which you can spawn tons of hunters.

I’ve seen a couple people do this and one named Ghost something who I’ve ran into a couple times (of course he spells Ghost all l33t and stuff to show how much he roxors).

The final exploit is more controversial in my opinion. It involves breaking down the door and avoiding the crescendo event on the 3rd (I think it is the 3rd) level.

There are more exploits like hitting things into exits so survivors can’t go past but that has been fixed and only works on the Xbox360 so that doesn’t really count. There’s also hiding under the ramp in the finale which I’ve seen some people do but doesn’t happen all that often and there’s jumping off the side of the building in the beginning but that causes a lot of damage so I haven’t seen anyone do it.

Anyway, I’m not trying to document all the exploits and glitches in the game. It is just interesting to note which tactics stick, which don’t, and how they spread.

Where’s my Valkyrie game?

So the film Valkyrie is out. In the film Tom Cruise uses Sientology to build a time machine to kill Hitler or something — I don’t know for sure, history wasn’t my strong suit. But what I do know is that it is a movie about killing Hitler. OMGWTFBBQ! If ever there was a storyline that gamers could get behind it would be killing Hitler. Where’s my Valkyrie game?!?!

Has a game ever made you cry?

This question is an old one and it is one that is often used by people from other mediums to question the ability of games to really impact the player and to have a kind of emotional maturity. Most recently it has been asked Over at International Hobo. I would bet that if someone were to ask if a game has ever made you cry you would say “no” — and you would probably be a liar.

Up until recently I would have said “no” as well because the question is usually asked in that context of telling a story that made you cry. That is a misleading way to think about it. People do cry over games all the time but they don’t cry over them because of the storylines.

So when do people cry over games? They cry when they lose them. I’m sure that nearly every kid has cried because they lost some board or card game. It is almost a cliche to show an athlete cry when they lose the big game whether it is the Super Bowl or a high school sectional.

So perhaps the problem isn’t that games don’t make us cry but rather that we just aren’t thinking about the reasons why they already do that.