St Cuthbert

Saint Cuthbert? Or a modern videogame designer?

It shouldn’t by this point be any surprise that the mainstream media does a lousy job commenting intelligently on videogames.  When they aren’t talking about videogames as a business (in which case they are always awesome) the standard narrative remains that playing games is bad for you.  Games either actively damage you in some way or prevent you from engaging in activities which are supposedly a lot better for you.  Sure, the mainstream media does occasionally flirt with the idea that games may be beneficial on the individual and social level.  But this is really the equivalent of the fake compliment, something they know they have to say to keep the wheels of conversation moving, when what they really want to say is that those jeans do make you look fat.  When something new and game-related appears, however, the media reach for their default frameworks. It took all of two days after the release of Pokemon Go, for example, for the Washington Post to come up with a story built around the stock “games are dangerous!” frame.  Like all such stories, it takes a few anecdotes and while it never explicitly argues that this is a trend, strongly implies it, and relies upon readers’ familiarity with the broader frame to come to the necessary conclusion for themselves.  (The Pokemon Go phenomenon is obnoxious but for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the supposed potential to make people so self-absorbed that they walk into lamp posts or in front of cars; in terms of massive levels of screen-based self-absorption society has left orbit on that one already).

But there’s at least some evidence to suggest that it may be making videogames that is hazardous to your health.

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I’m not even going to pretend that there isn’t a conflict of interest here.  A better, more ethical person would take steps to maintain their objectivity and protect their sense of integrity.  But in a world where news anchor Brian Williams can singlehandedly drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan, and the US Supreme Court has declared that money is people, I will simply press on.  In the immortal words of Brian Williams, once more unto the breach!

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[Real] Caution!  This is an image of a real onion and should under no circumstances be confused with The Onion.  Trigger Alert!  Users who have experienced traumatic encounters, resulting in uncontrollable weeping, with onions in the past may find this image disturbing

[Real] Caution! This is an image of a real onion and should under no circumstances be confused with The Onion. Trigger Alert! Users who have experienced traumatic encounters, resulting in uncontrollable weeping, with onions in the past may find this image disturbing

I have been pretty critical of Facebook(tm) in the past but It now appears that I owe Big Friend an apology.  Because it has become clear recently that the folks at CareShare Central have been working diligently behind the scenes to protect us.  Not to protect us from the predatory wiles of advertisers or the social media giant’s own datamining practices.  Nor have they been working to protect us from pages devoted to sexual violence against women, or the avalanche of everyday idiocy represented by the YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! clickbaiters.

No, apparently they have been grappling with a much more weighty problem, one that clearly threatens to bring social media crashing to its knees.

Satire.

Well, not satire itself, exactly, but apparently the inability of some people to differentiate satire from the real thing.

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Crazy Desperation

You haven’t updated your status in three fucking hours! What’s wrong with you! (Photo by Eneas de Troya, Creative Commons License)

I’ve been taking a break from Facebook for several days.  But it seems Facebook doesn’t like being “on a break.”

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This post continues the discussion I began in “Chillin’ at the OK Corral;” In that post I re-evaluated both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic based on their pre-launch claims concerning the revolutionary transformation they were about to unleash upon a helpless planet earth.  Since their release, the Massively Multiplayer Game environment has seen some interesting changes over the last year or so.  What might these changes indicate about the fate of existing MMORPGs and ones still in development?

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Looking back over some of the posts on the blog I see that I wrote several anticipating the releases of The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, including one called “Everything we know about MMORPGs is about to change. . .or is it?” which looked at the way both games were claiming to bring revolutionary innovations to the genre. Given that both games have now been out for a while and I’ve played both of them it seems only appropriate to ask: how well are we coping with the Revolution?

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Ancient Tablet Image

Apple Announces New Tablet Designed to Improve Paperweight Functionality (Image by Ilovebutter, CC license)

It has become increasingly obvious over the last couple of years that some gamers are convinced that after Obama satisfies his deep-seated yearning to take away our guns he is going to send in the UN black helicopters and take away our hardcore videogames.  In the past I’ve written about how the irrational fear that casual games are “taking over” has produced pathological troglodyte behavior directed against women who have dared simply to voice an opinion about games.  Recently I came across an instance that has at its root the same pathology (oh no!  Games are being played by everyone!) but adopted a refreshingly different approach: denial.

Throw an Apple hard enough and it can really sting
In a recent opinion piece for Polygon, Shawn Foust, currently VP of Design at Quark Games argued that “In two years mobile and tablet games will be predominantly hardcore.”  Admittedly this pronouncement could be seen as a little self-serving given that Foust’s company is dedicated to producing hardcore games for mobile platforms.  But let’s give Foust the benefit of the doubt and assume that his work has followed his passions and beliefs.  What justifies the confidence behind his statement?  Simple.  “Every media platform optimized for games eventually ends up going hardcore. Mobile will not be different.”  The PC, the Internet, consoles, all started out as oriented toward casual games and moved inevitably toward hardcore.  The reason, he argues, lies in the desires of gamers themselves: “For all of our faults as customers (we’re very torch- and pitchfork-oriented), we gamers — and I’m speaking of the hardcore variety — are loyal and dedicated. . . .For us, games aren’t an idle pastime. They are a commitment. We can’t be distracted.”  Casual games, he makes clear, are all about simple distraction, passing the time.

Sadly, this piece simply confirms why people should not be in a rush to invest in Foust’s company.  In the first place he’s exhibiting the classic circular reasoning evident among so many game developers.  Notice the nifty little rhetorical sidestep?  I’m going to talk about all gamers. . .by which I mean hardcore gamers.  But this is typical of the industry more broadly (indeed, in a former age it virtually defined the industry): all we make are hardcore games which people are buying therefore all gamers are hardcore gamers which means that we need to keep making nothing but hardcore games.  It is a completely fallacious argument to believe that your intended audience thinks exactly like you do and in the game industry it has led to some of the most problematic industry practices: the widespread hypersexualism (we like big boobs so of course everyone does) and racism (we like plucky black sidekicks, doesn’t everyone?).

Yet that all pales before the major problem here which is simply that Foust is wrong.  He’s wrong about the past and he’s wrong about the future.  But it is the reason why he is wrong that interests me.

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