Archive for the ‘Game Players’ Category

Image of Solitude

“Solitudes” by ArTeTeTrA. (Creative Commons License)

Go Outside and Smell the (Paper) Roses!

It is no secret that videogames are blamed for a lot of the world’s ills.  Simplistic associations between videogames and societal violence persist despite the ambiguous and often downright flawed research in this area.  I suspect this particular gaming albatross is never going to disappear, but just in case that it does, the forces of reaction are lining up new evils to associate with interactive entertainment, chiefly childhood obesity and addiction.  This of course is nothing new.  Governments have routinely targeted the new media of the day in order to try and expand their control over information; parents have regularly lambasted the media du jour in order to dodge responsibility for their own parenting decisions.  I am, however, routinely shocked at how effective the level of societal brainwashing has been.  Many of my students have absorbed the “evil influence” argument to some degree.  This is perhaps not so surprising in those who don’t consider themselves gamers (although many of them are; they just don’t play “those games,” you know, the bad ones; playing Candy Crush obsessively doesn’t make you a gamer but playing Call of Duty does, in their minds).  Yet even people who have been playing and enjoying all manner of games for years, who think of “gamer” as part of their identity, have absorbed some of these negative stereotypes.

Yet behind all of this there is often a much more basic dismissal directed at games, a snooty high-mindedness that declares that those who play videogames are simply “missing out.”  What they are missing out on is sometimes unspecified; the proposition is left hanging, a vague assertion that gamers are missing out on “life” in some unspecified way.  Sometimes the criteria are established: they are missing out on “social interaction” or “the great outdoors” or “creative play.”  Such charges are, of course, usually based on hopelessly romantic notions of what each of those entails.  Anyone who has stood in line to get coffee at Starbucks with a group of people who can barely look up from their phones long enough to voice their order (and in fact usually continue texting, etc. without even offering the person serving you your drink the courtesy of eye contact) should know better than to offer platitudes about the vast and exciting world of stimulating social interaction that is waiting for people just outside their front door.  Moreover, it is worthy of note, isn’t it, that this “gamer generation” of “millennials” (and I honestly have no idea what that word means anymore, if it was ever supposed to be anything more than a term of abuse ready-packaged for deployment by grumpy curmudgeons like me) are actually those who are seeking out experience, the extraordinary and the extreme, in unprecedented numbers.

With all of this as background, it occurred to me recently, that the real hidden tragedy associated with videogames is that it is the people who don’t play them who are missing out. (more…)

Videogame Library

We Are What We Buy
(Original photo by Dj ph. Used in accordance with Creative Commons License)

The answer to this question seems blindingly obvious.  A gamer is a person who plays videogames.  But with any activity it is important to circle back to first principles occasionally.  In this case, the common sense answer to this fundamental question is arguably not helping the cause of providing all of us with better games.  In fact, this answer may be a fundamental part of the reason why every year the gaming industry seems desperate to emulate Hollywood: scattering a handful of diamonds throughout a giant shit pile.  If the diamonds land on top, all well and good, we recognize them and celebrate them.  Most of us, however, are left having to do a lot of unpleasant digging and spend time cleaning residue off objects that may or may not prove to be the gems we seek.  All too often the resultant gem proves simply to be a particularly well fossilized turd.


Today I would like to start a discussion on the artistic integrity of games with 3 topics in particular in mind: revised endings, HD upconverts, and extended editions.  When I say revised endings, I’m talking about the Bioware idea of trying to revise the ending after having already released the game.  HD upconverts and reboots refers things such as Age of Empires II’s new HD edition that was recently released on steam.  Extended Editions I find to be something of a misnomer because in this case my example is the extended edition of Anna which I would argue is not so much an extended edition as the developer releasing an entirely new version of their game and saying “Wait! Wait! Give us a second chance!”  I have very mixed feelings on each of these.  They have merits, but there is a question of whether the change is too much and thus irrevocably and sometimes even negatively affects the game.  Let’s go through each of these and then see what kind of discussion we can generate. (more…)

Witchcraft Image by Kelly Garbato

Image taken at the St. Joseph, MO museum by Kelly Garbato. Available via Flikr in accordance with Creative Commons license.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a blog that I like to check in with from time to time.  Written by four experienced UK game journalists, it focuses exclusively on PC Gaming (the fact that this still exists will certainly be news to major game retailers here in the US), the sense of humor resonates with me, and the focus tends to be thoughtfully eclectic.

Recently, one of the team, John Walker, posted an extended discussion of sexism in the gaming world in particular (that is both the world of players and the world of developers) and the tech world in general.  (It is a lengthy article, but if you are a reader of this site you’ll be used to that by now!)  Anyone involved with games who hasn’t been living under a rock (sadly, that actually excludes a lot of gamers, it seems, as will be seen in a moment) is aware of several general issues facing the gaming industry when it comes to gender.  There is the persistent problem of the underrepresentation–scratch that, the massive underrepresentation–of women at every level of game development.  While women make up a significant percentage of players in most casual gaming genres, they are still a distinct minority in many “traditional” hardcore gaming genres.  There is a pervasive culture of harassment of women players in many gaming genres which ranges from downgrading women’s participation by treating that participation as unusual, to the outright abuse that comes from feeling women have no place at all in gaming.  I’ve written several pieces for this blog that have looked at the hate-filled campaigns directed at women who have spoken out about misogyny in the world of gaming, or even at those women who have dared simply to offer an opinion on game design.

Walker’s article–“Misogyny, Sexism and why RPS isn’t Shutting Up”–makes no bones about its intentions.  But the real interest of this article is that for a lot of people outside the game industry the most obvious question would be why the article was even necessary.  So, you are going to continue to call out sexism and misogyny where you see it.  Awesome.  But, er, is there a problem with doing that in the world of gaming?

Oh yes.  A big problem.




Oh, DRM…Why has God forsaken you?  DRM has been a woeful failure for years now.  It has inconvenienced far more players than pirates it has stopped.  Now, of course, I’m not advocating piracy and all of this has been said before and all of it will be said again.  However, I am dismayed because I thought we had seen all of the worst DRM possible.  I never wanted to believe that a worse DRM could even exist and yet here we are with captain of industry, EA Games, bringing us a DRM that makes no sense and makes a beloved franchise brought back from the dead unplayable.

At midnight on Tuesday, March 5, EA Games released via their Origin digital distribution service a new incarnation of SimCity.  There has not been a new version of SimCity since SimCity 4 in 2003 (plus or minus 2007’s SimCity: Societies), but regardless the Origin download unlocks at midnight and almost immediately problems started.  So what could cause such problems so fast?  Three little words: Always Online DRM.   You see EA in all their infinite wisdom decided that “Always Online DRM” was the smartest and most effective DRM method.  Always on DRM means exactly what it sounds like: You must be online to play their game even if you are building a private city.  They did attempt to make it worthwhile for you to be online by allowing you to view other player cities and create regional economies where your city is affected by cities around it, but still at its core each player is building an individual city so why is there no Singleplayer mode?  There is private mode, but those players have been suffering the same issues as public players so let’s examine that now.

Always Online DRM should have been an annoyance or an inconvenience not unlike Diablo III’s Always Online DRM so Where did EA fail?  EA launched with only 5 Servers for THE ENTIRE WORLD.  There were two US servers (US East and US West) as well as two European servers and an Oceania server.  The US servers were constantly full giving players messages that they should try again in 20-30 minutes.  The servers were not even equipped to run a server queue.  They expected you to manually keep trying until you get in.  The European servers were region locked, but experiencing similar issues.  These issues have been occurring for almost 48 hours now to the chagrin of numerous players and ultimately requiring EA to shut down the servers and update them while bringing new ones online.

Hopefully this colossal failure will cause EA and other Always Online DRM minded companies to rethink the launch requirements that entails.  Polygon initially rated SimCity at 9.5, but actually downgraded to an 8.0 as a result of the rocky launch and connectivity issues.  In closing I would like to point to two salient thoughts on the subject.  Chris Kluwe tweeted “As a publisher/developer, if you’re going to push “always on” onto the consumer, then it’s YOUR responsibility to make sure it always works”.  It is EA’s responsibility to handle this kind of thing and it is mind boggling that they could have been unprepared for the server traffic.  Lastly I’d like to point Tycho of Penny Arcade who wrote:

Gabriel wasn’t able to get into SimCity last night to play, because the server wasn’t working and single player games don’t exist anymore, even if you are playing a private city and nobody can come in anyway.  So I would remember it, because it was important, I said here in the post a long time ago that “EA games come with free misery.”  This is why I stopped being an annual purchaser of Tiger Woods games: because this company has a serious, serious problem with execution at launch.  You would only fix it if it meant more sales.  But it doesn’t, because everybody already bought it.  Well, except me.

EA will only see a desire to fix their launch failures if they see more sales in it, but because we buy things so instantaneously all the more so now with digital downloads they only fix things after the fact.  So I guess the moral of the story is know what you need for launch, but for us players: be careful what games you choose to buy on launch day because buying a game on launch day is an implicit acceptance of whatever insane DRM you have to deal with.

The Origin of it All

It was the fall of `92.  We had just arrived in the country and needed to buy a PC for my grad school work.  We opted for a mighty 386 computer (and sprang for the 40Mhz rather than the 33) and after considerable soul-searching had a ridiculously excessive 1Mb video card installed (how good was this machine?  When I discovered Doom a couple of years later, much of the game played as a blinking, growling, slideshow accompanied by the occasional delayed weapon blast).  I don’t even remember how we found the particular machine, probably through the newspaper (we were young and stupid).  At any rate, it began having some issues pretty quickly.  So I took it back to the rent-a-box place where we’d bought it, somewhere in the anonymous light industrial depths of the city of Orange.  The sales person wasn’t at all happy to see me but quickly established, as I’d suspected, that the motherboard was defective and offered to replace it for me while I waited.  Then he sat me down in front of another PC with an attached joystick and started up a game called Wing Commander.


A short time ago I wrote about the avalanche of internet douchebaggery that descended on Jennifer Hepler, a writer for Bioware who had the temerity to. . .well, open her mouth and offer an opinion about games.  Then Reddit got hold of it, and the next thing you she is being subjected to a torrent of misogynist abuse.  The level of pure hate directed at her was as revealing of a new, desperation on the part of hardcore gamers concerning the changing trajectory of game development as it was entirely typical of the neanderthal attitudes toward women held by many players and assiduously cultivated by game designers.

Well, it seems the bottom feeders are at it again.  Recently, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian put up a proposal on Kickstarter.  Sarkeesian runs the videoblog Feminist Frequency, where she offers thoughtful analysis of specific pop culture artifacts (like the Hunger Games series) or more general media phenomena relevant to gender issues.  One series of videos, Tropes vs Women, looked at a some of the most common stereotypes governing depictions of women in popular culture.  For her Kickstarter project she proposed an ambitious series of videos that would apply the Tropes vs Women concept to the world of videogames.  Given the shockingly retrograde depictions of women in most videogames (if they make an appearance at all) there is obviously enough material for an extensive series.  Sarkeesian is seeking funding to undertake a lot of background research for the videos, since her intent is for the videos to be freely available and supplemented with materials that would allow them to be used as teaching resources (the original Tropes vs Women videos are being used in this capacity).  The problem was, Sarkeesian made the same mistake as Jennifer Hepler.

She opened her mouth.