Archive for the ‘Games and Life’ 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…)



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.

MAGfest: The Community of Gamers

Posted: January 29, 2013 by aegisfang in game design, Games and Life

The gaming community is often cast in a bad light as vagrants, underachievers, basement-dwelling hobgoblins, or even, on occasion, gun wielding psychopaths.  But this is not really who gamers are.  This is not what we stand for.  This is not our community.  The gaming community can be one of the friendliest communities you’ll ever meet and there are a few events throughout the year where we gather together in our mutual love of games as entertainment and an art-form.  Today, I would like to highlight MAGfest: The Music and Gaming Festival, an event of gamers, by gamers, and for gamers. (more…)

A few months ago, I wrote about the popular mod turned indie game, Dear Esther, which I believed took many good steps toward reviving the interactive story experience as a genre, but was somewhat disjointed or perhaps misguided in its methods.  Dear Esther was a game with several great elements.  It had a good story premise.  It had beautiful visuals with a very loosely defined aesthetic to go with the ambiguous plot line.  It had good mechanics, though I don’t think the game took full advantage of them.  Today, I want to talk about To the Moon which in my opinion is pretty close to what an interactive story should be.  (more…)

Discovery Arrives in Washington DC

On the face of it, this post doesn’t have anything to do with games.  It may, however, have everything to do with games.

Welcome to the Neighborhood
Yesterday, I watched the space shuttle Discovery, atop its modified 747 transport, fly majestically back and forth in the skies above the nation’s capital, on the way to its final resting place in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy facility located near Dulles International Airport.  I’d been excited to see it from the moment I first heard about the planned flyover; so much so that in my eagerness to get to my chosen observation post at Gravelly Point I leaped on my bike and got halfway down the street before realizing I was only wearing one bike glove (and no, it wasn’t a homage to Michael “you want a sweetie, sweetie” Jackson).  Obviously it was a moment of great historical significance and it was an awe-inspiring sight.  It was also one of those “Wow, I’m living in Washington, DC” moments.  As I watched the shuttle, with its gnat-like jet escort arc gracefully through the sky above the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Jefferson memorial, I was reminded of what I so easily take for granted; that I’m living in the capital of one of the most powerful nations on earth.

But the most powerful emotion I felt was an urge to burst into tears.

Obviously there is a lot of tragic history connected with the shuttle program, but that wasn’t it.  I kept thinking about how this moment might be viewed in years to come.  Future generations will look back on this event and see it as the moment where, in effect, we gave up on the future.


"Why, Oh Why?" by Cayusa. CCLicence.

Sometimes you get a situation where all the worst aspects of our current new media environment collide and form a perfect storm of hideousness.  So when you take Reddit, add in a sprinkling of Twitter and stir it all with a bunch of rabid gaming fanbois you might expect something truly appalling to emerge.

Way back in the gaming Dark Ages (2006) a woman who was then a senior writer for Bioware gave an interview in which she expressed the opinion that game developers should build in an interface option that allowed players who were more interested in story and character interaction to skip the boring combat portions of the game in the same way that most story-driven games allow you to rapidly skip through all the story and dialogue in order to get back to ripping out entrails with a pike.  It is a pretty inoffensive proposal, all things considered.   She never says that games should be less combat-oriented, or that stories should play an even more prominent role, simply that there should be an option that allows for the gameplay preferences of a particular group.


There’s not really anything like it, every Saturday I get to go to one of our computer lab classrooms, jump around and yell excitedly about Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft II. This is CSL, the Colligate Starleague, founded by Mona “Hazelynut” Zhang over at Princeton University. It started in 2008 and has since has grown into over 240 schools competing around the country. About a year ago, my roommate, GenerallyAwesome, and I founded the George Washington Unviserity CSL team and ended up doing marginally well in the competition. Since, we’ve passed it off to enterprising young sophomores and then returned to our peaceful lives. GenerallyAwesome still competes regularly, and I go to be enthusiastic and get people excited because I’m actually pretty terrible.

The most important part about setting up any kind of offline organization like this is courage. As many of us are painfully aware, the impression is that online gaming isn’t one of the most popular things to be doing and so gathering offline to game and hang out isn’t something a lot of gamers will feel comfortable jumping right into. I felt a lot of this when we were setting up our team (GenerallyAwesome didn’t, he doesn’t care), but I remembered the immortal words of Starcraft II commentator and personality Sean “Day[9]” Plott: Love what you love and show that you love it, people will understand and love you for it. If you are unafraid of what you do and show courage in loving it, people will see that and those that love it too will show more courage themselves.