Archive for the ‘Games and Life’ Category

I’m tethered to the logic of homo sapiens
Can’t take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith

David Bowie, “Quicksand”

This piece continues the argument begun in “The Griefing of America

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this fiasco of a US election season is that when it is over it still won’t be over.  If Trump wins, there are some pretty likely outcomes: attempts to lock up his political rival, trade wars, economic chaos disproportionately impacting–in a dreadful irony that will probably escape them, as has every other empirical fact up to this point–many of Trump’s “little guy” supporters.  If Clinton wins on Tuesday (or Wednesday, or Thursday, or however long it takes for all the votes to be counted) there’s a better than even chance that Trump won’t accept the result.  Or that his brainwashed supporters won’t accept the result.  And some Republicans in Congress are already vowing to attempt to impeach Clinton as soon as she takes office, to block all her nominees, to take to an entirely new level the Politics of No that have already made the US a laughingstock worldwide.

But here’s the important part: even if  the Trumpet loses this election, he has already won.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Fairytale?

There are three great lies that underpin the US electoral process.  I’m not sure many politicians really believe these things, but in the BOE (Before Orange Era) they had to pretend to believe each of these things, at least when the microphone was on:

  1. The US voter is rational;
  2. The US voter is smart and well-informed;
  3. The news media secures the rationality and information quality of the system by playing an engaged watchdog role.

The Trumpet has called bullshit on all of these.  Let’s look at them in reverse order.

(more…)

Rage

Rage this way, Flikr image by Anne. Creative Commons License.

The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy — everything.

George Orwell, 1984

Recently I’ve turned my attention again to the question of the connection between games and what we often refer to, in all seriousness, as real life, more specifically, to the potential for games to intervene in reality and transform it in some way, hopefully for the better.  The is the concept of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) popularized by Jane McGonigal (although not originating with her) which is distinct from the co-opted cluelessness of “gamification” (whose only purpose is to sell you stuff).  It is also different from the concept of Augmented Reality Games where reality serves as a platform for the game, but the purpose is more traditionally one of entertainment and diversion only (think–gah–of Pokemon Go).

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is, not surprisingly, as a response to the horror of the current US presidential election season, which feels as if it has been going on since about three weeks after the last election was decided.  Many conservatives and liberals in the US, who can’t even agree on what to put on their toast in the mornings, seem united in their belief that the current election season has not simply plumbed new depths but has in fact powered up a giant drilling rig (drill, baby, drill!) and is boring straight for the center of the planet.

Before we can talk about how games might improve the US electoral process in a couple of small but significant ways, however, we have to look squarely at the nature of the problem.

(more…)

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…)

fail-poster-3xt27q0x2m-SIMCITY

 

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.

(more…)