XBox Live and Verbal Abuse

*trigger warning: harsh, violent, and derogatory language follows in the following article*

Verbal abuse and verbal harassment is very common online.  In fact I would call it pervasive.  The things that spew from some people’s mouths would make you think that they’re a garbage compactor and not a person.  If you happen to land in the wrong match you can hear people throwing slurs like they had an actual impact in the game, as though calling someone a faggot is going to improve how one performs during a match.  It can be extremely overwhelming and it wasn’t until recently that I had my first true experience with online harassment to this kind of extreme.

My parents bought me Black Ops 2 for Christmas.  I have played plenty of “War Games” online such as Halo and previous Call of Duty games.  However I never paid any attention to the chats that were going on.  Often times I would mute anyone and everyone who was in my lobby so I could listen to music or something else.  As well, I played on my PS3, where the problem (while still pervasive) isn’t as widespread.  I played Black Ops 2 online in some casual matches, but it wasn’t until I started playing Hardcore matches that I came face to face (or should it be ear to ear?) with the extreme end of online verbal harassment. Continue reading

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Chris Kluwe is Writing a Book – Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies

I stumbled upon this today – retweeted by They Might Be Giants from Boing Boing’s twitter account.  It’s quite the fantastic 19 second video clip that quickly states nerds are dangerous because we’re bitter that we weren’t jocks on high school.  It’s amazing that he thinks that we’re all bitter because we were unpopular in high school – despite the fact that our culture is now so popular (although costuming for a midnight release still gets you the occasional strange look).

Also Chris Kluwe, kicker for the Minnesota Vikings, announced on twitter today that he’s writing a book, and it’s going to be titled Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.  For those who don’t know Chris Kluwe also owns a miniature gaming store and is quite vocal about his love for all things nerd, geek, and game related.  Clearly no one told the man above about Chris Kluwe, or any of the other pop-culture icons that have been coming out of the wood work as huge nerds.

Here are the tweets about the book:

Anyone else find it hilarious, and kind of awesome, that Kluwe refers to most sports as sportsball?

I’m debating about pre-ordering Kluwe’s book.  There’s a chance to get a signed copy of the book as well, but I’m not a big enough fan (YET) of Kluwe’s to pre-order a signed copy.  You can pre-order Kluwe’s book here on Amazon.

EDIT: I properly embedded the tweets.  (Apparently all you have to do is paste the URL… who knew?)

Perfection is Recreating Imperfection – The Meta Side of Video Games

Video games often strive to be as realistic as possible.  They strive to make characters look real by emulating the facial expressions of real people in everyday life and they try to make objects in the game (trees, buildings, characters, etc.) as lifelike as possible.  In doing this we are attempting to create a wholly engaging atmosphere – one where escapism is achieved merely by picking up the controller and playing the game.  You can see this in games like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and many other AAA-titles.

But the irony is that video games achieve perfection by recreating the imperfection that is life.  Trees are not symmetrical, people’s skin is asymmetrical along with their faces, and things in real life just aren’t as perfect as we wish they were.  Even when you sand wood down so it feels completely smooth to the touch there are imperfections in it.  Video games, in their attempt to be as life-like as possible with the computing power that they currently have, are striving for perfection in imperfection.

These machines are capable of creating perfectly symmetrical faces, flawless skin, and perfect buildings that are without flaw.  However, that’s not the trend that video games are taking.  Games which attempt at realism have moved beyond the attempt to make characters perfectly flawless in design and are now programming the flaws they see in real life into video games.

Assassin’s Creed III is one of the best examples.  The buildings in the environment are filled with flaws.  Boards are damaged on the sides of buildings, weeds are growing tall along properties, and trees are varied in design (with the exception of the ones you can climb along).  It’s about mimicking the asymmetrical imperfection of real life – even though you can create this symmetry.

Many philosophers talked about the idea of an object.  When one pictures a tree in their head they see THE tree or the perfect tree. In our minds we see this one iteration of an object which is perfect in its design – and video games are set up so that we can recreate this.  All trees could look the same, all chairs could be perfectly set up, and houses would be without flaw.  We could create THE environment where everything is a perfect representation of what it should be.  THE environment would be completely devoid of imperfection.  It would be a Utopia of the mind.

It’s a strange idea that we, as gamers and developers, would prefer to mimic the imperfection of the world – even if for emersion.  Rather than attempt to make THE ideal world we choose to mimic the real world.  We choose the imperfection of the real world rather than a Utopia.  We’re escaping to worlds that increasingly mimic the things that we are trying to escape from in the real world.

It lends itself to this idea – maybe our world, despite how imperfect it is, is highly desirable.  Especially when our world is juxtaposed to how terrible the world could be.  Maybe we’ll create the most perfectly imperfect virtual world someday – where everything is perfectly imperfect and we can no longer determine the lines between the real life and our virtual world.  But once that happens maybe people will just start going outside again.

Your Resident Anthropologist

*It should be noted that in my mind I see the idea of a tree as it would look to me, and it would be the perfect tree. However, if you attempt to do the same thought exercise your idea of a tree would differ from mine.  If someone does the same thing from halfway around the world their idea of THE tree might be a completely different type of tree than mind.

Are Microconsoles Fabricating Issues for Gamers

Steam and Xi3 revealed a product today at CES that is codenamed the “Piston”.  Valve has its hands in the funding of the project so most are extremely excited about this.  This looks to be the rumored “Steam Box”, although Xi3 refused to confirm the rumor.  This announcement comes during a time when people are anxiously awaiting the arival of the Ouya and it’s promise to bring Android Games to your television.  In addition to the Ouya we now have Nvidia’s SHIELD and the USB-sized Gamestick from Playjam.  But I’m not here to talk specs or even specifically about the “Piston”, but more generally about this new and emergent idea of microconsoles (a term I’m borrowing from this article here – 2013: The Year of the Console? from the Blog What Games Are).

The driving force behind all of these new microconsoles is the idea that people want to play games on their television that can’t be played on a television (at least not with ease).  As far as “Piston” goes, if the whole idea is to bring your Steam game library to your television there are much cheaper ways to go about it rather than buying a new console.  As for the Gamestick – I think the Gamestick is ahead of its time as you need a Smart TV in order to use it and Smart TV’s are far from being in every home.  The SHIELD sounds great in theory – Streaming your Steam catalog to a handheld device – but you have to have an NVidia card to stream games and if you don’t have that all you get is a portable Android gaming device (with a built in controller albeit).

So the apparent problem that these consoles are trying to solve?  The problem of not being able to play mobile games on your device is one, I think, of fabrication on the end of developers.  The Ouya started it (and generated a bunch of buzz).  They wanted to bring Android games to your television, but I’ve never heard anyone say “I wish I could play Angry Birds on my television.”  With the success of the Ouya, Playjam decided that it wanted in on the action and further promoted the idea that not being able to play Android games on your TV is a problem.  The SHIELD is just an Android Gaming Device that you can’t make phone calls with.  The Piston is unique in that it brings your Steam game library to your television – which means you don’t have to buy an X360 to play these games on your television (although there are other ways to do this for the tech saavy).

So what’s going to happen?  I believe that the console, PC, and mobile markets are going to remain as they currently are.  I don’t think any of these is going to revolutionize gaming (except for possibly the Piston, but that’s dependent on tomorrow’s play demo of the device).  The Ouya might receive enough support that it can continue to stay afloat, but I think that the Gamestick is going to end up a flop as it’s limited to people who are both gamers AND have Smart TV’s.  The SHIELD?  It’s market is just as limited as the Gamestick’s – people who have a decent gaming laptop AND have an Nvidia card installed in it.

I have low hopes for these consoles (except the Piston) but not because I don’t want them to succeed.  There is a chance for these consoles if Android games are developed for these consoles.  However, once again a problem arises: if you develop games for these consoles do you have to do so with the gamepad in mind? Would doing so fragment the Android Market rather than grow it? If I was a betting man I’d be putting my money on the Piston as the winner of this horse race.  But we will see where things go from here.

Let me know what you think in the comments.  Am I completely off base here?  Or do you think I have some decent points?

As Always,

Your Resident Anthropologist

Indie Games: The Solution for Parents

There are some problems that many parents, who are not gamers, have with video games.  Parents have many issues with games, such as being violent and offensive.  However, I think that this is a misrepresentation of games and I think that there is a creative solution to the problems that parents have with video games: Indie Games.  First, let’s talk about the issues.  There are three main arguments, as I see it, that parents have for not letting kids play video games:

  1. They’re Addictive – Kids spend far too much time in front of screen watching movies, playing games, and all sorts of other media/entertainment related activities.
  2. They’re Violent – The majority if AAA titles, which get the most attention from the media, are games which are violent, i.e. Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo.
  3. They’re a Waste of Money – Often times parents complain about the cost of video games.  AAA titles are $50 – $60, which is a big investment compared to movies and books.

These three issues are what I would consider the biggest issues for parents.  There are others, but these are the three that I have heard most consistently from parents and that, I think, can be observed by the consumerist behaviors of parents.

There are a couple solutions to these problems outside of not letting kids play video games at all.  One solution is to buy a video game that is cheap.  Having worked at Toys R’ Us I can tell you that this is probably the most common solution.  Parents will walk into the video game department, see a cheap third party game that looks non-violent, and then just buy it.  The problem is that they end up with a cheap game that isn’t engaging and the game becomes a waste of money.

These games are a waste of an investment.

When parents look at a video game they should be looking at a game as an investment.  When you purchase a game you’re purchasing something for it’s return power.  After playing the game do you have any urge to replay the game?  If you find that all the games you’re buying are games you never want to play again, you’re making the wrong investments (core gamers might disagree, but we’re talking about parents and kids, not core gamers).

Thus my solution – Indie Games.  Independently developed games can solve all three issues – addiction (they are often much, much shorter than AAA titles), they come in all genres (from violent to non-violent), and they’re cheaper than AAA titles.  Indie Games are special in that they’re often much more focused than AAA titles, and thus you can find the game that’s right for you.

However, there is one more glaring problem: How do you find Indie Games?  As a core gamer I sometimes find that it’s hard enough to find an Indie Game that interests me, and I dedicate time to this every week.  Parents who are more worried about their jobs, putting food on the table, and taking care of their children don’t really have time to sit down and sift through hundreds of titles on XBLA, PSN, or the Steam store.

So I guess it would be up to us as Core Gamers to help parents find games like Minecraft, Journey, and Flower that are fun, engaging, non-addictive (okay Minecraft might not have been the best example in terms of addictiveness), and are cheaper than AAA titles.  We should be spending more time engaging non-gaming parents on the topic of suitable Indie Games for their children.

Doing this would greatly improve the image of gaming overall and we would be proactively creating gamers who have a positive outlook on what gaming is and what being a gamer is all about.

Do you think this is an appropriate solution? Let me know in the comments.

As Always,
Your Resident Anthropologist

The Binding of Isaac: More Fodder for Game Haters

The Binding of Isaac is a fun, although extremely difficult, game.  However, something was bugging me about the game.  After playing the game several times I didn’t really have any urge to play it.  It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the game or that there was any deep game play flaw that prevented me from enjoying the game – it runs smoothly and I have yet to find any bugs.  Today I realized what it was – this game represents a lot of things that I really don’t like about the video game community.  It should have been more obvious from the start (I didn’t read anything about the game other than it was getting some pretty decent reviews and friends (and friends of friends) were having a lot of fun with it), but I went in playing it as nothing more than a game.  It was only when I became introspective about the relationship between the game and myself that I realized exactly what I was playing.

I love the video game community and have many friends who are avid players.  However, there are many problems in the overall gaming community – such as misogynists abound and “trolls” that verbally abuse other players online.  Although devoid of those problems, this video game represents the childish immature behavior that has run rampant in the video game community and negatively impacts the way games are seen by non-game players.

To understand what I’m talking about you should probably play the game, but here are just a few of the things that portray the immature and childish mentality that can be so pervasive in the video game community.  Weapon: The tears of a child; Interactive Environment: Poop; Item: A Coat Hanger which goes through a child’s (your character’s) head, a lemon that makes your pee yourself; Boss: A hulking fetus attached to another fetus by umbilical cord which is crippled. The game is also littered with memes including Forever Alone and Shoop Da Whoop (which I thought had been dead for at least half a decade).   There are many other examples of these things, but these are the ones that I wanted to point out. (I have linked to one example so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about, but I don’t really recommend clicking it).

The game is childish, immature, sick, and twisted.  The game itself feels like a forced attempt to offend anyone who isn’t still obsessed with 4Chan and Newgrounds.  Yet, for some reason, the game has been a pretty big hit.

I should say, the game is enjoyable to play for its mechanics and throwback to top down 2D adventure games.  That isn’t enough to make the game enjoyable overall though.  There are numerous attempts by McMillan at what I believe it humor but the only humor to be found is in knowing that anyone who doesn’t regularly go to 4Chan or Newgrounds would be completely and utterly offended by the material.

The Binding of Isaac is a game that video game haters can latch on to and say “Look at this pile of garbage.  It has fetuses, poop, and a mother trying to kill her son.  This is what video games are!”  It is the type of game that is fodder for those who oppose video games as a wholly inappropriate form of entertainment. The game is the type of game that shows people outside of our community that we don’t want video games to be meaningful and that the more twisted and f-ed up the game is the better the game is.

I understand sick and twisted.  Sometimes I think sick and twisted is a route which can be utilized in order to create a more abstract point overall.  To me it seems like the point of McMillan’s sick and twisted is for the sake of sick and twisted – I just can’t get behind that.*

The most important part is that we should be actively working to support and promote games that are more than just cheap forms of entertainment.  Games like Journey and Braid, artistic attempts to utilize video games as more than just interactive entertainment, are the Indie Games that we should be supporting the most; games which attempt to progress and move forward the conversation towards something more meaningful and with attempted purpose.  Until games that attempt to create empathy and bestow meaning, and go beyond satisfying strangely carnal urges are supported as much as games like Super Meat Boy, Call of Duty, and Battlefield we will forever be stuck; stagnantly perceived as people who care for nothing more than the ability to kill others and a cheap laugh provided by a depraved image of a fetus.

Your Resident Anthropologist

*One point I want to add – McMillan and all others who create games like this have every right to make this type of game.  Those who want to play have every right to play this game.  I will never say these games shouldn’t be made, but I think that overall its worrisome that this is as popular as it is.

2013 – A New Year For Games

To kick off the new year I’m going to post about the upcoming game release schedule for 2013.  I have come up with a list of titles that are supposed to be released in 2013, however not all of them have a set date (some of them are just schedule for “late 2013”).  The games that are coming out in 2013 are kind of disappointing – all most likely due to the fact that the Playstation 4 and the “XBox 720” are most likely going to release in the Fall of this year.  I’m going to talk about what games I’m anticipating and what this might mean for games in general.

The biggest release months, thus far, are February and March.  February has Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance, BioShock Infinite, Dead Space 3, and Crysis 3 scheduled for release.  March has Tomb Raider, Gears of War Judgement, and Grand Theft Auto V on the horizon.  Among other games that are scheduled for release throughout 2013 are: DMC Devil May Cry (Jan.), Dead Island Riptide (April), Deadpool, Fallout 4 (maybe), Saints Row 4 (maybe), Homefront 2 (maybe), and Battlefield 4 (maybe).  All of the games that have maybe next to them are set to be released but a month hasn’t been confirmed yet.

If you look at my list above there’s a very strange thing going on – Not one of those games are new Intellectual Properties (IP’s).  All of them are part of existing intellectual properties in the video game world.  Are there any new IP’s coming out in 2013?  Yes – There is DARK for the XBox 360 and The Last of Us for PS3, XBox 360, and PC.  However, this is pretty bleak.  2012 didn’t see much in terms of new IP’s and it looks like 2013 isn’t going to be much better.  (I should note that I’m super excited for The Last of Us though – a new Naughty Dog title will always excite me).

What does this say about Video games though?  Well, the first thing that strikes me is that it’s a little sad on the developer end.  I’m not saying that these titles will be bad nor that I won’t buy any of them.  But rather than create new and interesting IP’s developers are sticking with what has made money in the past and what will sell.  This means that big developers are only delivering AAA titles that have to do with existing IP’s and have made money in the past (Homefront 2, I think, being an exception seeing as most people were extremely disappointed with it).

I will say that I somewhat understand.  The new generation of consoles are going to be released at the end of 2013 and starting a new IP on a console that is going to be phased out at the end of the year isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do.  So maybe they’re saving all of the amazing new IP’s to be announced after they announce the release of the new generation of consoles.  I can only hope.

However, I am optimistic.  I’m super excited about what this means for Indie Developers.  With a lack of new IP’s from big developers and most 2013 releases being an extension of existing IP’s, gamers looking for new and fresh games will likely start turning towards Indie Games and Indie Developers.  Games like FEZ, Super Meat Boy, BRAID, and Journey showed us that Indie Developers can create powerful and amazing games for us to sink our teeth into.  Hopefully in 2013 Indie Developers will begin to get even more recognition and gamers will start embracing powerful story line with fantastic game play over rehashed AAA titles.

Happy New Year and let’s hope that this will be an even grander year for Indie Developers!

Your Resident Anthropologist