Thomas Was Alone – Review and Interpretation

This is my review and interpretation of the game Thomas Was Alone – by Mike Bithell.  WARNING: Spoilers ahead. 

Thomas Was Alone, created by Mike Bithell, is a metaphor for collaboration, infrastructure, and life after death within community.  It sounds a bit strange seeing as the game is about Thomas, a sentient AI rectangle within a computer game, but bear with me.  

The game starts out playing as Thomas, who is alone (shocker).  Thomas was randomly created by the game program on accident.  As Thomas goes through the game world he finds many friends along the way.  Thomas meets Claire, Chris, Lara, John, James, and Sarah – all of them also created randomly and by accident within the program.  All of them have different unique skills (one can swim, another can double jump, one is extra short while another is extremely tall).  All of their unique skills, in the beginning, are useful in their own way.  Each one solving puzzles that only they can solve.  

However, as the game progresses the puzzles focus less and less on each individual character and more on how the characters interact.  By helping each other out the characters are able to collaborate to solve puzzles that would be insurmountable to each character individually.  It forces you to stop thinking of each character as an individual and think of them as a united team.  Without collaboration between characters the game would be insurmountable.   Continue reading

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Why I no longer support Penny-Arcade

I was a long time supporter of Penny-Arcade.  Since high school (and possibly even middle school) I read Penny-Arcade on and off.  I found them funny and I thought they were clever.  When they launched the Penny-Arcade Report I quickly found that I greatly appreciated the way Ben Kuchera covered games news and that he covered the news that I was actually interested in (usually).  When I started my RSS feed Penny-Arcade was one of the first RSS’s added and checking my RSS feed usually started off by checking out Penny-Arcade and the PA Report.

Then I found out about this PAX Prime panel:

Why does the game industry garner such scrutiny from outside sources and within?  Every point aberration gets called into question, reviewers are constantly criticised and developers and publishers professionally and personally attacked.  Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic and involve any antagonist race other than Anglo-Saxons and you’re a racist.

It’s gone too far and when will it all end?  How can we get off the soapbox and work together to bring a new constructive age into fruition? (via BorderHouseBlog)

There was a huge outcry and rightly so.  (I won’t be discussing why there the outcry was right, and if you’re unconvinced just reading it you should read the Border House Blog linked after the quotation)

While they later changed the description to no longer include lines with titillation, sexism, and misogyny the spirit of the panel was still clearly the same.

Then enter the transphobic tweets of Mike Krahulik (AKA Gabe of Penny-Arcade).

cwgabrial transphobic

All of the tacit support I had given Penny-Arcade was called into question.  I know that they made a few poor jokes here and there, but I never realized just how terrible they were in response to said jokes.  They refuse to apologize and when they do it’s a half-hearted dismissal which is clearly meant as some sort of “calculated” PR move for Penny-Arcade Brand and not because they realize any error of their ways.

At this point I had stopped clicking on anything related to Penny-Arcade.  Child’s Play Charity, PAX, Penny-Arcade Report, etc.  Anything which would create support for Penny-Arcade had become part of my temporary ban list.  (I call it temporary because I wasn’t sure if I would, I guess you would say, get over it and still think of them in a positive light).

Then I saw Dickwolves.  Somehow I had missed this whole debacle (probably because it started when I was still fervently studying in my isolated box filled with books written in the range of 100 and 2500 years ago attempting to graduate).  The Dickwolves debacle has been documented extremely well on debacle.tumblr.com.

The Tumblr post is long, and detailed.  Reading through just the post and not the source material took long enough, but reading through what had happened (and what was still happening) just made me realize what I had been supporting the entire time I supported Penny-Arcade Report.

Mike Krahulik, the face of Penny-Arcade, has been a constant voice against change that he doesn’t agree with.  He holds certain truths and then refuses to believe anything outside of it.  He has been lucky because some of those “truths” are considered socially progressive (such as his stance against bullying and the treatment of women).  However, when he is called out for something offensive he turns into the school-yard bully.  His Penny-Arcade thugs come out in droves, behaving like marionette dolls dancing to Krahulik’s offensive tunes.  They punish those who call Krahulik out (threats of rape and violence against them) and reinforce sexism, misogyny, and rape culture.

As such anything related to Penny-Arcade will no longer be getting my support.  I have removed Penny-Arcade and the Penny-Arcade Report from my RSS feed.  I no longer follow anyone related to Penny-Arcade on Twitter and will no longer be supporting anything related to Penny-Arcade.  Some may call it harsh (because Penny-Arcade has done some good).  However, I refuse to support a network which not only creates content which it knows is offensive but which also refuses to apologize and take responsibility for its actions.

Penny-Arcade I say this with no regret or sadness – Goodbye.

Why the Xbox One might be the Superior Console – Just Maybe

The Xbox One has gotten a lot of flack from consumers lately – and rightly so.  They’re implementing DRM for all of their games, they’re severely limiting trading/selling/buying used games, you’ll need to connect to the internet at least once every 24 hours, the Kinect will constantly be watching and listening to you (although they say you can shut it down), they’ve said nothing about indie game support other than they’re going to do it, etc., etc.  All in all, the Xbox One has been pretty much shit on, thrown around, and made into a huge joke (even Sony got in on it by making a joke video about how to share games).  However, some gamers have been losing focus. What we perceive in our minds as a bad thing might actually be a good thing (that whole selective biases thing kind of gets in the way).  As such I’m going to lay out for you why all of these things are not so bad for consumers (of which some of the reasons can be found via Ben Kuchera’s article on the Penny-Arcade Report).
Continue reading

Legitimate and Valid Success: In Defense of Video Games

Video games and video game players seem to often be met with hostility.  One friend has posited, on more than one occasion, that people who play video games should “think of what else you could be doing.” He is, of course, meaning that there are far more meaningful and powerful ways to spend one’s time.  A person could be out in the “real” world taking “real” world action, rather than sitting in front of a television screen playing video games (although it should be noted that he has a rather extensive collection of television box sets within his apartment).

Another person I know, while not a friend but an acquaintance, once remarked to me: “I don’t understand [how my daughter knows angry birds so well].  I only let her play five minutes of video games a day.”  She seemed worried and confused.  She couldn’t understand how, or why, her daughter was so familiar with the video game characters from Angry Birds.  (It is worth noting that her daughter was home schooled).

These sentiments seem to be broad and overwhelming at times and video games themselves are never more controversial than in the wake of violent events like the Newtown shooting.  But while the video game violence is often the subject of debate and controversy I will not be talking about the violence to be found in video games.  Rather I’m going to talk about the success and achievement made possible in video games.  More so, the success that is to be found in both violent and non-violent video games alike. Continue reading

Playstation 4 and Women – The Problem is Systemic to the Industry not the Press Release

Playstation revealed their new console, the Playstation 4, on February 20th and they revealed lots of new features.  The system looks well and good, but one of the things that was concerning for a lot of people was the fact that there were no women on stage during the entire press release.  The event was filled with tons of middle-aged men developing new software and games for the Playstation 4.  Game studios like Media Molecule (makers of Little Big Planet 1 & 2), Quantic Dream (makers of Heavy Rain), and Bungie (makers of Xbox’s famed Halo franchise) all presented what they can do with the power of the new Playstation 4.  With all of these big names presenting what we saw was a representation of the industry and a representation of who the industry focuses their marketing towards – middle aged white men.

The problem is that video game studios have neglected women in more ways than one.  Their focus in marketing has almost always been on men who play games.  Women in the industry tell stories where they are assumed to be peripheral rather than active in the game industry at conferences like GDC and E3.  Game studios also very infrequently make female protagonists for their video games.  While women make up nearly half of all gamers they are underrepresented in nearly all aspects of the video game industry.  Female gamers don’t have female role models in the gaming industry to look up to and don’t have female characters to relate to. Continue reading

Cultural Artifact – Crush Game Review

I’ve been absent for a while doing a whole bunch of things.  I started learning to program (I made a dice rolling game in Flash), starting a new job, ramping up my work out schedule, and writing this article for Gamers Against Bigotry.  As well, I’ve been working on my writing (even though I haven’t posted anything).  I wanted to start writing game reviews (something I’ve done a couple times in the past), but I didn’t want to write just some plain old review about graphics, sounds, or anything standard.

I came up with this idea: Cultural Artifact.  Cultural Artifact will be the header for all my game reviews where I look at not just gameplay, graphics, or music for their own sake, but looking at the whole of these things and how they work with culture, create culture, and/or are a byproduct of culture.  So here we go, the first Cultural Artifact Post: Crush Game Review.

SPOILER ALERT: Cultural Artifact focuses on games as a whole and their relation to culture (which culture depends on the game and its focus).  Cultural artifact will invariably contain spoilers for games.  I recommend playing through a game before reading Cultural Artifact if you worry about having a game spoiled for your.   Continue reading

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