Cervat Yeril – Graphics and Gameplay

Cervat Yeril is the boss at Crytek – makers of the Crysis series.  There was an interview posted by X360 magazine where Yeril says that graphics are, essentially, the most important part of a video game.  X360, which claims Yeril is saying that graphics are 60% of the game, slightly misrepresented Yeril in my opinion.  However, it doesn’t change the core message that Yeril was trying to get across – which is that graphics are the most important part of a video game.  The direct quote is: 

People say that graphics don’t matter, but play Crysis and tell me they don’t matter. It’s always been about graphics driving gameplay. […] The better the graphics, the better the physics, the better the sound design, the better the technical assets and production values are – paired with the art direction, making things look spectacular and stylistic is 60 per cent of the game.

Yeril says that graphics drive video games and that they are the most important aspect in creating immersion.  Yeril says: 

Graphics, whether it’s lighting or shadows, puts you in a different emotional context and drives the immersion.

And immersion is effectively the number one thing we can use to help you buy into the world.

However, Yeril seems to be missing something and there isn’t any data to truly back up what Yeril is saying.   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

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.

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.

The Culture of Bullying

Bullying is a hard topic for many people.  Those who are bullies often times hide behind the charade that they’re just poking fun, having a good time, and if you don’t like what they’re doing then you just don’t get the “joke” and you should leave. However, there is a distinct difference between poking fun and being a bully – and it’s called context.  Poking fun between friends, snarky banter,

The biggest issue that is happening in schools is referred to as exclusionary bullying.  Exclusionary bullying happens when people are made to feel outcast, alienated, and separate from the group (in contrast when snarky banter happens between friends it creates a bond).  By spreading rumors, mocking someone for the way they look or dress, or poking fun at the things that people feel insecure about, the person who is targeted is made to feel too inadequate to be a part of the group and they become excluded and alienated from everyone else.  This leads to things like depression in youth and has been documented.

What does this have to do with gaming?  Online gaming culture is rife with this sort of behavior.  When someone is mocked for low skill, a poor k/d spread, or an “inability” to perform well in online gaming they are being bullied by people, and often by people who are no better than they are.  Personally, when I encounter this sort of behavior I put down my controller and turn my system off.  I don’t want to be subjected to this sort of behavior because someone thinks that I’m not good enough to play with them.

But even more importantly is when someone doesn’t take the action that I take – removing myself from such abuse – and they continue to subject themselves to this behavior online.  When you continue to subject yourself to such behavior you end up accepting it and it becomes the standard.  It then becomes a widely accepted behavior and others begin to do it as well.  It’s the “Jones” effect.  When you see someone doing something you want to be a part of it, and when people aren’t encouraging online the only people you hear are those who are bullying online.  It seems even more common in the younger generation than the older generation now.  What was once trolling is now becoming an intention to hurt another to make one’s self feel better.

This creates a culture of bullying in online gaming.  When you see someone who performs poorly it should be standard to encourage them, not make them feel bad about themselves.  If we want gaming to be successful and a truly accepted form of entertainment, which I argue it still is not, then we should be encouraging people to game more and create a powerful and uplifting environment online for people to game in.

We need to check ourselves at the controller and remember that, just because you’re anonymous doesn’t mean that your actions are meaningless.

Collective Effervescence and Conventions: What Makes Conventions so Amazing

What is it that makes a convention so popular?  This is a question that I think many of us know the answer to: the amazing and fun atmosphere that they provide.  What makes it fun and amazing?  It’s the fact that we are all part of the same group, that we are all self described as a geek, a nerd, a gamer, or whatever else the convention is offering.  But more so, we get lost in the collectivity of the convention.

Collective effervescence was first described by Emile Durkheim in his book Elementary Forms of Religious Life.  He was studying “primitive” religions (I put primitive in quotation marks for, what I hope are, obvious reasons) and in studying these religions he most notably had a focus on the rituals and rites of the religions.  In these rituals he noticed this perceived “collective effervescence” which was an energy that flowed through the group participating in the ritual.  For the individual it was about forgetting about the individuality of one’s self and thinking of one self as a part of the group, being the group not the individual.  The group provided the identity for the individual.  In short, collective effervescence is a shared experience and elicits strong emotion, most often euphoria.

This collective effervescence has been studied for decades now and it has become clear that this isn’t just a religious phenomenon or something that is solely associated with rituals.  Collective effervescence is something which is experienced merely by being a social creature.  Anyone who plays games, who gets together with friends, or does something that involves direct interaction with a group (as opposed to doing things only as an individual) can be a part of the shared experience that is collective effervescence.

We can see this in just about every large social event.  Sporting events are an excellent example where people are no longer individuals and become defined by the group they are a part of.  Going to a sporting event one loses their self and connects with every other person through a single rallying point – the support of a team.  I know this experience with the Green Bay Packers.  When going to a bar or a friend’s house to watch a Packer game I am no longer defined by my individuality as a Philosophy and Anthropology major, or as a geek who goes to conventions.  The things which make me unique, are wisked away and I connect with everyone around me through our mutual and collective support of the Green Bay Packers.  Screaming, shouting, and yelling are all mutual feelings that make up a shared experience.

Dance Picture from CONvergence

This is a picture from the dance at CONvergence. Dance is an amazing way to experience Collective Effervescence.

Conventions are not unique in their creation of collective effervescence.  It is the idea behind conventions, the rallying point, which moves us to buy our tickets and take 6 hour car rides that makes it unique.  The being a nerd, a geek, a gamer, or whatever else the convention focuses on that makes it and its participants unique.  Conventions are so popular because it is a way to connect with people who share the same unique interests.  Conventions are ways to share experiences with friends, family, and complete strangers.

It is also about celebrating what makes us unique.  There’s a subtle and beautiful irony there that I love.  When we are out in the world, scattered, the things that we love separate us from the majority of people around us, and we have pride in that unique thing which we don’t necessarily share with the majority of people.  Out of this pride we seek to have experiences with others who share that same uniqueness which separates us as individuals from society as a whole, while simultaneously binds us to others in society.  At conventions it is about celebrating what makes the group different from other groups and being proud of it.

It is easy to lose one’s self among all of the costumes, games, parties, and dances that happen throughout a convention.  When one is stopped for pictures of their costume the costumer is recognized not just for his or her individual effort, but for being a productive part of the community.  The mere act of taking a picture of someone in costume tells them that you like, if not love, their costume and that you think they are a valuable member of the community.  This is the atmosphere that conventions have been built around.

Look how happy those villains are

The smiles on their faces are all part of the shared experience these friends had together. As friends they interacted with strangers and created memories and experiences that could only be created at a convention.

Losing one’s self is a great thing to do as well.  It creates human connections.  It relies on empathy.  It is a way to have trust in someone who you barely know, to let your guard down and say “This is me!”  and have someone say back to you “I’m like that too!”

But it isn’t only about the shared experiences with strangers, but a way for friends to participate in the larger group together.  It’s about sharing moments with both friends, family, and strangers simultaneously.  Costuming is something that I cannot do on a regular basis (at least not yet) and even when my friends and I get together it would be rather strange for all of us to be in costume constantly (even if it would be absolutely awesome).  Conventions serve a purpose of creating memories and experiences with friends and strangers that couldn’t normally take place.

Conventions are not just a bunch of geeks or nerds getting together, but geeks and nerds building experiences and memories together that are unique to only geeks and nerds.  It is about building an experience and a memory that only geeks and nerds can have and also sharing it with the people that you love.

One more photo from CONvergence for everyone:

Women "Gender Bending" the Doctor from Doctor Who

This was a group of women who all coordinated their costumes together for the Masquerade at CONvergence. The show was amazing and they were stopped for probably a good 20 minutes while everyone was taking their picture together.














Your Resident (Not Really) Anthropologist