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From insult to identity: What exactly is a nerd?

May 03 // Taylor Stein
Relinquishing to the siren's call of television, a bout of channel hopping led my eyes to the Independent Film Channel, IFC. A rerun from the sketch comedy show Portlandia stretched across the brightly lit LED. Out of the numerous skits showcasing Portland's eccentricities, a segment called Nerd PSA caught my eye. Highlighting the differences between two factions of nerdom, the satirical hilarity could not overshadow a valid and interesting theme pertinent to the gaming community. Who qualifies as a nerd -- those who align with the physical and social blemishes of the pejorative or individuals who adopt the interests and trends deemed off the beaten path? Is the term clad in negativity, a scarlet letter to be embroidered in secret on one's soul, or has the word been reclaimed as a positive cultural symbol? I decided that it might be interesting to play the role of devil's advocate in this debate, so without further adieu, meet Brian P. an 'actual nerd.' [embed]251810:48388:0[/embed] Upon absorbing the video's thematic significance, I found myself battling with the word's connotation, a term muddled in variable ambiguity, traveling back and forth between a pool of positivity and negativity. At first, my mental scuffle poised me against the beautiful woman and purported nerd. With a swift onslaught of jabs, I attempted to defend my legitimacy in the legion of nerds, geeks, and dweebs against her seemingly phony demeanor. "She's so fake, God what a poser, she obviously doesn't play videogames and she certainly isn't a comic enthusiast, just look at her." The implications of my snap judgments disengage the mental blitz. I wonder if people doubt my enthusiasm in the realms of technological pursuits, gaming, and quirky hobbies because I deviate from the stereotype's carbon copy? Although the woman in question could very well be sporting dark-framed glasses to garner a few extra cool points, metaphorically bearing the moniker of a nerd's repertoire to appeal to trendy sentiments, a simple notice of her gender, attractiveness, or charisma is certainly not enough to remove her candidacy as an admirer of nerdy hobbies. Exploring beyond the confines of the segment's intended comedic purpose introduces a question about what constitutes a nerd. The term elicits a wide breadth of imagery, a slew of definitive characteristics that bleep on the radar of social unconventionality -- glasses, social awkwardness, alternative dress, and unusual hobbies. Seeking to conjure a decisive definition, an outline to explore the innards of a real-deal nerd, leads to a realm obscurity. Rather than pinpointing the core of an 'authentic model,' social conditioning echoes caricatures in my mind's eye, essences of Urkels, Napolean Dynamites, and Ugly Bettys. Exploring the commonalities, the conglomerate of pop-culture misfits certainly cannot encapsulate the entirety of the term ... right? Our fictional ubernerd Brian touches on the barebones definition with a laundry list of defining features; guaranteed identifiers of nerd-kind. With vigilance, he asserts that wearing glasses to see, not for fashion, watching Star Trek, playing Skyrim, and being shy are generalizible nerd monikers. Check, check, check, and check. Minus the 'eventing' and physical stature component, it seems like Brian and I have quite a few things in common. That is, until he drops the kicker, "A real nerd is ashamed to be called a nerd." Wait, that doesn't sound like me.  I don't try to hide the fact that I've put over 300 hours into exploring the world of Skyrim or that I'm blind as a bat without my glasses. I can thank my mother for my love of Jean-Luc Picard, and my adoration of Batman, Storm, and Wonder Woman has gotten me through tough times. Though I sport a badge of nerdiness with great pride, I wonder if adopting a sub-cultural pattern of behavior is enough in the eyes of the masses to be knighted under the flag of nerdhood or if the term is incomplete without the negative accompaniments? There is certainly no argument on my end that Brian is a foil to our lady nerd. Keep in mind that in the world of Portlandia, just about every reference is a hyperbole-stricken satire deviating far from the boundaries of reality. Brian and lady nerd, as I call her, represent two opposing ends of the spectrum, extremities that conveniently make a drastic contrast possible and the scene, well, funny. While two similar people may seemingly oppose each other on intrinsic levels, it is possible to conceive that the duo can maintain an inkling of common ground. To reference my many hours playing BioShock Infinite, those two may "swim in different oceans but they land on the same shore." Can the pair not share of love of gaming and comics, can they not embrace a common label of being a nerd? This article does not serve to formulate a dichotomy of who is and who is not a nerd. It certainly isn't my position to construct a partition between groups or assume that my judgment on the matter is absolute. Rather, it is my mission to welcome a discussion pertaining to a term that has gained traction in the mainstream landscape; climbing out of the dingy basement of self-denial and into the public spotlight as celebrated individuality. To this humble writer, the title of nerd is no longer adorned with an emblem of disgrace. While some oppose this ideology, casting out all who do not adhere to the physical, social, and leisure stereotypes as inauthentic, I would argue that there is a growing trend of pride associated with the designation, the type of positivity that has the power to unite nerds from casual to hardcore, under a flag of shared admiration. I think it's possible to be a normal, socially-robust individual while still clambering to all things quirky, original, and even 'uncool.' What does the social designation 'nerd' mean to you? In your mind, does self-identifying as a nerd make you inauthentic? Image sources: [1][2][3]
What is a nerd? photo
Exploring the boundaries of 'nerdom'
Following a swift completion of BioShock Infinite's 1999 mode last week, I was hit with a particularly potent wave of boredom. Quelling the bubbling cauldron of monotony was easy while skating through the battle-torn dystopia...

What BioShock Infinite could have been

Apr 24 // Taylor Stein
As a spur-of-the-moment present (my friends are amazing), I was given The Art of BioShock Infinite, an art book showcasing a collection of illustrations, concepts, and ideas crafted throughout the game's development process. I'm not a game designer or an artist, and as much as I admire the aesthetics of a game as beautiful as BioShock Infinite, I didn't exactly jump for joy at the sight of a book full of drawings. That is until I took the time to flip through each page, examine every picture, and peruse all the hand-written annotations. You would be quite surprised to discover just how different Infinite was in its early stages. A city of fragile perfection, the Columbia that we know floats in-between heaven and Earth, residing amongst the cloudy skies of idyllic wonder and concealed malevolence. Serving as a symbol of righteousness, the prophet Comstock's vision of religious purity and American ideology conceived a metropolis more picturesque than nature, seamless perfection in stark contrast to the Sodom below. Before humanity's palace of excellence was stained in the blood of Dewitt's increasing body count, it was pristine, tangibly unspoiled despite the ethereal philosophies of overt racism, sexism, and classism.Derived from the essence of its predecessors, BioShock Infinite embodied many of the series' thematic aspirations: questions of self-determination, pursuit of sovereignty, persistence of greed, and the nature of choice, all while deviating from the atmospheric spirit personified by the underwater city of Rapture. Despite the many differences between the newcomer and the previous installments, the three shared quite a few similarities during the infancy of the project from ambiance and landscape design, to enemy types and other conceptual elements.Before the sky-city of Columbia was born, developers explored the sensibilities of brainstormed elements inside a vacuum. Unhindered by receptivity of a narrative outline, many ideas would surface, but only a select few would color the final product. As expressed by visual depictions and accompanied footnotes within the art book, multiple environmental concepts emerged as plausible settings for Infinite. From an Art Nouveau world inspired by the unruly aspects of the natural world, to a derelict utopia far past its prime, the main aspect of the game, the hovering aesthetic of Columbia, was surprisingly absent during the early stages of conceptualization.From a collection of disconnected ideas to the final product, the most dramatic divergence in the evolution of BioShock Infinite undoubtedly resides with the enemy design. Capitalizing on the essence of dimensional rifts, early renderings showcase a slew of bad guys that harshly contrast the normalcy of the opponent types in the completed game. Man-eating brutes who morph into more monstrous forms after feasting on human flesh, a little girl with a face caged behind torn bloody bars, and numerous other gory, creepy, and lurid imagery tint the pages of  the illustrative collection. Borrowing from Andrew Ryan's aquatic landscape, Vigor junkies also make an appearance in the art compilation, bearing the drastic physical effects of vigor addiction similar to the splicers of previous games.One notable example is an adversary fused together by quantum rifts. These grotesque monstrosities reflect different instances of a person together in one body, the merging of realities in the faces of enemies. Drawings depict a man with features of both an infant and an elderly gentleman sprawled haphazardly across a nightmarish face. If you thought the splicers from the original where menacing or plain ugly, they're nothing compared to the eerie visuals left on Infinite's editing room floor. Besides being a pretty cool book, The Art of BioShock Infinite showcases the creative process of the game's development in a hands-on, artistic medium. Blending the boundaries between old and new, borrowing from early elements in the franchise while crafting something unique, BioShock Infinite truly epitomizes a hodge podge of symbols, aesthetics, and atmospheric clout that has evolved drastically from beginning to end. While the book can only represent a microscopic fragment of the overall design process, viewing step by step as the Songbird transformed from an off-putting Big Daddy with wings into a hulking yet emotionally-compelling beast is an experience that necessitates respect for the characters, the story, and the world of Infinite. If you're curious about the visuals of BioShock Infinite and all of its intricacies, definitely check out the art book at your leisure. If you are looking for more of a detailed background you might be a bit disappointed by the few contextual annotations present, however. Image Source: [1]
BioShock Infinite Art photo
Art book shows a new perspective of Columbia
Almost a month after its release, BioShock Infinite is still on my mind, but not for the reasons you might suspect. If you grow tired of seeing the game plastered on just about every gaming website, magazine, and TV comm...

Videogames are evil photo
Videogames are evil

Dungeons & Dragons destroys peoples lives


It's evil I tells ya
Apr 20
// Taylor Stein
Crazy alert: radical TV preacher Pat Robertson is at it again. In a new video aimed at warning the world of hidden evils, Robertson asserts that Dungeons & Dragons is a "demonic" videogame. In previous discussions throug...
Videogame camp photo
Videogame camp

Summer game design programs increase in popularity


When did camp become so cool?
Apr 16
// Taylor Stein
New data put forth by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) shows a promising increase in the availability and popularity of videogame design programs within U.S. summer camps. With more than 100 camps and 690 programs...

Kinect and medicine photo
Kinect and medicine

Kinect used to diagnose depression


Thank you, doctor Microsoft
Apr 15
// Taylor Stein
While typically functioning as a vehicle of entertainment, Microsoft's Kinect has proven to be a useful tool in the arena of medicine. Rather than solely relying upon the observations of psychologists to determine whether or ...
Violent videogames photo
Violent videogames

Denied the chance to steal, people turn to violent games


A little gaming carnage makes everything better
Apr 03
// Taylor Stein
A new study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University explores the relationship between criminality, frustration, and violent videogames, reports Science Daily. Based on a series of experiments, Brad Bushman and his c...
Games for the blind photo
Games for the blind

New game helps improve navigational skills for the blind


And you thought eyesight was a requirement
Apr 02
// Taylor Stein
In a cooperative effort between Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, researchers have produced a new way to help the blind get around better: videogames. You may be scratching your head, as the ...

From animal lover to virtual hunter

Mar 29 // Taylor Stein
From Oregon Trails and Duck Hunt to Red Dead Redemption and Far Cry 3, hunting clearly has a dynamic presence within the videogame landscape. Despite controversy associated with the sport, hunting in gaming has continued to play a role within many AAA titles, arguably with increased frequency over the past few years. Mentioning an internet fascination with cute cat videos and a cultural push toward animal protection nationwide, one would think that hunting would be falling out of favor in real life and in our virtual playgrounds. Yet the prevalence of hunting in newer titles such as Tomb Raider and Assassin's Creed III suggests otherwise. This invites an in interesting dilemma: How can so many of us claim badges of animal allegiance in our everyday lives, yet still find great joy hunting in videogames? Obviously the act is not real, but people have a way of getting butt hurt regardless of fact or fiction. I personally have noticed that my heartwarming affection toward animals is easily shattered in the realm of gaming. Titles such as the ones mentioned above have been successful at awakening a primal beast within my core, one that finds absolute delight in the thrill of the hunt. As an avid animal lover, hunting cynic, and gaming enthusiast, I've decided to explore this conundrum. Why do I find hunting in games so damn addictive if I condemn the activity in real life? Duh, hunting is funHunting in videogames is undoubtedly fun. With many games favoring over-the-top gore, action, or gunplay as a primary theme, it's no wonder that many players, myself included, often gravitate toward more understated gaming feats when they're available. Hunting is one such example that can provide a break in the monotony of shooting, slicing, and indiscriminate killing. Incapacitating bad guys in gaming is almost always a requirement, a necessity to get from point A to point B, but hunting requires a whole different skill set. Hunting is arguably an art form. It requires a deft hand and a subtle approach that is often uncommon amongst the run-and-gun mechanics that dominate the game market. Charge a prowling tiger in Far Cry 3 and you'll most likely end up as kitty chow, approach a bear in Assassin's Creed III head-on and expect a Mortal Kombat-like fatality. Stalking potential prey welcomes an opportunity to adopt stealth, shoot for silent kills, and utilize tools that might seem outdated in a combat scenario like a bow and arrow. Hunting necessitates a sense of resourcefulness, granting merit to instinct over reason. The act of taking a life, albeit a fake one, is only a small part of the process, one that can consist of spotting the prey, finding a hidden vantage point, luring the target into the open, and delivering one hit, one kill. I'm getting energized just talking about it. Adding to the experience is the voluntary nature of the activity. Regular enemies occupy an environment for the sole purpose of breathing life and hostility into the world. How entertaining would crossing a battle-torn landscape be without any adversaries? Animals and wild game on the other hand serve a unique purpose when compared to the average killable NPC, not only to fill the setting with opposition for the player, but to enrich the gaming experience by enhancing the atmosphere and welcoming variation in gameplay. Hunting is often an optional pursuit, and thus, it can be far more rewarding when successfully completed. I didn't have to slay the legendary super wolf in Red Dead Redemption, but taking on the challenge is that much more gratifying when completed. Beyond the satisfaction of clashing with nature's most powerful beasts or the appreciation of a different style of gameplay, hunting has its perks. Depending on the game, chasing down wild creatures can provide the player with valuable in-game rewards. From equipment upgrades, additional experience, and sellable loot, hunting in videogames is a practical pursuit. If the act isn't enticing enough on its own, the upgrades certainly do help to blur the boundary between voluntary and obligatory, elevating hunting to essential status. Whether we're talking about big game from reality standards or far more menacing foes conjured up within the imaginations of game developers, hunting in games is more thrilling than it could ever be in real life. Overcoming a rabbit is fine and a deer is better, but any woodland creature pales in comparison to gaming's toughest animals. Fighting against any dinosaur in the Monster Hunter series should lead to a swift and certain death for the player, but the allure of attempting to defeat something larger and more powerful is an enticing proposition. A straightforward approach might be unsuccessful against the king of mountain lions or a fire-breathing dragon, but under the right conditions it's possible to taste victory. Crisis of conscience: What about my furry friends?Including hunting within the context of games can be a rewarding experience on multiple levels, but it does elicit a clash of conscience. While I pursue virtual animals under the guise of an acceptable thrill, my cat often stretches out on my lap in feline delight. I wonder how she would feel about me attacking virtual versions of her tiger, jaguar, and bobcat ancestors? Good thing she doesn't seem to pay attention. Personally I would never dream of harming an animal in real life, yet interestingly enough, I feel no qualms about doing so in a gaming capacity. Of course, a cat or dog is miles apart from a komodo dragon or while boar, but I'd still like to think that my individual kill switch is constant regardless of wild or domestic status. Upon pondering the reasons why it's so easy to cut moral or emotional ties when taking an animal's life in a game, the answer can be a bit complicated. The easy rationale that was touched on in the very beginning is that the animal is not real. There is no real consequence for hunting a non-living creature so there's nothing to feel bad about. Shooting an innocent bunny rabbit in a game is totally fun, but I can't say the same for targeting the little guys frolicking in my front yard. The separation between reality and make-believe is certainly one reason why I don't cry myself to sleep at night after killing tons of virtual critters, but fictional events have the power to rouse feelings of guilt or sadness, too. I've had several moments in my gaming history that elicited genuine emotional responses despite the fact that it wasn't real, some even pertaining to animals. In Shadow of the Colossus, when it appeared as if the protagonist's horse Agro fell off the cliff to his death, I was pretty bummed out. Not to mention the end of Fable 2 when the hero's dog sacrificed himself to save the player. How we view the subject, pet versus prey, is a huge factor. This mental distinction can portray any animal large and small as off limits or hunt-worthy which may have more to do with moral reservations than the realness of the target. Games often use another tactic to soften the blow of hunting animals, the necessity of survival. By transporting players into the shoes of a desperate character, one who is suffering from the pangs of starvation or danger, it becomes much easier to do the deed. Tomb Raider capitalized on this theme, forcing Lara Croft to commit atrocities in order to survive. Shooting a deer was easy because she was starving, slaying oncoming wolves was simple as defense. Justifying hunting is uncomplicated and guilt-free in a life or death scenario. Regardless of rationale, we as gamers should be able to immerse ourselves in the lives, actions, and worlds of games without personal conflict. Hell, just about everything we do in gaming would be a moral barricade to cross in reality, with hunting being an ethical cake walk. Sure the methodology we use to accept committing questionable acts within a virtual landscape reflects a mix of confounding logic and confusing sentiments, but it's probably safe to say that there is no real harm done. The targets that we pursue within the gaming realm are nothing more than a collection of pixels and polygons. There is no pressing consequence for hunting a cougar with an Xbox 360 controller minus a disapproving pet cat. The average stable individual can draw the line between hunting a buffalo in Oregon Trails and chasing down the neighbor's dog. While I may be an ASPCA supporter by day, when transported into nature's digital backyard I become a fully-fledged huntsman. I for one have no ill feelings about being both an animal lover and virtual hunter because the two labels are separated by a massive physical and psychological divide. Entertainment and instinctive expression are good enough reasons to shrug off conflicting identities and hypocritical sentiments in my book. What are your thoughts about hunting in videogames, have you ever felt bad about killing a virtual animal? Even though gaming often pits players against other people, do you think there is more moral and emotional baggage associated with violence against animals in a gaming context? Image Sources: [1][2][3]
Hunting and videogames photo
Why is hunting so damn addictive?
From a crouched position you move toward a jungle clearing. Left foot, then right foot; each step demonstrates restraint in the highest degree. A breeze travels through the overgrown leaves, causing the foliage to dance all a...

Science and gaming photo
Science and gaming

Study: Playing videogames improves visual skills


So they don't rot your brain after all
Mar 20
// Taylor Stein
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto has found another positive effect that videogames have on players, an improvement of visual searching skills. Based on a set of experiments led by Sijing Wu, a PhD...
Brain training photo
Brain training

Play videogames for an hour a day to enhance cognition


Train your brain with games
Mar 20
// Taylor Stein
According to Adam Chie-Ming Oei and Michael Donald Patterson of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, playing videogames for just an hour each day can improve performance on subsequent cognitive tasks. Good news cons...

Lara Croft is more than a survivor

Mar 11 // Taylor Stein
Survivor is too passive of a word to describe Lara's feats This Tomb Raider reboot serves a unique purpose: not to further the image of a gaming icon, but to explore the origins of how she became a legend. A theme is carried throughout the narrative as a transition from innocence to maturity. Naivety fades in the midst of hardship, and she is forced to bear a burden of life or death proportions. It was Lara's idea to enter the Dragon's Triangle in pursuit of archeological discovery, an area infamous for sinking ships, and it is her responsibility to save her crewmates from certain disaster.  The game hits the nail on the head in this regard, showcasing a completely different Lara before and after the experience; one driven by blind ambition and the other hardened by the weight of survival. Despite successfully presenting a thematic rite of passage, I would argue that the Lara Croft who emerges from the catastrophe is beyond a survivor. She is a warrior, a leader, and a hero. Lara actively pursues her foes from forest to mountain to hidden temple and successfully discovers the secrets of the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Even when seemingly perfect plans of escape crumble under misfortune, she remains determined and adapts to the circumstances whether it requires her to climb atop a frozen radio tower or traverse the depths of a derelict ship. For those who have yet to experience the game for yourself, let me grant you a brief preview. Lara Croft goes through absolute hell. Pushed to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion, the once inexperienced explorer is tested under the most extreme conditions. Impaled, strangled, stabbed, burnt, shot, pistol-whipped, and sliced are just a few of the inflictions that Lara endures. The physical wounds will heal as scars of remembrance, but the psychological toll is undoubtedly a harder pill to swallow. Lara is forced to make sacrifices for the greater good, to select choices when no appealing option is present. She is the picture of fortitude but her resilience is not the only aspect that makes her noteworthy. She doesn't just survive the ordeal; she charges it head-on and shoots it in the face. Channeling the anguish from the journey, Lara evolves into a true fighter. Any who cross her path are incapacitated without a second thought. Despite what seems like a constant flow of hindrances, challenges, and confrontations, she tackles each trial and thwarts almost certain death time and time again. Lara Croft has always exemplified the badass category, but now she owns it. Ferocity becomes second nature in a landscape riddled with danger in the form of wild animals, samurai warriors, and unpredictable terrain.  As heroes often represent the perfect models of humanity, the best and the brightest of us all, Lara Croft adheres to the standard perfectly. She is amazingly resourceful, fashioning life-saving devices out of discarded remains, determined, physically and mentally strong, adaptable, and intelligent; not to mention notably attractive. While her initial goal may begin as a primal urge to live, it evolves into a much more complicated objective; one driven by altruism and duty. Escaping isn't enough, the madness surrounding the resurrection of the omnipotent Sun Queen must be ended. Being a survivor is just the tip of the iceberg for Lara. While the term in question is technically applicable to the protagonist, it only scrapes the surface of her newfound strength. The transformation from ambitious explorer into the self-reliant, powerful Lara Croft is a revolution on every level. Rescue from this particular adventure is only the beginning of her story. Returning home to live as a regular woman, is not the life that Lara Croft will pursue and fittingly so. After facing such adversity, normalcy is a luxury that she can no longer find solace in and as we know from the franchise, she'll continue to co-mingle with danger for years to come.  Lara Croft is a survivor, but she is also a savior, a warrior, a leader, and a hero. Tomb Raider serves as an origin story but she has never been a damsel in distress. Staying alive was not the gift of coincidence or happenstance. Lady luck was undoubtedly on her side, but Lara continued to proactively fight throughout the entire ordeal. Perhaps this is a connotative dilemma spurred by personal meanings associated with the word, my definition of survivor may be different to yours for example, but I wholeheartedly believe that the, "A survivor is born" slogan does not do the game or Lara Croft as a character justice. Image sources [1][2]
More like epic hero photo
More like epic hero
For the past 48 hours, I have been completely enthralled in the world of Tomb Raider. Explosions, gun-fights, stealthy takedowns, weapon upgrading, and shooting defenseless bunnies has characterized my adventure, one that has...

My ultimate gaming tradition of Old School Day

Mar 10 // Taylor Stein
Gaming celebration with a personal twist The trip down retro lane is a cherished monthly spectacle among my siblings and I. Every few weeks we put our adult lives on hold to relive the games from our youth. If there is any day that we truly unite as a family, it's while bonding over the classics. As painfully sappy as that sounds, videogames have always acted as a supernatural Band-Aid, mending all pissed off sentiments and sibling-based grudges.While we each were transformed into instant videogame buffs through the allure of the NES, many of our greatest memories reside with the N64. During our version of Old School Day, we welcome the titles that have contributed to the process of shaping us into the people we are today. Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, Star Fox, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Smash Bros., Pokemon Stadium, Rampage, Banjo-Kazooie and Yoshi's Story just to name a few, form the framework of the evening. Those titles served as the backbone of my childhood so it's rather fitting. Each time we get together, we sprinkle in a few different games, maximizing the fun output while minimizing the risk of getting bored through repetition, if that's even possible.Over the course of two to six hours of pizza-induced noshing, old school gaming, and admittedly potent languor, we've typically covered the spectrum of emotions from anger-filled multiplayer sessions, to heartwarming regard in response to a favorite cut scene. In diplomatic fashion, we take turns choosing the next entrant to revitalize our nostalgia, but in reality, any choice is a good one when you're playing favorite games amongst family and friends. Old School Day rocks! Still not convinced? With the next generation of consoles on the horizon, you may be hesitant to turn back the hands of time, to accept the glory of Old School Day. There's no way that earlier generations can compete from a graphical standpoint and not all of the oldies were auditory masterpieces, yet despite these technological inferiorities, the games that defined past generations exude a certain charm that often propels them into superior status. Reliving them for yourself is almost certain to conjure up sentiments such as, "Why don't they make games like this anymore?" rather than, "Yikes, I'll stick with the Xbox." Purchasing the titles through XBLA or PSN is technically a viable option, but summoning the warm feelings of familiarity is that much better in its authentic form. Re-experiencing the definitive moments of a simpler time, a period when eating vegetables and finishing homework were the main opponents of happiness, is satisfying on multiple levels. For one, rekindling ancient memories is enormously rewarding. Exploring old saved files and realizing that wow, I can't believe I actually collected all of those stars, puzzle pieces, coins, or heart pieces is always a heart-warming, ego-boosting find. I recall loading up my saved game from Harvest Moon 64. . . I had ten in-game years worth of gameplay on one file. That's more virtual years than I had spent on Earth at that time; how much would that achievement/trophy be worth? Equally as shocking is the realization that some aspects of older gaming were much more difficult than memory would serve. Conker's Pocket Tales on Gameboy Color was one such instance of perplexity. While I nearly finished the game as a kid and don't recall any Ninja Gaiden-like frustrations, with all my might I can barely get past the first level to this day. I must have had the child-like reflexes of a ninja or at least that's what I keep telling myself. Conker-based inadequacies aside, dusting off your Atari 2600, Dreamcast, or other old console is guaranteed to fulfill your sense of humor as well. Things that were badass in the 1980s or 1990s are often hilarious now. Turok 64 death screams are absolutely priceless, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has musical accoutrements that will transport you into the late '90s punk scene, and Gex 64 makes in-game references to the X-Files, Poltergeist, and Full House. Who needs a time machine when a gateway to your childhood is right within reach? The essence of forgotten trends and declining fads aids in sweetening any excursion into the past of gaming through hands-on reminiscence and a healthy dose of gut-busting laughter. Beyond the arenas of personal achievement, hilarity, and frustration, hopping on the symbolic DeLorean in the name of Old School Day allows us to respect the pioneers within the industry, those instances of brilliance that set in motion what we now take for granted as technological commodities. Videogames as a medium have come so very far. What started as a hodgepodge of pixels and simplicity has evolved into visual, narrative-driven masterpieces easily on par with cinema. Gaming may have been an obscure hobby decades ago, but whether you adhere to the pastime personally or not, it is impossible to ignore its significance on an economic, cultural, and political scale. The current discussions about videogames and gun control are a testament to that. The industry boasts a powerful presence within the global landscape but also within my own life. I adopted Old School Day as reminder of why I became a gamer in the first place: the fun times with friends and family, the lessons learned from macho protagonists, the ability to step into the shoes of countless characters, and the satisfaction felt from saving the world, galaxy, or universe. If you find yourself in a place of gaming stagnancy, my hope is that after reading this, you'll incorporate a bit of Old School Day into your life and join me in celebrating retro gaming on a regular basis.What are your favorite older games? Do you ever take a break from new releases to play titles from the past?[Note: If you own Pokémon Stadium 2, follow my instructions without restraint for guaranteed laughs. Visit the mini games section and select Streaming Stampede. Make sure to play with the company of an easy or normal com and watch the stupidity ensue. Enjoy!] Image Sources: [1][2][3][4][5]
Screw beer pong photo
Screw beer pong, hand me that controller
Gamers are a diverse breed. From PC aficionados and console fanatics, to retro devotees and casual admirers, there is no one-size-fits-all model of videogame hobbyist. Though we possess many differences, like game preferences...

Ten psychedelic freakouts and hallucinations in games

Mar 04 // Taylor Stein
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty - Turn off the game Raiden!!! Scrape together all of the bizarre, hilarious, and confusing thoughts that you can muster, and fashion them into a particularly wacky scenario. Add a dash of nudity and the ramblings of a rogue AI, and what are you left with? Arguably one of the strangest scenes in the entire Metal Gear series. A butt-naked Raiden is bombarded with continual calls from an advanced artificial intelligence that has been infected with a debilitating virus. Crazy Colonel as I like to call him, covers a multitude of topics while in his fanatical state, from alien abductions to irritant plant juice. In an especially creepy encounter, his speech deviates from the randomness aimed at Raiden and shifts to a command intended for the player. "Raiden, turn the game console off right now. The mission is a failure. Cut the power right now." I know that I am not the only one who actually considered turning the system off at that very moment. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Screaming ... eerie screaming Link has always been a relatively reserved guy. Besides a set of exclamations and fighting sounds, the boy clad in green is about as laid back as they come. Behind those baby blue eyes is the perseverance of a champion ... or the thoughts of a madman. Considering that the hero is continually reincarnated from one generation to the next, forced to battle the evils of the world for all eternity, it's no wonder he finally snapped. Upon reaching Lake Hylia Spring in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Link cleanses the region of darkness that has entrenched the area. He then falls into a dream-like state that begins rather informatively; backstory is revealed and the player is enlightened with a deeper understanding of the narrative. In traditional nightmare fashion however, the vision takes a drastic turn for the worse and Link is joined with the company of dark doppelgangers, complete with glowing eyes and eerie screaming. Not only was Link puzzled by the revelation, upon viewing the scene, I too was struck by the disturbing nature of the dream. I don't know exactly what the craziness means, but it's certainly not what you expect from the tried-and-true Zelda formula. Batman: Arkham Asylum - I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Gasman Batman is a beast among men, there is no doubt about it. When an average person is pitted face-to-face against his innermost demons, he crumbles under the weight. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, punches his deepest fears in the face. After being exposed to the Scarecrow's signature fear gas in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne's most painful memories, worries, and regrets are given a life of their own, taking physical form with a single purpose of crippling Gotham's savior.Batman relives the deaths of his parents multiple times, defeating nightmarish versions of the Scarecrow in each encounter. He is pumped with enough crazy juice to kill an elephant but he somehow manages to trek onward. The cat and mouse game is finally trumped thanks to an unlikely source, Killer Croc, who literally takes a bite out of crime. Far Cry 3 - Giant slaying with a side of fornication? What would you do to save your friends from murderous, slave-trafficking pirates? Cali boy Jason Brody goes above and beyond to fulfill the role of a hero in Far Cry 3. Unfortunately, privileged immaturity does not bode well against an island riddled with danger in the form of wild animals, homicidal pirates, and a mysterious tribal faction. Brody aligns with the latter camp, and his quest of rescue slowly evolves into a pursuit of revenge.In a rite of passage ritual, Brody is tested as a true Rakyat warrior. After chugging a ceremonial drink, the ancient temple exudes a darker more intimidating aura. Then an enormous red-faced shadow creature emerges front and center. Foreshadowing at its finest. With only a bow in hand, the drug-induced Brody must battle toe-to-toe with the beast while dodging dark projectiles, and assault from shadow-men. Are you wondering what his body is doing while his mind is engaged in mental gymnastics? Getting down and dirty with Citra. Talk about tripping balls. Ni No Kuni - Girl you're crazy If this list conveys any message at all, it's that the mind is capable of crazy things. Loneliness is an especially potent catalyst of mental instability, one that can manifest in a variety of ways including multiple personalities. What better way to counteract isolation than talking to oneself? In a narrative of great sadness and good intentions gone bad, Queen Casseopeia of Ni No Kuni accidentally altered the entirety of her kingdom into mindless monsters. With the population of sentient citizens reduced to absolute zero, Casseopeia vowed to sit in waiting upon her ghastly throne until someone came to free her from inadvertent, self-induced seclusion.Days became months, months became years, and the empire was eventually lost to the hands of time. The queen of a once prosperous nation, the daughter of the legendary Wizard King, was reduced to a bitter shell of her former self. Driven mad by solitude, she created not one, not two, but over 12 different personalities to help alleviate the sting of separation. While many of these mental actors were united under an evil agenda, a few actually came to the aid of the protagonist, helping him to put an end to the ruler turned tragic figure. So she was talking to herself the whole time?! Yes, yes she was. If having a dozen cerebral characters isn't enough to strongly suggest lunacy, their bickering and disparate goals are icing on the nutty cake. Fallout 3 - Swamp plants and psychedelics If there is an award for gullibility, the Lone Wanderer in Fallout 3 might take the prize. In order to appease a tribal cult leader, he is ordered to traverse a sacred bog, slay mutated crab monsters, and retrieve the mother of all fruits. Sounds simple enough, but is it ever that easy? Approaching the vegetation causes hallucinogenic gas to spew from the plant, resulting in the player falling unconscious. This is where the fun begins.As my character came to, I remember thinking, "Oh, I guess nothing happened" until I began heading towards the exit. In a flurry of weirdness, the seemingly ordinary swamp is overwhelmed by random events. Collectable Bobbleheads featuring disheartening inscriptions become littered across the terrain, a camouflaged saw can be seen floating in the air, baby-sounding explosions  detonate without warning, needle and thread stitch the ground in a sewing motion, and oh yeah, you see the Lone Wanderer's mom as a skeleton in a pointy birthday hat. WTF is an understatement. Adding to the weirdness, while you were dozing by the Mother Punga tree prior to the psychedelic trip-out is that someone sliced your head open and removed a large chunk of your brain. I guess he's physically and mentally scarred for life. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Drugs drugs and more drugs Treasure hunting in remote corners of the world is a hazardous pastime. Doing so while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs is even more so. During multiple instances in Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake experiences strange visions. Twice after being shot in the neck with a dart, again while stranded in the desert. Drake even enters a delirious state after drinking the water. I've heard about Montezuma's revenge but diarrhea is nothing in comparison to temporary insanity.Fighting an entire private army is much more difficult to handle when the mercenaries shoot fireballs, and teleport, that's for sure. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Madness incarnate The entire Shivering Isles DLC in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion immerses players into the epitome of lunacy. Split into two lands, Mania and Dementia, the realm of insanity is ruled by none other than the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. With a title like that, you can expect enough absurdity to last a lifetime. Rather than a specific incidence of hallucinatory psychosis, the entirety of the narrative, including the world, is surrounded in unusual happenings.Sheogorath quests the Champion of Cyrodiil to defeat the evil lord Jyggalag who makes an appearance every era by conquering the land. In a series of events, it is revealed that Jyggalag is actually the Daedric Prince of Order and Sheogorath's true form. Cursed long ago by god-like beings, the master of order was forced to live as madness incarnate for all eternity; becoming his true form only sparingly. Who sounds crazy now? Dead Space 2 - The worst relationship ever Struggling to survive against an onslaught of reanimated corpses is a challenging feat. Any false move or lapse in concentration can easily fulfill a death wish. At least they're usually slow, mindless drones. Unfortunately, the Dead Space franchise doesn't feature run-of-the-mill zombies. Necromorphs are more like grotesque, appendage mishmashes with brains and brawn to boot. If the enemies weren't bad enough, battling insanity while exploring infested terrain surely adds to the intensity.Due to exposure with numerous alien artifacts, Issac's brain became imprinted with an alien code that causes him to experience an assortment of odd visions, voices, and images. The most common of which is a reoccurring hallucination of his deceased girlfriend. Out of the three installments of the series, Dead Space 2 definitely takes the cake in showcasing the Marker's influence over the mind. The guilt associated with Nicole's death consumes Isaac who is unable to accept the loss and move on. Though he is able to "reconcile" with the illusion, thus reconciling with himself, overcoming the vision is not a simple feat. Stalking, choking, and attempted stabbing were all in Nicole's repertoire of tactics, only defensible with sudden button-mashing frenzies. Domestic abuse is never funny ... even if it's between a guy and his own brain. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - Face your deeds in the river of death With two entrants from the same series, I'm sure you can tell that I'm a huge Metal Gear fan. The mix of history-rich story, extremely diverse characters, and the tone of seriousness flavored with hilarity is exactly why I hold the franchise in such high regards. Rather than leading with the humor theme, The Sorrow fight in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater joins the ranks of Twilight Princess and Dead Space in category creepy.After jumping off of a dauntingly high waterfall, Snake awakens in a ghastly spirit realm personified as an endless river. The Sorrow explains to Big Boss that he would be forced to walk down the waterway for all eternity so that he could, "feel the sorrow of those whose lives he had ended." As a player who went absolutely knife crazy on just about every grunt in the entire jungle, that's a whole lot of sadness on my part.Every enemy that was slain appeared before Snake in the chilling landscape. Soldiers screaming in pain, some on fire, and plenty grasping at their necks from slice wounds pressed onward, appearing exactly as they did upon their deaths. Upon finishing the spirit walk, players are able to return to the land of the living, but not without deeper insight into how The Sorrow actually died. Spooky, deep, and all-around creative for a trip into the afterlife. Other notable favorites: Catherine - Daily nightmaresMass Effect 3 - Child visionsHeavy Rain - Madison's nightmareSpec Ops: The Line - Ending  [Image source]
Ten psychedelic freakouts photo
WTF sentiments all around
Have you ever heard the saying, we're all a little bit crazy? I don't know about you, but "a little bit" might be an understatement, especially within the world of videogames. While virtual protagonists often reflect the abso...

Myo photo
Myo

Play videogames with a gesture control armband


Interact with the digital world in a whole new way
Feb 28
// Taylor Stein
Controllers and keyboards are standard tools in every gamer's repertoire, but what if I told you that a high-tech armband could be the next step in control interface evolution? Built by Canadian start-up firm Thalmic Labs, th...

The power of videogames can bring the family together

Feb 26 // Taylor Stein
Somewhere in the middle, my parents and videogames As a 1990's kid, the majority of parents that raised my generation either viewed videogames as a complete waste of time, or they just didn't understand the appeal. Where mom and pop celebrated my other childhood extracurricular activities like girl scouts, basketball, and soccer with great fervor, there was always an absence of enthusiasm when it came to my virtual exploits. No one ever threw me a congratulatory party after I rescued Princess Peach from Bowser's castle or applauded my hard work after collecting countless puzzle pieces in the world of Banjo Kazooie. Not that I was expecting them to, but still. In my past, videogames were always perceived under the guise of unimportance, as a fad that would be outgrown.  At age five, I was slaying octoroks in Hyrule on NES. By age seven I saved the Lylat System from the evil Andross through the mastery of barrel rolls. The trend continued into adulthood and here I am, as devoted to saving worlds and wasting bad guys as ever before.While my parents were uninterested in adopting gaming as their own vehicle of enjoyment, there was always an essence of conciliation that facilitated my growing habits. As a youth I embarked on numerous crusades to justify the glory of videogames to my genetic forerunners, a battle that I grew weary of fighting, and forfeited long ago. There have been glimmers of hope among the downhill conversion strategy however. Through obnoxious pleading, I successfully convinced my mother to watch me play Final Fantasy X. What started as maternal obligation, actually grew into general interest. Whether it was due to a stroke of luck or holy intervention, my mom became fascinated with the narrative most simply stated as kids, traveling the world, to defeat an enormous creature of destruction. To this day, she refers to the game as 'the one with Tidus and Sin', and while it boggles my mind as to how she cannot recall the name, I hold the memories of her genuine attention very close to my heart. Why some parents are in favor of gaming In the eyes of their children, mothers and fathers are synonymous with un-cool, passé, and outdated. No matter their actual age, something about entering the realms of parenthood instantly reduces one's trendiness credibility to near zero, at least in accordance to the mystical rules of kid law. Parents who approve of games for themselves or their children represent a rare statistic, an opposition to the stereotypical condition of predisposed antiquity.Beyond the allure of earning bonus points from the neighborhood tykes, there are a wide array of reasons why a parent would embrace videogames for their young ones. Sharing a hobby is one compelling rationale, an activity that would lend to bonding on epic levels. The tumultuous years riddled with teenage angst could very well be replaced with adolescent tranquility, double rainbows, and world peace. While I may be prone to obvious hyperbole, passing the torch of acquired gamer knowledge from father to son, or mother to daughter is truly a special experience. It might not share the same mass appeal as learning to ride a bike or throw a football, but hey, maybe it should.Traversing virtual landscapes along with saving naive princesses and shooting frothy-mouthed aliens can actually be quite beneficial as well. According to New Scientist, "Sophisticated video games have had demonstrable effects on their players. For example, people who frequently play action games often outperform non-gamers on measures of perception and cognition." When in doubt, quote a guy in a lab coat. In reality, keeping the youngsters occupied is worth its weight in gold. Think about all the trouble they could be getting into, and then be appreciative that the only prostitute he'll be beating with a bat is in Grand Theft Auto. Concerned parents and videogame controversy To starkly contrast the warm fuzzy feelings of the previous paragraph, there is a separate breed of pro-creators who demonize the interactive adventures that many of us hold so dear. Whether adhering to misguided perceptions like, "Videogames will rot your brain", or a sense of personal vendetta against all of game-kind, there are some parents who are unable to acknowledge the medium or its place as an act of leisure.Money is one thing, videogames are f**king expensive! Not to mention, the next generation of consoles is lingering on the horizon which will ultimately multiply the fund requirements for any parent. Others might be wary of the violent or mature content within many popular franchises, but that's what responsible parenting is about. Five-year-olds probably shouldn't play Dead Space 3 before bedtime, but that doesn't mean someone within an older age bracket shouldn't either. Can you imagine putting a toddler in the shoes of the revenge-driven maniac, Kratos from the God of War? Probably not the best idea.Perhaps the most persuasive argument within the parental anti-videogame consortium, is that youths should spend their time doing something more constructive than sitting in front of a TV all day. Fortifying an ass groove in the living room couch clearly asserts your dominance over the space, but gaming should not be 24/7 sport. Eat those vegetables, finish your homework, play outside and THEN get back to working on that sofa dent. The future of parents and gaming While my parents never championed the title of gamer, growing up in the '50s and '60s wasn't exactly an ideal or realistic era to be bitten by the gaming bug. With the vast advances in technology over the past few decades, videogames have ascended into the mainstream on a silver platter. Smartphones, tablets, consoles, PC, and handhelds allow for gaming to exist in just about every format.Accessibility has driven mass appeal, and mainstream allure now welcomes gaming aficionados of all ages, genders, and social positions. These days, the bipartisan nature of approval versus disapproval of videogames is a diminishing distinction. Just about everyone can unite under the flag of gamerdom in some way, and I would expect that kids, parents, young and old will become even more enamored with gaming in the years to come.How did your parents view playing videogames when you were a small fry? Which category do your parents fall into? Do you plan on raising your future kids as gamers? Image sources [1][2][3][4][5]
Parents and videogames photo
Love, hate, and everything inbetween
Not every hobby is created equally nor is every pastime equally respected. As a gaming enthusiast, videogames represent the epitome of entertainment in my eyes. They alone reign atop my personal pedestal of happiness, a speci...

Dreams photo
Dreams

Study: Gamers have more control over their dreams


Eat, sleep, game
Feb 20
// Taylor Stein
Why do we dream? Amongst the foggy midst of hearsay, medical expertise, and decades of research, the simple answer is, we have no idea. One thing we can all agree on is that dreams are weird. Why my brain transported me to...
Muscle-zapping controller photo
Muscle-zapping controller

Goodbye rumble controller, hello electric shock


No pain, no gain
Feb 18
// Taylor Stein
The next stage of videogame evolution might take place where you least expect it: within your body. A team of German researchers have deviated from the traditional rumble-controller formula, instead embracing an entirely new ...

Co-op and horror don't work together in Dead Space 3

Feb 18 // Taylor Stein
With the admittance of co-op functionality within the horror genre, it begs the question, is it possible to produce an authentic fear-driven experience while playing a game with two players? How scary can a dark room, narrow hallway, or eerie mansion be when you've got a geared-up teammate watching your back? Many of the recent horror titles such as Resident Evil 6, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Dead Space 3 have embraced the action-driven narrative, but adding co-op might just tip the scale in determining whether we're left with a true horror game or just another third-person-shooter. Let's take a trip down memory lane to explore how the videogames of old, the grandmasters of horror, were able to convey terror in the simplest of ways.The titles that put the horror genre on the map, Resident Evil and Silent Hill just to name a few, carved a unique space within the videogame gamut. Without the use of high-def visuals or stellar controls, the early horror installments were able to successfully embody the atmosphere of trepidation. Fear was derived from the fact that the odds were not often in your favor. Fighting a deformed nightmare monster with a baseball bat almost always ended in getting your ass kicked. Run out of bullets? Kiss your sweet life goodbye.Survival was the overarching sentiment, not guns-a-blazing battle. With a combination of fixed camera angles, few health packs, invulnerable enemies and ineffective weaponry, terror tactics of the past were brought to fruition by making the player as vulnerable as possible. It wasn't about how many necromorphs or zombies you could kill, rather, how you could get from point A to point B without running into a giant monster that would instantly reduce you to a bloody pile of mush. Nowadays, it seems like people just like to shoot stuff. Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski shared similar concerns about the fate of the horror genre in his blog. Within the current gaming market, Bleszinski predicts that horror games will be unable to flourish; instead, he points to indie and PC titles as the next step for the genre. He states, "When we’re fully digital we’ll see more true horror games coming back. Look at Amnesia and Slenderman on PC."Action is one potential strike against the effectiveness of in-game apprehension, strike two and possibly the icing on the cake, is co-op. Gun battles and explosions are welcomed inclusions to any shooter, but it's arguably difficult to maintain the same level of nail-biting suspense or edge-of-your-seat anxiety when you're equipped with weapons galore and a buddy who is ready to lay any ferocious creatures to waste. Dead Space 3 is the most recent title to deviate from its single-player, nightmare entrenched roots. With a friend, players are able to explore the frozen wasteland of Tau Volantis and the decrepit remnants of derelict space vessels together. While two heads are definitely better than one, two guns make all the difference. Taking on a horde of necromorphs with an added set of autonomous weaponry highlights each room as a tactician's dream. Quelling waves of resistance is as easy as positioning your character relative to your squad mate to cover all avenues of attack. If an enemy unsuspectingly emerges from an overhead air duct, my partner has my back. While tag team monster annihilation is amazingly entertaining, the last thing I would describe the experience as, is frightful.The shift within the genre from perseverance to action, from defense to offense, was one that reflected the popularization of shooters within the gaming landscape. Horror developers are forced to adapt, and what we are left with, is an attempt to maintain the same level of suspense captured during the golden age of scary gaming, while providing room for the mechanics that represent the current trends within the mainstream industry. The reality is, the vision of crafting an insanely scary experience is often lost when combined with multiplayer features, over-the-top action, and shooting elements. The good news is, Dead Space 3 allows players to complete the campaign alone OR with a friend, so thrill-seekers have the option of pursuing the story in the scariest way possible. Unfortunately, minus a few jumps here and there, I haven't found the two-player gameplay to be the least bit intimidating on a horror level. The co-op functionality enhances the playability of the game by welcoming a shared experience between two players, yet it adds nothing to make the title more suspenseful or daring besides adding a bit of character back story via co-op side missions.  This is not a discussion about whether Dead Space 3 is a good or bad game, even though I quite enjoyed it personally. It's not a debate about which genre is better, action or horror. This article serves to ask a simple question, does combining action with the comforting appeal of 2-player support create an authentic horror experience?What is your impression of the complicated relationship between co-op and horror? If you played Dead Space 3 with a friend, did you find the game to be as nerve-wracking as the previous installments? Sound off in the comments below.
When co-op meets horror photo
Action plus co-op is fun, but scary? I'm not so sure
The room is dark, cold, and unusually calm. The once bare walkways are now riddled with blood and severed limbs. In the distance, a faint hum can be heard echoing throughout the metal encampment. Its repetition is a solid rem...

Roses and tears: 10 depressing videogame romances

Feb 14 // Taylor Stein
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – Big Boss and Eva Love can blossom anywhere. If the Metal Gear series has taught us anything (besides the usefulness of a cardboard box) it is that romance is especially prominent on the battlefield. Why would bullets, explosions, and a team of evil super soldiers deter one from indulging in a little affection? While Big Boss fought off Eva’s motive-driven advances, he was unable to resist her overt feminine charm indefinitely. After a romantic encounter complete with wine, a fireplace, and a bear skin rug, Eva skipped town, leaving the battle-hardened veteran heart-broken and empty handed. I guess Snake would've been better off sticking with his M1911A1. Final Fantasy 10 – Tidus and Yuna Ah, there’s nothing sweeter than teenage love. Combining raging hormones with the responsibility of saving a world tormented by perpetual death is certainly a unique formula for passion. During their pilgrimage to defeat the ever-returning nightmare Sin, Tidus and Yuna found romance as a convenient way to ignore the foreboding reality of their quest: Yuna’s death. Throughout a series of plot twists and extensive battles, players save Yuna from her sinister fate. Too bad the protagonist Tidus turns out to be from a dream world and disappears into a poof of nothingness. Dead Space – Isaac and Nicole The horror genre isn't ideal for heartfelt connections. The closest that scary games often get to featuring physicality is through a zombie bite to the neck. Too bad no one sent the memo to Isaac Clark. What started as a standard repair job on the intergalactic mining vessel the USG Ishimura, quickly turned into a terrifying test of survival among reanimated corpses and alien monsters. Did I mention that his girlfriend Nicole was stationed aboard the ship? I’m sure you know where this is going. Not only does the poor systems engineer discover that his girlfriend has been dead since before his arrival, he develops mental instability causing him to see visions of her, courtesy of an alien artifact. Thanks, Nicole, insanity is a perfect parting gift. Infamous - Cole and Trish There are very few actions in life that cannot be forgiven. Being held responsible for an explosion that wiped out a chunk of a city, killing thousands, would definitely be one of those unforgivable moments. Ever since The Blast, Cole's relationship with his girlfriend Trish took a turn for the worst. Blaming him for the death of her sister, Cole became a monster in her eyes. In an effort to win back her trust, the now super-powered hero went above and beyond to assist Trish and the citizens of Empire City. Just as affections were beginning to turn around, Trish was kidnapped, forcing Cole to make a difficult choice. Save the love of his life, or save a team of doctors; serve his personal desires or act on behalf of the greater good. Either way, Cole is pretty much screwed. Choose Trish and she spends her last dying breath describing how much she despises what Cole has become. Rescue the doctors and Trish praises his decision yet still dies from her injuries. Lose-lose situation is an understatement. Final Fantasy VII – Cloud and Aerith What does a spiky-haired soldier, an innocent flower girl , and a well-endowed bartender have in common? In the boring arena of reality, absolutely nothing. Within the fiction of videogames however, the trio arguably represent the most notable love triangle in the gaming world. Regardless of who the player chooses to pursue as a romantic interest, Aerith or Tifa, fate intervenes in the cruelest way possible. A scene of tranquility is instantly transformed into the epitome of shock, alarm, and terror. While praying at an alter, the silver-haired villain Sephiroth seemingly appears from the heavens and impales Aerith with his eight-foot-long Masamune. In an instant she is gone, collapsed in Cloud's arms. To hit the point home, Aerith's theme song begins to play in the background, and the reality that Final Fantasy VII actually had the audacity to kill off a main character halfway through the game, is fully realized. Mass Effect 3 – Commander Shepard and Romantic Partner Saving the galaxy from sentient machines may seem like a tall order, but after three installments of the Mass Effect series, it's pretty safe to say that Commander Shepard always finds a solution. Whether through diplomacy or a firefight, humanity's savior has proven to go above and beyond the call of duty. This applies both on and off the battlefield. Seducing a slew of men, women, and alien crew mates is all fine and good, but the end of the world has a way of offering a sobering reminder as to what is at stake. There will be no civilian life for Shepard and her partner; no white picket fence and no blue children. Ensuring the survival of the entire galaxy is not a job that one simply comes back from. All that can be said between the larger-than-life figure and her significant other is a somber goodbye before the true suicide mission commences. At the end of Mass Effect 3, the hero alone ventures into the depths of the Reaper operated Citadel. The first human Spectre is given a choice that will forever alter the course of the galaxy, to end the cycle of destruction that has continued in secret for millennia. Ultimately, Shepard's decision opens a new chapter for the galaxy, while putting an end to her own. Whether truly dead or not, Commander Shepard's closest squadmate is forced to hang her name on the Normandy SR2's memorial wall. In an act of remembrance signifying Shepard the soldier, the legend, and the human being.  Shadow of the Colossus – Wander and Mono Love has the power to transform a young man into a hero; a vigilant civilian into a seasoned warrior. In the case of Wander, the desire to revive his romantic interest Mono, inspires him to commit a laundry list of questionable choices. Stealing an ancient sword is risky yet understandable. Entering a forbidden land is yet another precarious decision. But following the instructions of an ominous, obviously evil, being is a step in the wrong direction. Whether due to naivety or injudiciousness, Wander proceeds to slay 16 enormous colossi in the hope that his new "ally" will reawaken the beloved maiden. Instead, the sinister lord Dormin possesses his body, transforming Wander into darkness incarnate. In the end, Mono successfully opens her eyes and returns to the land of the living. Wander, however, regresses to the age of an infant, marked with horns upon his head to signify a curse. As the only bridge connecting the forbidden land from the rest of the world falls, only Mono, altered Wander, and his trusty steed Agro remain. The two are together again, yet they are worlds apart. Alive but isolated in a land of danger and mystery. The Darkness - Jackie and Jenny Hit man with a heart of gold may seem like an oxymoron, but in the case of Jackie Estacado, the seemingly opposing identities are more than true. After the death of his parents at a young age, Jackie was sent off to an orphanage where he met the love of his life, Jenny Romano. Their childhood friendship blossomed into an adult romance; a relationship seemingly too good to be true. Unfortunately, Jackie's profession would be the factor to catalyze the sudden change from conjugal bliss to marital tragedy. On the eve of his 21st birthday, Jackie was targeted in an assassination attempt by his own organization due to fears that he was attempting to take over the Franchetti Family. In an effort to shake Jackie at his core, Don Uncle Paulie kidnaps Jenny and travels to the orphanage from their youth. Jackie arrives in a homecoming of sorts to witness his enemies berating Jenny. In a scene of absolute helplessness,  the Darkness seizes Jackie's body, preventing him from intervening as the Don raises his gun to Jenny's face. Boom. Jenny crumples to the floor and the antagonists escape. Even through suicide, Jackie is unable to find peace. The Darkness cannot live without its host, and thus he returns to the land of the living, forced to continue his existence as a pawn of the malevolent being. Gears of War 2 – Dom and Maria Battling for humanity’s survival against a horde of reptilian humanoids may seem like a challenging feat, but the steroid-pumped, macho men of Gears of War claim otherwise. Corporal Dominic “Dom” Santiago, one of the elite soldiers chosen to fight against the Locust, is forced to not only deal with the hardships of war, but also with an internal struggle fueled by the death of his children and disappearance of his wife Maria. When news is received about her whereabouts, Dom trudges through hordes of alien forces to her rescue. The good news is Dom finds his wife alive. The bad news is she is malnourished, scarred, and mentally broken from the torment of slave labor. In the ultimate display of love, Dom ends her suffering with a single bullet to the head. Damn. God of War – Kratos and Lysandra Kratos may be Sparta’s most prominent ladies man, boasting encounters with countless women and even the Goddess of Love, but he wasn’t always the king of promiscuity. Before the demigod was known to partake in threesomes with advanced button-pressing sequences, he was a devoted husband and father. In a desperate move during a losing battle, the Spartan devoted his allegiance to the god of war Ares in return for victory against enemy Barbarian tribes. Through a twist of fate fueled by Kratos’s thirst for power, he was tricked by Ares to raid a nearby village. Blinded by Ares' power,  Kratos slaughtered every man, woman, and child in the village, including his own wife Lysandra and child Calliope. If that wasn’t enough, Kratos was cursed by a village oracle, forcing him to forever wear the ashes of his dead family on his skin. From that day forward, Kratos became known as The Ghost of Sparta; and ever since then, God of War has represented one of the most depressing love stories in videogames. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- What is your favorite videogame romance? Have you ever felt moved or saddened by gaming love affairs gone wrong?
Sad videogame romances photo
Still think love conquers all?
Valentine’s Day inspires a variety of emotions. While love is in the air for many, cupid has more sinister plans for a select few. A poor Valentine's Day for an average person might include seeing a movie alone or a sol...

Top five ways for a gaming couple to bond

Feb 13 // Taylor Stein
1. Breakfast and controller in bed. Mornings often reflect the epitome of stress; a battle against the clock thrusting dreary souls out into the unforgiving cold, all under the guise of necessity. Often enacted as a daily skirmish against the alarm clock or a misguided affair with the snooze button, the essence of get-up-and-go is undoubtedly hard to come by. Perhaps the most gratifying gifts that one could offer would be to transform that frantic morning hustle into a relaxing videogame inspired reprieve? Breakfast in bed with a side of videogames represents the trifecta of happiness: comfort, relaxation, and entertainment. Wrapped in a bundle of absolute joy, no mortal could deny the pleasure of munching down scrambled eggs and toast, with controller in hand, and eyes fixed upon the TV screen. Grant your loved one the gift of game time, in the most absolutely wonderful way possible. 2. Complement your valentine's gaming hobby with a custom controller. There are a multitude of tools that we depend on in our work lives. Carpenters are reliant upon a trusty set of power tools, and a film crew would be lost without expensive recording equipment. For the average gamer, the necessary tool of the trade is none other than the controller. With a few analog sticks and a handful of buttons, a gamer is able to take charge of any situation. Commanded to defeat a dark overlord? Easy. Trusted to free an entire kingdom? No problem. How about saving a princess? I'd like to see a wrench do that. After years of button mashing, control-stick grinding, and perhaps a few rage-induced slams to the floor, the closest thing that many will get to holding a gun, sword, or magic lance often shows its age. Rather than replacing an old controller with a standard model, invest in a custom version and kick Valentine's Day up to epic levels. Personalize the device with your loved one's favorite colors, patterns, or decals, and you're sure to impress your beloved. Not to mention, with a gift like that, your partner will certainly be willing to share. 3. Make your partner a home cooked meal ... with videogame flair. In the words of famous playwright George Bernard Shaw, "There is no love more sincere than the love of food." Take out is great and fast food gets the job done, but there is undoubtedly something special about a dish prepared from scratch with the ultimate flavor enhancer, love. How does one describe the savory, unctuous delight of a home cooked meal? From first glance the senses explode in a frenzy; aromas envelop one's being as eyes lock on the gastronomical marvel. Mouth salivates, brain revs in anticipation, and stomach awaits a close encounter of the culinary kind. Successfully delivering a sensory explosion of this nature will easily earn you 100 bonus points with your significant other, but as a gamer, 100 measly points just isn't enough. We've explored every inch of Skyrim, unlocked ultimate weapons in the realm of Final Fantasy, and built impressive achievement and trophy lists while amassing loads of virtual gold, coins, and rupees. Going the extra mile is what we do. Add a videogame inspired food item to the party, and the real-life celebration will be complete. Show your sweetheart that you can get your Cooking Mama on while embracing the hobby that they hold dear. A little bit of creativity goes a long way, and a Pac-Man cupcake is sure to make this Valentine's Day memorable for all the right reasons. 4. Plan a special trip for the two of you ... to a videogame convention. Taking a trip with a romantic partner often signifies a noteworthy milestone in a couple's relationship. You trust your significant other enough to showcase your post-nighttime bed head, and they trust you enough to spend more than 24 hours by your side. Armed with the fluttery sentiments of love, an island getaway might be the first notion to enter your thoughts. Your sweetheart might thank you, but your wallet sure won't. How memorable can sunbathing really be anyway? It might be impossible to agree with that special someone over politics or religion, but if you're dating a gamer, videogames are always a sure bet. Skip the tropical oasis and buy two tickets to a gaming convention instead. You'll still be able to achieve a level of romance in between events and exhibits, while managing to satiate your partner's inner nerd, geek, or game enthusiast at the same time. Not to mention, couple cosplay is always an option. Master Chief and Cortana anyone? 5. Have a couple's night in, cuddle up, and play co-op together. When a couple must manage the rigors of daily life: school, work and kids, paired with a cultural emphasis on conspicuous consumption, it can become easy to forget that a relaxing night at home is not only an option, but a fun alternative to the constant flow of dinner outings and movie dates. The fast-paced lives that many of us lead can act as an uninvited buffer between two people actually enjoying each other's company. If there is one day to step up and break the mold of an archetypal weekday evening, it's on Valentine's Day. Instead of dealing with hassle-filled dinner reservations, spend the night at home with your special someone and bond over a shared hobby of videogames. Playing together might be a rare treat, making it all the more memorable when you can successfully devote an hour or two to Valentine's Day co-op. There's nothing quite like bonding over surviving a horde of zombies together in Dead Island, or tag-team chainsawing an enemy alien in Gears of War. Despite the probable gory subject matter of the games you'll be playing, don't make that an excuse not to cuddle together in the name of Cupid.  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Diamonds might be a girl's best friend, but any gamer male or female can appreciate a gift that facilitates, encourages, and promotes their pastime of gaming. It is rare to be taken seriously as a gamer; we're instantly typified along a stringent line of negativity. With so much antagonism or simple misunderstanding within the general populace, having someone by your side who understands the thrill of saving Hyrule for the umpteenth time, is priceless. You might criticize Valentine's Day for being a commercial holiday or sulk at its arrival for other reasons, but if love and videogames could find a middle ground, maybe it would be worth giving a chance after all? Trust me, roses and chocolates get old fast. Why not break free from the traditional boring offerings and give your significant other something that they'd really enjoy this Valentine's day? [Images courtesy of Bitmob, Rolf Venema, Vox Efx, Echo.Plexus, Game Set Watch, and Feast of Fiction.]
Tips for gaming couples photo
Romance AND videogames? Heck yes.
Taylor is an avid gamer, sushi lover, and overall nerd. After founding two gaming-related sites of her own, she went on to intern with G4, and can now be found across the interwebs writing about videogames of all kinds. At le...


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