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2:22 PM on 06.18.2013  

It's all about who you're sleeping with...


original

Possible spoilers for the Mass Effect trilogy ahead... proceed at your own risk!

I've mentioned it before, but I seem to have the worst luck when it comes to video game romances.  I dumped Anomen the wimp in Baldur's Gate 2. In Dragon Age: Origins, Alistair dumped me after becoming King.  In Dragon Age 2, Anders the psychotic possessed Mage wanted me bad... but I didn't want a psychotic, schizophrenic boyfriend, and instead decided I wanted Fenris, the skinny little emo Elf boy.  Fenris liked me... but apparently not in that special getting-naked kinda way, and he just wanted to be friends.  I finished both Dragon Age games to the tune of the Rolling Stones song "satisfaction" as in "I can't get no".  In Dragon's Dogma I ended up in a lesbian relationship with a pre-pubescent Duchess, and in games like Fable and Skyrim, I just grabbed any character who wasn't totally visually repugnant (which was a quest in itself) as my spouse.  While virtual romance may have eluded me, at least I wasn't lonely and I got to know many of these characters well enough that their disinterest in sleeping with me was a little annoying (especially given that I was a chosen one and about to save their damn world!).




All of that has now changed and I have had my satisfyingly glorious virtual romance!  One word... Garrus.  While he kind of has an insectile, mandible thing going on in the looks department, he also has that glorious voice!  His mixture of confidence and diffidence gave him such an endearing quality... and that voice! (Yeah... sorry... I know I said that twice!).  I played through the entire Mass Effect trilogy... and it now ranks among my favorite games... incredibly awesome (and very, very, very similar to my favorite TV Series ever - Babylon 5, where chaos vs order was also a primary theme and where there was lots of "gray" - where choices, characters, races... none were specifically good or bad, black or white... just gray.  In fact the similarities between Babylon 5 and Mass Effect were so plentiful and obvious that I'm sure others have probably written blogs on this topic before... so I won't bore you, but if you like Mass Effect and haven't seen Babylon 5 - go watch the first 3 seasons of it!!)

I worked really, really hard to ensure my "effective military strength" was well over 7000 before I did the final leg of the game to ensure I had optimum choices for a good ending... but ironically I was paying so much attention to the conversation choices or waiting on a paragon/renegade interrupt that I missed the designated locations for the choices and expected a definitive conversational option... so I wandered straight ahead to the blue light expecting a console where I could make my choice, only to find that I apparently had chosen "synthesis"!  Oh no!... all that hard work and I never got to choose to destroy the reapers??? Dammit!  I died, but the ending was wonderful.  EDI and Joker, tenderly holding each other close... and Garrus, my beloved, looking suitably heart broken as he added my name to the memorial for those lost (though Tali was looking a little bit too prepared to comfort him over his loss... bitch!).  I was rather hoping for a final scene of Garrus and I sitting on a beach together sipping pina coladas... so yeah, I re-played the last section again and chose to destroy the reapers... but no EDI!  Garrus and I weren't sitting on a beach either... and it well... I think I accidentally chose the right ending for me - synthesis was more emotionally satisfying.  I may have selflessly died, but everything else just ended up so much better and even the reapers were still there to help with re-building.  I love how even my "accidental ending" worked out best for me with this game.

I'm rather glad that I waited for the trilogy to come out and was able to enjoy a seamless play through of all three games at once.  The continuity was wonderful and I found that I liked them all equally.  The first game was like a wonderful movie with a great plot.  The second game was like a great TV series with a bunch of superb episodes tied up with a fantastic two hour series finale that pulled it all together.  The third game will always hold a place in my heart for a stupid reason... I finally got to have my silver hair!  I don't know why, but since my own hair has gone quite gray, I've taken to putting silver hair on all my female characters and I really like the look and for some reason the character feels more like "me".  After hearing all the rumours of the bad ending, I had some trepidation going into the third game, but the "extended cut" ending possibly made things more clear because I had absolutely no issues with the ending I got (particularly the "synthesis" ending).


Note my glorious silver hair!

I also enjoyed the Femshep options within the series.  She could be more feminine and choose a more nurturing, kindly role more consistent with traditional female qualities, but alternatively she could be more executive and badass in making decisions for the greater good that disregarded more individual emotions.  I haven't played the game as a male, but if the conversational options are the same, then it once again goes to my point about how non-gendered video gaming is and we have the freedom to not have to conform to any gendered stereotypes.  In some ways the paragon/renegade dichotomy is loosely reflective of traditional gender roles where women tend towards conversation, people-pleasing and "kinder, gentler" non-violent problem resolutions, and males tend towards more facts, quicker decision making that is more oriented towards the end goal, and more use of violent resolutions.  A quick search showed that interestingly, most people chose the paragon route, yet only 18% chose Femshep... so there were a lot of males that chose a role more traditionally "feminine" in play style.



I think it's rather sad that feminists got all riled up by the Femshep blonde hair issue,  but seemed to have mostly overlooked the fact that in the game itself, gender was rather fluid and multiple representations of feminist thought were also present in the game.




While it seems that many feminists took issue with female looking Asari, and saw this as yet another example of "sexism in video games" , it was overlooked that the Asari also be seen to be representative of sex-positive feminism  The Asari were sexually liberated and yet still powerful, while remaining distinctly female.  The "Consort" was even a powerful and respected individual who essentially worked in the sex industry and these sex positive feminists tend toward believing that "real" feminists can actually work in tge sex industry.  Rather than viewing the Asari as sexist because they pander to men with their mix of innocence and sexuality, one could actually view them as being celebratory of everything that is distinctly female and even somewhat representational of several lines of feminist philosophy.  The Asari being an all-female matriarchal race that can procreate with other species (regardless of gender), while retaining their own DNA structure might be said to be somewhat representational of the Separatist/Lesbian Separatist Feminist movements, which sometimes advocates that women should form a separate matriarchal societal structure away from men. Additionally Lipstick Feminism  (which rationalizes self-objectification as social power over men) was touched on by the fact that yes, they were all attractive. Intersectionality was even broached by the fact that not all Asari are considered equal, but that there is discrimination against those who breed with other Asari.  Overall, the Asari race were fairly interesting in their representation of women and represented several viewpoints about sexuality, power and matriarchy.



The Krogan's too might at first glance seem to represent traditional values of the aggressive male provider and the protected female childbearer and be the antithesis of modern radical feminism (particularly as the veiling is reminiscent of the burqa, which covers a woman from head to toe in many Islamic Countries)... however the Krogans align with the current "mommy wars" where women that choose to opt out of a career and stay at home to raise children seem to be wanting to find a feminist identity and have their cultural equality recognized.  This form of feminism is sometimes aligned with New Feminism where women are equal to, but very different from men.  The female Krogan was rescued, protected and escorted because of her elevated and revered status as "childbearer" (and the male Krogans were quite disposable), but when push came to shove, the female Krogan was also able to defend herself.  While reverence for the female childbearer can quickly slide into oppression in some cultures, there is a renewed western interest in finding  alternate feminist philosophies that support women as childbearer and in supporting issues such as maternity leave.




The Human race in the game was actually fairly representative of the current human race in the western world... where women can be engineers or ship captains... where women are treated the same as men, and given the same respect, but where women apparently have still not broken through the glass ceiling to the higher echelons of power such as the Earth representative to the Council or Shepard's Commanding Officer.  Very little of the human condition was actually shown in the game except that there was a broader acceptance of homosexuality than probably exists in some parts of the current western world (with the exception of Canada... where we don't care who you marry, as long as you both like hockey!).

There was also the Hunar... a completely non-sexualized, non-gendered race... though I don't know that this actually represents any feminist philosophy! LOL!

I've not personally gotten into bed with any specific feminist philosophy... which brings me full cycle and back to the game Mass Effect and the TV series Babylon 5.  I like gray.  I like looking at various viewpoints and exploring them all.   For me, video games represent a freeing of gender... where a gamer can play as their own gender or a different gender,  but can also choose a more aggressive "male" play style... or they can choose a more traditionally regarded "female" role of being a caretaker, concerned with the emotional well being of those around them.  I could choose to use guns or could choose powers.  I could choose to negotiate, or could often choose a more violent resolution.  I could have chosen to continue my romance with Kaiden... but instead I chose Garrus!  I loved the game Mass Effect, it made me think - not just about the choices I made in the game, but also about parallels to real life and a greater acceptance of different philosophies and ideas.  Sometimes there is no black and white... kill the bad guys or control the bad guys... sometimes I guess there is "synthesis" and the creation of something new... and I explored many new ideas in thinking about this game... but mostly I finally got the new experience of a satisfying virtual romance, so the game will always hold a special place in my heart for that alone.   :)
(and if you managed to actually make it through this huge ramble of a dissociative mess of a blog... then you too hold a special place in my heart!)   read


12:08 PM on 06.12.2013  

More questions than answers...



As with many console launches in the past, this year I've come away with more questions than answers.  I'm usually a Sony fangirl, but for the next generation of game consoles, I'm still undecided between the Xbox One and the PS4 (PC gaming isn't a realistic option in our two gamer set up, and Nintendo doesn't offer the games I personally prefer to play).

In many ways, both systems are pretty similar.
Both consoles offer:

*  500GB HDD (the PS4 HDD is swappable, the XB1 HDD can only be upgraded with MS proprietary HDD's - however, the XB1 can use USB drives for additional storage of games.  Sony has not confirmed USB drive compatibility and neither has confirmed if games can be played directly from USB detachable drives.  With Sony, games currently can't be stored anywhere but on the console HDD and can't be transferred to a detachable drive).
*  Game DVR (recording gameplay) - Sony via Ustream, and Microsoft via Twitch
*  BluRay/DVD players
*  Netflix and various TV apps
*  Cloud storage and cloud services such as gamesave backup, cloud storage of digital games deleted from the HDD, automatic updates, etc.
*  motion control games (though Kinect is integrated into the system and the PSEye will be sold separately)
*  second screen gaming via smartphones/tablets
*  HDMI output only (no output options for older TV units on either console)
*  Party chat... both systems will have party chat, though this is likely restricted to those paying the monthly fee of PSPlus or Gold (and hopefully Sony has resolved the voicechat issues that plagued the PS3 system!)

In other ways, both consoles differ...
Differences:

Price:  
PS3 will be $399.00 and the Xbox One will be $499.00 at launch

"Always Online": 
The Xbox One requires an internet connection at least once every 24 hours to function.  The PS3 can work offline, but the reality is that most games have an online component that may require online connectivity and new games often require a current OS update or even a patch in order to function properly.  While the system doesn't require a check in once every 24 hours, the reality for me is that this is a fairly negligible requirement because it's rare for me to be without access to an internet connection and much of my gaming is online anyway.  This is a personal decision though, and obviously doesn't speak to those that might have less reliable internet access.

Gold, silver and PSPlus: 
With both consoles, it's pay if you want to play online.  Microsoft has not yet clarified if Silver accounts will still exist for offline single player games, but the required "internet check in" could well simply be the same as accessing your XBL friend's list or buying content from the store... both work just fine without paying a monthly Gold fee.  Single player, offline games (an endangered species) may be playable on both systems without the need for a monthly fee, and on the PS4, apps such as netflix will continue to be available without a monthly fee (access to most apps is pay walled behind Gold on the Xbox).  Microsoft and Sony have both confirmed that multiple user ID's can work from a console that has Gold or PSPlus... but neither have clarified how online access works with multiple consoles.  Essentially, do my husband and I both have to pay a monthly fee to play online games together... and if so, will either MS or Sony offer a family deal of some sort on the cost.




Sharing games:
The Xbox One has the following options:  You can lend a digital game once to anyone who has been on your friend's list for 30 days. Sony has not confirmed any information regarding the sharing of digital games.  I like the concept of being able to trade or loan my digital games and the idea of trading my game code with a friend who lives thousands of miles away for their game code... and each of us getting a free new game to play (either a loan or a permanent trade) - it's a win for me.  Currently a digital game can be shared on two activated PS3 consoles, but again this has not been confirmed for the PS4.  Microsoft has mentioned something about "family" access to purchased games... and from what I've read, Microsoft is saying that you can have a "family" of 10 people (who don't actually need to be related) who can share your purchased digital games, with the caveat that only one person can be playing that game at a time.  Still.. this "10 person family" could mean a lot of game lending and lots of free games! (Provided I can find some friends who share my gaming tastes and want to be in my family and have me as part of theirs!).  Sony hasn't clarified any game sharing strategies aside from the usual retail disc - hand it to a friend - which isn't viable for me because none of my local friends play video games.   So far, both are saying that they allow sharing of digital and retail games between various accounts on the SAME console (for achievement/trophies, gamesaves, etc), but I'm personally much more interested in how games will work in a multi-console family environment.  Currently on the PS3 I can buy a digital game and activate it on both my husband's console and my console, under the 2 PS3 restriction, but we can both play the game concurrently from our own consoles.  Neither Sony nor Microsoft has clarified if this type of concurrent family sharing will be possible on their next generation consoles, and frankly it reduced the cost of a full price, new release game to half price if my husband and I both want to play the game online together (which is the only reason I bought Borderlands in it's digital format).  So many questions... so much clarification that still needs to come out.
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Used games: 
Both Sony and Microsoft have confirmed that there will be no fees for trading in a used game, but both have left this up to the publisher who could merely modify their online pass format to require an access code for each time the game is installed.  I see the used game issue as being pretty much the same for both Microsoft and Sony, excepting that Microsoft allows for full install of retail games to the HDD so the game has to be deactivated, when the retail copy is sold or traded.  Sony doesn't have the full HDD installation and their form of DRM is that the disc has to be in the tray to verify game ownership.  Again, to me, this is pretty much a draw.  The MS system is a little more complex, but the full digital install also allows for things like the "family sharing between 10 friends" thing and digital loans, whereas Sony's system for retail games is more reliant on trading the game in, or physically getting it to a friend.  Overall, for me personally, and not having many local gaming friends, the digital deactivation seems a small price to pay for the convenience of trading/sharing digital games with far away friends.  However, what hasn't been said is how much control publishers will have over this digital trading policy... there is no mention if publishers can require a fee to be paid, even if Microsoft doesn't.  Once again, I'm left with more questions than answers.



I've always been a bit of a Sony fangirl, but overall I'm still waiting to make a decision regarding my next gen console.  My husband will soon be retired and gaming will be a big part of our lives.  He tried retirement last year and we had many happy afternoons and evening playing MAG online together.  He got bored and decided to return to the workforce for a few more years to further build up our retirement finances and because he found a job he really loves.  Most days. I now play my single player games and most evenings we still play MAG together.  My decision on next gen gaming will depend on what offers the best value for us... a two gamer household where I am a heavy gamer that plays a variety of games and my husband pretty much only plays online shooter games but likes to play them together (though I'm hoping I can convince him to try more single player games once he retires!).  Apparently some type of monthly fee will have to be paid if we want to play online together... but it's a matter of seeing which console will offer the best value in terms of monthly fees, and also in terms of the ability to share games.  I'm simply unwilling to totally write off the Xbox One at this point and instead I'll play wait and see to find out more information about what Sony and MS will offer.  Much of the information out there is confusing, and this is just a quick blog to put my confusion and thoughts to paper.  Hopefully, over the coming months we'll find out more information in order to make an educated decision about which console is best for each individual... because really, that's what gaming is all about... personal comfort with your console of choice and getting back to simply playing games and having fun!   read


6:50 PM on 06.04.2013  

Fun Facts about Females



Meet Jane.  She owns a smartphone or tablet.  The install base on Android and iOS devices alone is larger than all the current gen consoles combined.  According to Flurry (an app analytics company) there are also about 26 million unique users who play games approximately 25 minutes per day on their smart device.  53% of these smartphone gamers are women.  
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As of last year, half (51%) of U.S. smartphone owners were women, and half of smartphone owners have used voice commands.  Jane likes her smartphone!
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According to a 2010 report for Popcap, Jane is among the 55% of women who play social games on their PC or smartphones.  The most popular games at the time were Bejeweled Blitz, Farmville and Mafia Wars.
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While Jane is a majority in the smartphone/social gaming world, she is still a minority in the console world.  According to a 2010 report for Nintendo by M2 Research, female gamers made up 26% of PS3/Xbox/Wii gamers, and 80% of that 26% were Wii gamers (with 11% on the Xbox and 9% on the PS3... but this is 11% and 9% of only that original 26%).  Even if these figures have changed over the years, women still make up only a small fraction of Xbox/PS3 gamers.  Also of note is that women make up the majority of Facebook (57%) and Twitter users ((59%), which is confirmed by various other studies that generally put the gender split at close to even for those social media networks.  Additional data shows that while 80% of female console owners may be using a Wii... they also make up almost 49% of the Wii's total user base in the U.S.
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Jane is part of the 61% of Nielsen TV viewers who checked her email while watching TV, and she does this more often than Joe.
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Devs are making games for Jane.  A survey of devs attending GDC this year showed that 58.39% of them are making their next game for a smartphone/tablet - not the PS4, WiiU or the Xbox One.  In fact, the next Halo game will be a Windows 8 game... not just on PC, but also for tablets and smartphones.  Most gamers are quite familiar with the various stories of developers who are now focusing on mobile gaming... Electronic Arts, Square Enix, Epic Games, Capcom, Sega... they all make smartphone games.  As gamers, we've all seen the stories of devs like Nihilistic Software (creator of games like Playstation Move Heroes, Black Ops Declassified and Resistance: Burning Skies) or Incognito (Warhawk/Starhawk) who no longer make console games and have moved over to making portable smartphone games.  With the addition of the female demographic, smartphone and portable gaming is growing, while console gaming has seen very little growth in recent years.  The financial risks on smaller portable games is also an attraction for developers in this current world where expensive console games often don't meet financial expectations.
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Jane is among the 54% of Skype users that are female.
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Jane like Sci Fi and Fantasy.  The highest rated cable TV show among females is "The Walking Dead".  Women make up 57% of Star Trek fans.  Even "Game of Thrones", a fantasy epic that is filled with nearly-naked women and strong, manly men draws in 42% of it's viewer base from women.
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Jane also don't mind shows about nearly naked beautiful women... the highest rated network TV show among women is... America's Next Top Model.
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Jane likes sports.  She's still a minority, but 37% of Nascar's fanbase is female.  43% to 50% of the NFL's fanbase is... yeah, I too was surprised...  female.  The sport that really draws in the female viewership though is Figure Skating at 70% female viewership.
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Putting it all together:

What these random "fun facts about females" illustrate is that women are not a demographic that abhors violence.  We apparently like violent sports and violent TV shows just fine.  We also don't mind nearly naked women in our entertainment if the viewing statistics for America's Next Top Model and shows like "Game of Thrones" are to be believed.  The "male dominated" realm of video games are only dominated by males in the sub-category of console gaming... women are the slight majority in most measurements of social, mobile and smartphone gaming.  Women don't have an issue with tech and they own smartphones in equal or greater numbers to men.  All in all, women aren't really all that much different from men in terms of things we like.

The other fact is that women ARE changing gaming.  It's not the Anita Sarkeesians or the individual voices motivating this change... it's that very large, nebulous, demographic that, when combined with a male demographic, can create a powerhouse. Women already like smartphones and social gaming.  They like the motion controls of the Wii.  They like Skype, Facebook, Twitter and the ability to use social networking while watching TV.  They'll use voice commands.  They even like sports.  Yup, you guessed it! The Xbox One might just as well be called the XXBox One because it's design is no longer XY (male) centric.  Smartglass, Kinect, multitasking, social network integration all seem integral to the new XXbox design and whether Microsoft knows it or not, they've designed a gaming system that might make console gamers out of some of those social gaming, facebooking, skyping, TV watching, Twittering women.  Microsoft may or may not market to women directly (as Nintendo very successfully did with the Wii), but the fact is that they have positioned themselves well to do so.

Now before the manly men who play Call of Duty get their boxers in a twist, the reality is that Microsoft offers these as "extras".  You'll still pay your monthly fee to access almost all services, you'll still get your Halo's and Call of Duties and other manly games... but if you game on the new XXbox One, you may also find more and more female voices in your games.  You may find your wife, your girlfriend or your sister wanting to use the XXbox.  It might be a woman sitting next to you enjoying the new Steven Spielberg Halo TV series.  Increasingly we're already seeing Fable and other series being co-opted by Kinect integration, and this was always going to continue because the only way to increase the current demographic is to attract more "casual" gamers, male AND female.  Increasingly we've been seeing console games adopt social gaming financial models such as microtransactions and "free to play" that turns out to not be quite so "free".  This is simply a reality and those models will sit alongside the "season passes" and DLC driven console models.  Video gaming is changing and will continue to change as it has since it's inception... but the current changes?  Well, to some degree these changes could well be driven by women, females, girls... those oppressed poor creatures in the manly man's world of video games.  When men weren't looking, we may have stealthily crept in... and taken over the man cave!  (and it really needs to be re-decorated... maybe new curtains and a pretty fern in the corner?)



Now obviously not all women are "Jane".  Jane is a generality, an amalgamation of various statistics done at various points in time that merely give a vague indication of what Jane likes.  I'm sure that there really is no XXbox conspiracy... but I just found it rather interesting that many of the studies and stats I've noticed over the years seem to mesh together in the recent Xbox One design.  Women are all different, just like men are all different, and me, I'm an "Elsa"... and I'll be buying a PS4.  :)   read


12:18 PM on 04.23.2013  

The sound of many hands fapping...

... is now silenced. Apparently the fap button has been replaced by a generic "like" button and previous fap records have all disappeared. I find I rather miss seeing the fap numbers on some of my previous blogs as the faps often outnumbered the comments.



The urban dictionary defines "fap" as: The onomatopoeic representation of masturbation. Often used to suggest that something is attractive. I have to say that I've always felt a little nebulous on the "fap" button... but I don't know that I like the new "like" button. A "like" button just seems so... common. Fap was original, it was interesting... it was somewhat sexist in that the word "fap" is apparently much more related to the sound of a male masturbating than a female... but certainly the word could apply to both I guess. Words are what you make of them... and certainly with a new word like this, women could "own" the word and make it theirs too. It was immature, it was stupid... but it was Dtoid - and Destructoid is place where any gamer is generally welcomed with open arms - regardless of their gender, race, sexuality... or even the big one - their console of choice!

I get that with all the "sexism in video games" stuff going on right now, that Dtoid may be wanting to change their image a bit. I was pretty happy to see fewer boobs on the front page and more corgis. I guess the combination of the unofficial "also cocks" slogan combined with the "fap" upvoting does create a bit of a boys locker room feel... but I always personally just made myself at home and added "or boobs!" to the "also cocks"... and the fapping was just... well, as noted, I was a bit conflicted about it, but I miss it now that it's gone.



"like". It's just so damn generic! The little thumbs up sign may be a universal upvoting symbol, but when combined with "like" it just makes me feel like I'm on facebook... and I'm NOT a fan of Facebook. Next thing you know we'll be having a "poke" option... though frankly, at this point, that would make me smile, because well... yeah, we all have dirty minds.



I'm not sure why the "fap" button is gone... but I must say I don't like the "like" button. We need something else. Why not a "love" button, or a "recommend" button... or even "upvote" or "kisses" or ... I dunno... what would you like to see... or do you like "like"?

EDIT: Oh wait... what about a "Hugs" button?? I'd love to see that my blog got 6 hugs! I'd love to hug a blog that I "liked"... in fact sometimes you hug something you don't even like, but respect... like that chatty, nosy Great-Aunt that comes for a visit and you sort of feel you have to hug her... which is sort of like those really well written blogs that you don't particularly agree with, but do think they deserve an upvote.
Hugs... I want a hugs button! :)

  read


12:04 PM on 04.08.2013  

Deal with it.



Yup, the next Xbox might not be for you. The rumours of an "always on" internet connected next-generation Xbox aren't particularly new, though recent leaks and the distinct lack of any outright denial seem to further confirm these earlier rumours. Many gamers of course think back to the Great PSN outage of 2011, where the PSN online gaming system went down for 24 days and Playstation console owners were only able to play offline, single player games, and couldn't get their CoD fix. The fact is that no online service can guarantee connectivity in the face of determined hackers or even world events or natural disasters that can impact on connectivity. The other fact is that there are still areas of various Countries that simply don't have reliable Internet and even those with good Internet access often have bandwidth caps and throttling issues to deal with.

Still, that being said.. the question is "why?". Why would an always-on, Internet connected next generation Xbox make sense? It makes sense if it's not merely a gaming device, but instead offers additional services. The gossip is that the next Xbox isn't for gamers, it's a set top box, entertainment center for everyone... that might play games. So what will this super duper, set top box, entertainment cornucopia of online goodness get us?

Skype:
VOIP phone services are gaining ground. Microsoft bought Skype for 8.5 billion bucks so it's a good bet that while you'll still be able to group up with other Xbox owners for a party chat, you'll also be able call your kid on his cell phone via your Xbox, or even call granny on her landline. Skype is also a messaging system, so you'll be able to nag your husband to pick up milk on his way home from work, without ever putting down your controller. You'll even be able to take a skype call in the middle of gaming without stopping the game (how convenient! NOT.) There are even Skype phones, and it's entirely possible for people to use Skype and to get rid of a landline based phone system and use VOIP instead. My own cable company has done this and my own home phone system is in fact VOIP... and there really isn't much difference from a landline in terms of quality. This unfortunately means having an "always on" Internet connection though (and no emergency 911 dialing) but for those that have already given up a land line and only use a cell phone (an increasing number of the population), this is a viable secondary option.


IPTV:
It's been known for some time that Microsoft wants a piece of the IPTV action. More and more people are cutting the lines to their cable companies provision of Game of Thrones, and turning to Internet Protocol TV solutions. Netflix is approaching 30 million customers. Microsoft wants those customers. They've claimed that they want TV to be an interactive experience. When viewers see a news story, they'll be able to do an instant poll - like what Xbox owners experienced during the Presidential debates last year. There are a increasing number of TV based apps becoming available and additionally, and more importantly, the current Xbox is already distributed as a secondary set-top converter box for some Internet-protocol based TV providers such as Canada's Telus (a phone company that uses internet to provide integrated phone/TV/Internet services) and trial runs have been done with Comcast and Verizon in the U.S. The current gen Xbox was designed as a gaming console, but the fact is that it is already being used as a set top digital conversion box for TV services and this business is booming. With new technologies like Microsoft's "illumiRoom" where the TV screen can be projected around the room, or the "smartglass" technology that can allow for interactive TV polls and other forms of social interaction while watching TV... Microsoft is well poised to bring new experiences to TV and movies.



Yup...note that subscription to Gold in the fine print?

DVR and Interactive Program Guides:
At work and forgot to set the hockey game to record? Do it on your smart phone and your TV show will record at home. Want to know what movies are playing on the 200 channels you get? Say "Xbox show movies" and your on screen TV guide changes to filter only movies. See an advertisement for a new show? Tell Xbox to find it and record it. No manual searching and inputting letters... just talk to your Xbox (and hope it understands you!) The reality is that the verbal Kinect input has better options as a user-interface than as a gaming input. Currently the actual recording is usually done on a separate central unit provided by the TV service, but there's no reason that the next Xbox can't actually BE this central set top unit instead of a secondary unit... and there is a strong likelihood that the next gen Xbox will be a DVR both for TV shows, and also for the ass-kicking you took in that last game of Battlefield. In the end, you won't be streaming media from your PC to your Xbox... you'll be streaming from your Xbox to your tablet or smart phone, or even your PC. Unfortunately, all of this wonderfully convenient tech has a price, and the price is that an Internet connection is required for most of this to work.

Cloud-based Services:
One of the wonderful advantages of being a PS+ user is that my PS3 updates in the middle of the night. I turn it on to see that there has been a system update, or various game patches, or just cloud storage of my game saves. I have no doubt that Microsoft will also introduce this convenience... but the catch of course is that your system must always be connected to the Internet. In addition to updates and gamesave storage, cloud services are gaining popularity as repositories for our music, video, photo and data collections. With Internet connectivity, we can access our personal data from anywhere, on most any Internet device. With Microsoft's Skydrive cloud storage it's not at all unlikely that while playing the next Elder Scrolls game that doesn't require an Internet connection, we may well be listening to our personal music collection via Skydrive... which does need that streaming Internet connection (oh, and of course we'll be waiting on those Skype calls!). I don't doubt that at some point we'll be able to record directly to the cloud and then stream our DVR recording to our Xbox, to our Surface Tablet or to our Windows 8 phone.... all of which of course requires that ubiquitous Internet connection.

Apps and more Apps:
With the creation of the Windows 8 app store, Microsoft needs more customers! As with most App stores, it's likely that Microsoft gets a percentage based cut of sales and in-app purchases (Apple takes 30%!). The ability to buy Fruit Ninja on your Windows 8 phone, and then download it and play it with Kinect on your home Xbox, while letting your kid play a different copy on your Surface tablet... Microsoft is happy. Soon you'll also be buying your music and movies (and maybe even some games!) though Microsoft store fronts... and faster than you can blink, Microsoft might actually be the next Apple (in their dreams anyway).


Pricing:
The pricing on the unit will likely be CHEAP! It's not unlikely that the basic unit will continue to be free if you sign up with certain TV providers, and Xbox and these providers will essentially form a symbiotic relationship. Get a free Xbox for games if you sign up with Telus Optik TV... or if you already have an Xbox, signing up for Telus Optik gets you an extra digital converter for a TV in your home... with Kinect voice commands to change channels, volume, read out your Skype messages, or tell you that you look pretty today.
As a retail unit, there is also likely to be a cheap $99.00 or less version that essentially competes with Roku or other current IPTV solutions, but it will also play app based game and possibly blu-ray movies. Of course, in addition to the low, low price you'll also have to pay a monthly gold membership fee in order to access the content - and frankly this is where the money earning power is for Microsoft.
For a slightly higher price, you'll even be able to play full retail games and watch blu-ray movies on your Xbox! Wow... what a novel concept... playing games on your digital tuner/IPTV/Skype/Skydrive/Kinect/blu-ray wonder box! When you subscribe to a TV service you'll likely be able to upgrade to this unit for a few dollars more or be able to buy it at your local retail store as a different SKU/model. If you want to commit to a gold subscription from the birth through the terrible two's of your next child, you'll even get a pretty good deal on the price. In fact, buying the next Xbox without committing to a monthly subscription may not even be an option.





TL:DR messy Conclusion:
This entire blog is pure speculation, but I think that the next generation Xbox may not be a gaming console at all. It may well be a set top, digital conversion box offering Skype, IPTV, app-based games and cloud based storage for photos, music and data. Rumours are that if you want to play retail games on the next generation Xbox, you'll have to actually upgrade to a higher SKU that allows for retail games to be played. Gaming is likely going to be an "extra" on the next Xbox. As an investor, I like this. Microsoft never has to produce one single game to actually make a massive profit. They can make money on subscription services, the app store, Skype or Skydrive add-on services, and licensing arrangements with TV service providers as a set top box. The money I have invested with Microsoft though my retirement savings will be well rewarded!

As a gamer - this frightens me. It's not the "always on" Internet connection that frightens me. Anyone who currently has an IPTV based provider like Telus is already reliant on an always-on Internet connection. Bandwidth caps already don't apply to TV services and likely won't apply to many of the other cloud based services they choose to offer as a provider. No, it's all the "junk". I don't want Skype calls interrupting my gaming, I don't want two TV shows recording in the background or to have to turn on my Xbox to see what's on TV (though of course, turning "on" the Xbox will be a thing of the past because it will be always on, and always connected to the internet... like most set-top boxes are). I don't want my music collection on Skydrive, or to play Angry Birds on my TV using Kinect. Mostly I don't want yet another monthly bill I have to pay and I just want to play my games.


Which is why I'll likely get a PS4... unless I eventually switch my TV provider to Telus and then.. yeah, dammit, I'm not gonna turn down that free Xbox - even if it's always on and always needs to be connected to the Internet to work, and needs a monthly fee like my hydro or TV or telephone or cell phone or crap! Reality is that much of our life is already reliant on an Internet connection, and monthly payments, whether we realize this or not.

Whether I buy a next gen Xbox for gaming or not... I'll be keeping an eye on my stocks as Microsoft possibly expands the Xbox into something everyone may want... even a gamer.

  read


11:03 AM on 04.02.2013  

I think I'm going to be defiant!



I got to level 157 or so in Defiance during the beta week... so apparently I liked the game. It releases today on my Birthday, April 2nd, and there's a pretty decent chance I'll be getting the game...because Birthday monies from my Mom for a game! Why this game? Well, the most common comment overheard was "it's like Borderlands on steroids", and I do enjoy Borderlands!

Trion Worlds is definitely trying something innovative with the game. Not the game itself, no, the tie in to the TV series. Events happening in the TV series will be reflected in the game, and what happens in the game will be part of the TV show's world. It's an interesting premise that adds a touch of interest to the game. All updates to the game will be free, and the cost of entry is the basic cost of the $60.00 game. It seems that there a structure in place that also might support microtransactions, but it also seems that it would be more for buying "extras" - things not needed for the game itself and more in the way of cosmetic upgrades with outfits or vehicles or random weapons. The game seems to have a fair bit of potential and I'm going to run over some of the high points and low points.



Character creation: The beta offered a choice of four characters - 2 female and 2 male. Once the gender and race was chosen, there were then 4 additional options that primarily provided a starting weapon and outfit related to class. For the female characters, the 4 options allowed for choice of clothing ranging from slightly slutty (the gunslinger/shotgunner) to not-at-all-slutty (the engineer), with a few choices in between. I went with the basic military option which was "pretty, but not slutty". The male characters don't get to be slutty... but instead it was just a choice of differing styles. You'll soon have access to various weapons and your initial choice doesn't limit you in any way - so go ahead and just pick which ever character option/clothing styles appeal the most. Race may play a point later in the game, but during the beta, it made absolutely no difference. The full game is also likely to offer additional options to what the beta showed.

Gameplay: This is a third person shooter. The guns feel pretty good and everyone should easily be able to find weapons they like. As you use a weapon or weapon class, you strengthen your abilities with it. The guns aren't realistic and like Borderlands, they often include elemental effects. You can trade or give away your guns to your friends... but beware that they are leveled. I gave my level 6 husband an awesome level 107 sniper rifle, that he unfortunately couldn't use. The shotguns have a range that is pretty close to the sniper rifles, though from a distance, the sniper rifle allows for more accurate headshots. There is a bit of sticky aim, but in a game like this, it's not so much about skill, as simply having fun. The controls are pretty standard with crouch, roll, fire, zoom... similar to most any shooter game. There is additionally the L2 use of a "special power". Unlike Borderlands, you can choose your special power, it's not tied to your class, and you can even change it later. There is invisibility, overcharge with extra weapon damage, blur, which is a speed boost, and decoy that sends out a decoy to attract enemy attention. Like Borderlands, there is then various smaller options you can choose to strengthen your main power. There is a cool down period, and the special powers don't really seem to have a huge impact, but they're fun to play with. There is some minor crafting in that guns can be broken down and you can re-use parts and mods to create your own unique guns. There are very rare ammo stations where you can refill your ammo, but mostly you get ammo by running over enemy drops when they die. They usually drop ammo, money and occasionally a fun new weapon.



Open World: The map shown during the beta is apparently only one small fraction of the full map available... and it was HUGE! It was mostly Southern California, with a mix of grasslands and dusty, dry areas. You gain a vehicle pretty early in the game and can easily call it by pushing up on your D-pad (and if you got stuck somewhere, you just hopped out and called your vehicle again). There is quite a variety of vehicles and they drive well, though they feel a little bit loose... but they have a speed burst option by pressing X, and there is a wonderful sensation of traveling far distances and being able to go off-road that is very freeing and unrestricted. The only negative is because the world is so large, there seems to be a little lag in terms of being "drawn in" and you'll often be hurtling down a road only to ram into an invisible object. After a second or two, another vehicle or roadblock will materialize as the object that blocked you, and these are usually instances where you can assist some AI in fending off an attack of some nature (bad guys or bugs usually). Within this open world, you see other gamers, and there are constant events going on. In addition to these "help the AI" instances, there are various side quests, there are races where you have to beat a certain time, there are other gamers doing their own main quest lines that you can often just hop into and assist them with. Mostly though... there are the Arkfalls!



Arkfalls: These events pop up randomly all over the map and are essentially mini-boss battles that tend to draw fairly large crowds. They are maked on your map with a rather large red symbol that is hard to miss. They are usually of the "destroy the crystal" or "defend the crystal" types and can involve masses of bugs, giant huge massive bugs, or various humanoid type bad guys - or all of the above. It's quite fun to pull up to an arkfall only to see people driving around the crystal in their vehicle running over the smaller enemy types, to see anywhere from 10 to 30 or more people all running around shooting the various spawning enemies. When you've done several successful arkfalls, there is apparently some form of ingame reward, though this wasn't enabled for the beta.

Campaign: You can progress through the campaign doing various missions and some seem to take place out in the open world, while others warp you to a separate place where you seem to be on your own. The campaign is interesting because you are told to go to an area and free hostages... only you'll sometimes get there and there are other people also doing this section of the campaign, so as long as you are in the area, they might in fact free all the hostages for you. It's a bit disconcerting to arrive and start a mission... only to find you've done it by doing nothing more than standing around. I'm not sure if I like this aspect, though the other campaign sections where you are on your own do make up for these.

Co-op: When grouped up, the group leader can easily launch the group into a co-op game. There is no lobby.. you just play and then are transported to the co-op area when there are enough players (the range for co-op seems to be a minimum of 4, but I'm not sure what the maximum is). The co-op portion is essentially various maps where the players work together to make their way from point A to point B... and point B has a big ass boss for everyone to try and take down. Your teammates can be revived by standing over them and pressing square, even if you don't have the BMG which is a health/reviving tool needed to do this in the main game.

Competitive: I only tried competitive once and it seems that you retain your game level... and I tried this early in the beta and got my ass handed to me by people that were obviously a much higher level than myself. In the beta there was an 8 vs 8 TDM and a 16 vs 16 capture and hold. There is also a competitive mode called "shadow war". It's a larger scale 50 vs 50 format and has changing objectives dependent on the number of people in the game. I didn't try this mode, but it seems that all the competitive modes are somewhat problematic. With clan support I can forsee that the competitive modes may very quickly outpace the average player and unless you are in a large clan with high ranked players, you're going to spend many of your competitive games getting run over by huge vehicles that you don't have access to, or getting hit by superior elemental weapons that again, you don't have access to. They need to balance the multiplayer in some manner, or it may quickly lose popularity and become dominated by a few clans. In multiplayer, apples should be fighting apples... not fighting an entire fruit bowl. I did the recent post-beta survey and it does seem that they realize that their might be an issue with this, so hopefully we'll see some patching down the road.




Overall, Defiance isn't a particularly good game. It has plenty of issues, however there is a certain addictive level in that there is always something to do and the world feels well populated with both real players and NPC's. It's not a unique game, but the basics are familiar and fairly well done. For the PS3 version I played on, there were grouping issues (sometimes difficult to group up, and it was almost always impossible to leave a group when I did get grouped up unless I quit and restarted the game. Additionally, group members showed as being in your group long after they had actually quit the game and entirely shut down their PS3 unit.). These issues need to be fixed and additionally the voice chat was almost entirely non-functional. It would work for a minute or two and then almost completely die. These two issues are close to game-breaking because while the game works as a single player game, it seems infinitely more enjoyable when grouped up with friends.

So if anyone buys the PS3 version of the game, let me know if they fixed the grouping and voice chat issues! Additionally, let me know if gaming sharing works with the PSN digital version of the game, as I was going to buy the digital copy and game share it with my husband! The game isn't "great", but it seems to have a lot of content and might be a good game for me to get my online/social fix... as a break from playing Dark Souls... where I've cleared the Catacombs but still can't bring down Sif! Damn dog... and I really don't even want to kill him because he's so noble and adorable. :(
... and now they've apparently got Demon Souls coming to PS+ as a free game... ugh! I'll definitely need an easier online social game for a break!   read


11:41 AM on 03.22.2013  

Just call me Farmer Elsa!

I never did play Demon Souls... even though I normally love WRPG styled games. I heard it was difficult, as in brutally difficult and when I want to have my ass kicked, I generally load up an online multiplayer FPS game like MAG, or Battlefield 3 or Black Ops 2. I usually play WRPG games for relaxation... to take in the environment and to feel pretty empowered and invincible as I hack n' slash my way through copious critters. I saw Dark Souls on sale over Christmas for only $9.99 and at that price I decided to give it a go.



Ouch! The game is indeed brutal. I'm also finding that it's very much a gamer's game. There isn't much plot, your character can be male or female (I'm playing as a female) and even the gameplay is fairly straight forward. However, the game very much reminds me a lot of older games. There is no map, so there is lots of memorizing of enemy spawns and routes to various save points (the campfires). Leave the save point, take out archer skeletons, take out 4 skeletons in the room, go straight and down the stairs, go up the ladder, run really fast through the area with the big ass dragon and into the stairway on the right, go down the stairs and down the ladder... and dammit! I'm back where I started. It's not just a matter of memorizing routes and where the enemies are, when you finally do find a big ass boss, there is a matter of then observing and memorizing how they do battle, because often this is the only way to beat them... learning their patterns through observation and death. This type of mental mapping exercise takes me back to games like Zork where I often had to make notes and little maps or where I was and how to get back to an earlier objective. I'm now 22 years older than when I first played Zork though, and unfortunately my magical mind mapping powers seem to be missing! I opened a new shortcut and was passing some iron bars when movement caught my eye.. and my immediate reaction was "kill it!". Well, it turned out to be that nice lady vendor who sold me poison arrows and now she doesn't like me. In fact, whenever I pass by, she calls me nasty names and she refuses to sell me anything, let alone those nice poison arrows. I did what any good gamer would do nowadays and hit the internet to see if there is any way to get her to like me again.

Well... apparently I need a whole shitload of souls to take to Oswald who will absolve me of my sin and let the nice raggedy sewer lady sell me my poison arrows again. Seemingly, the best way to get those souls is to farm the Darkroot Garden by using an apparently well known tactic of running past all the enemies in the area and drawing them to a ledge where most of them fall off to their deaths and give you a pretty good soul count each time. However, to use this farming tactic, I need to open a door that costs another 20,000 souls... so I can use an earlier farming tactic of letting the big ass dragon kill the skeletons on the bridge and getting their souls (though I'm still determined to kill that dragon at some point! I keep trying, but he heals himself and I can't get the hang of melee battle with him... the foot stomp is a one hit kill!)



So I farmed the big red ass dragon until I had my 20,000 souls... opened the door... and then farmed the crap out of Darkroot Garden to get enough souls to absolve my sin - all so I can get some poison arrows. Only a gamer would do this. The mindless repetition of grinding...all to get some shiny bauble (or poison flying bauble). Now I know that grinding and farming is often regarded as a poor game mechanic... a way of artificially extending gameplay or worst, almost a way to "cheat" to make the game easier... but there's also an addictive and soothing quality to it. I have to admit that I have a secret fondness for grinding. I often tend to over-level myself in RPG games in order to make the game a little easier - going back to that personal preference for single player games to provide me with relaxation. Farming is simply a variation on grinding... more often done to acquire a product or money rather than simply ranking up, but farming or grinding... the repetition alone I find to be very relaxing. I then went on to Blighttown... and promptly went back to farming Darkroot Garden again to get enough souls to buy the Poisonbite ring from Oswald. I seem to die pretty quickly from poison and I hate having to rush through areas rather than spending my time exploring every nook and cranny.

I find I'm really enjoying the game though I've been soloing it and I guess at some point I'll have to try the online (in order to get more sunlight medals and the upgraded lightning spell... cause that thing rocks!). I hate dealing with invaders though. The first time someone showed up in my game, I quickly went to the gestures screen to greet them with a bow and say "hi". He stabbed me mid-bow and killed me.... probably while thinking what a nOOb I was! LOL! I was initially quite angry... but then laughed when I realized the job of invaders is apparently to kill the invadee... and I made it really, really easy for him!

I don't know if I'm quite ready for Blighttown yet... I may go back and run through some earlier areas to make sure I didn't miss anything... and yes, to farm or grind. Sometimes I just want to relax and it's therapeutic to deal with the familiar. Sometimes funny incidents take place that make it all worthwhile. I love the slow, huge stone knights in Darkroot garden and until I got the hang of dodging and backstabbing them, they often killed me.. so I sometimes go back there to hone my skills. This huge stone knight in a lower part of the garden suddenly jumped backward to avoid my sword thrust... and he jumped right off a cliff, killing himself. I have to admit that I laughed my ass off!



More farming!

I've taken a bit of a break from Dark Souls though, and have been trying out the Defiance beta. It's an FPS/MMO hybrid and plays somewhat like Borderlands... but the grinding! OMG, the grinding! I've become very addicted to this pretty average game in a very short period of time and find I can easily spend hours and hours just doing Arkfall events which are somewhat similar in their repetition patterns, but also relaxing because yeah... farming for dollars. At this point in the beta we don't even get much of a reward for the Arkfall events, but it's the grinding that I find addictive, and gauging by the number of other people chasing Arkfall events, I'm definitely not the only one that enjoys a little farming.



So yeah... just call me Farmer Elsa! (and provided they fix the voice chat in the PS3 version of Defiance, I'll probably pick it up... so if you feel like doing a little Arkfall farming, hit me up!)


EDIT: and I'll fully admit when I'm wrong... the game does have story, it just doesn't hold your hand to tell it. Read this blog if you haven't already... it's absolutely awesome:
http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Chonglei+Chen/what-dark-souls-takes-from-shadow-of-the-colossus-228426.phtml   read


4:19 PM on 03.13.2013  

Me and my digital dick...



I've been a gamer since I was a nameless, genderless, adventurer in games like Zork and Myst.  I then moved on to the Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dales series of games and I always had the option to play as a female.  I didn't even realize that being a woman who played video games was something unusual, because I always managed to find games that accommodated playing as a female or alternatively they were simplistic games where gender wasn't present (pacman was pretty genderless, aside from the name, until Ms. Pacman came along!) .  These WRPG games all had wonderful male and female characters and even the occasional romantic interest for those choosing to play as female (though I still dislike Anomen...  such a whiny, high maintenance boyfriend he was!).  Eventually I moved onto console games when my husband bought me a Dreamcast one Christmas.


D2... I remember feeling sooo cold!

I could still continue to be Lara as I raided tombs and shimmied along ledges, I was a woman surviving a plane crash in a creepy arctic wasteland in D2, I could be a girl rescuing the President's daughter by hitting bad guys over the head with a giant tuna in Dynamite Cop, I was a female in Phantasy Star and other games like Carrier... but gradually an odd thing happened... and an odd appendage started to appear more often on my avatars... I was growing a digital dick. I was Claire or Jill in much of the Resident Evil games, but occasionally I morphed into a male character. In TimeStalkers I had to play much of the game as a spiky, blue-haired boy until I could switch out to one of the 3 playable female characters.  In games like Shenmue, Blue Stinger, Shadowman and the early Tom Clancy games... well it was a full on twig and berries show.

When I moved on to the PSP and PS3, things actually got worst.  Increasingly I found myself with stubbly facial growth and pant protrusions.   I guess part of the issue is that my interest in various genres had grown and I also had the time to play more games... so increasingly my option to play as a female was more limited, because I was simply playing more games.   It's actually somewhat astonishing, given the historical demographics of a very strongly male audience for video games that for so long in gaming, there has so often been the option to play as a female character.  I'm not sure if this was a nod to the very small number of females who have always played video games, if this was simply an option that males seemed to like having, or if devs have generally just tried to keep games somewhat "genderless" in hopes of attracting broader audiences.  Regardless of the reasons, it's still pretty awesome!

I could probably have continued to play as female if I had limited myself to various specific games or genres like WRPG's, but as I came to accept my digital dick, an interesting thing began to happen... regardless of the gender of the character, it was still "me".  I was the one crawling through the grass with my sniper rifle following Captain Price in Modern Warfare, I was the one fighting off hordes of Chimera in Resistance... and it was "me" free running though cities, saving civilians and assassinating Templars in games like Assassin's Creed.  When we speak of books or movies, we refer to the characters, but when we speak of video games, we are much more inclined to speak in the first person:  "when I killed Visari" in Killzone 2, or "I was shocked to find out Atlas had betrayed me", in Bioshock.  The first person perspective in current games is even more of an immersive factor in erasing the gender barriers between the games protagonist and the player.  I AM Gordon Freeman... and "Gordon" has boobs.



More so than any other media, gaming has the capacity for men and women to be truly equal, however there is a small caveat in that many games tend to view the world through a male lens, and in particular the alpha male hero archetype.  We are physically strong,  courageous, independent, inclined towards violent resolution, protectors of the weak, attractive, and dominant.  Now there's nothing wrong with men or women aspiring to most of those qualities (though in real life violent resolution isn't usually the best recourse!), but the view of most any story where there is a choice of male or female characters is still mostly told through a lens of what has historically been a male view.  Many video game female characters are essentially men in a dress with boobs. It should be noted though, that being a real-life female, I often find to this be gender-freeing and it usurps me from the more typical female role often found in women's forms of entertainment. I don't really mind seeing the world through a male lens.



Do note however, that I said "many" games show us the world through a male lens, certainly not all.  Interestingly, some video games also provide a uniquely female lens in unexpected ways.  As a female, I have a reluctance to walk in the downtown core of most large cities at night.  There is a small risk that I will be assaulted, or worst... raped.  While men too should fear for their safety, I don't know that they can experience the same fear that a female does.  In some ways, games like Dragon's Dogma can allow men to see the world through a female lens.  When night falls in the game, it's black.  If you have some lanterns, you might feel a bit safer... but not much.  Male or female, most of us stick to the roads and very carefully walk along - fearing the night and what might lurk within.  You will be assaulted, and on your first play through before you know where the enemies are... you will at some point come across a particularly large, nasty beast or larger horde of beasts... and they will kill you.  It's not much... but this is somewhat of a female lens on the world than men can experience for themselves... in a video game.  Another aspect of this female lens can be found in the Dragon Age games.  Historically in our society, men make the sexual overtures and women can accept or decline.  In Dragon Age, even if you are playing as a male, you have to wait for the female to signal their interest... but then you have the option to accept or decline.  This is a subtle thing... but men have the option to accept or decline a sexual invitation.... from a woman.  This aspect is more a recognition of how much our society has changed in recent years, but it's still a tiny insight into a traditional woman's perspective that men can experience.  Video games reflect our changing culture in other ways too... just as women are stronger and more violent (a male lens)... men spend much of their in-game money to not just acquire a house... but many spend hours decorating it in order to make it feel more like their "home".  They cook potions and food, they can use charm instead of violence to get information, they sort though chests and chests of clothing that serves various purposes and sometimes wearing a certain outfit just makes them feel good.

More than any other contemporary form of media, video games are wonderfully non-gendered.  Whatever gender you currently are, in many video games you can sprout boobs or a digital dick and play as the opposite gender by choice.  Even when there is no choice, the immersive and active (rather than passive) nature of video games allow us a unique lens on the world that combines the gender of our character with our own gender.  I do hope that gaming progresses in it's character development to show more unique characters... so different from us, that we no longer see them from a first person perspective, but I also hope that gaming continues to provide us with the generic, gender-swappable, faceless characters that we can imprint our own experiences onto... because that's a very unique aspect to video games and something to be treasured and not disparaged.
.. and in the meantime, while I do wish that there were more options to play as a female character, particularly in online multiplayer FPS games... I've become a bit fond of my digital dick.


... and now to get back to getting my ass kicked in Call of Duty and Dark Souls... because regardless of my character's gender... it's still MY ass getting kicked. :(   read


5:16 PM on 03.06.2013  

Damsel in Distress....



I know that Anita Sarkeesian's "Damsel in Distress" initial video of her examination of Tropes vs Women in Video games is due to drop tomorrow, so I wanted to get some of my thoughts out previous to viewing her video. I sincerely hope that she examines the actual trope itself, and not just her usual feminist 101 views of "this trope exists and it's bad", because the issue isn't really whether this trope exists in games, it's the trope itself.

First of all, this trope has been with us a long time. Our fairly tales told to young children often include a damsel in distress needing rescuing by the brave knight. It's a common theme in women's romance novels, many chick flicks, most every episode of CSI or Criminal Minds, and yes... video games. This trope is prevalent and can be found in most every aspect of both men's and women's entertainment. In women's entertainment (romance novels, chick flicks) the "distress" is often financial distress or the emotional distress of being alone (because often the message in women's romance novels is that true love makes life magically wonderful... and if he's secretly wealthy, well, as Marilyn Monroe once said "a man being rich is like a girl being pretty. You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?") In entertainment with a larger male demographic, the point of view is more often that of the rescuing knight - the trials and tribulations he endures to rescue the damsel. The fact that this trope exists in video games is absolutely no surprise, given it's popularity in most other entertainment media. The fact that the story is most often told from the point of view of the knight doing the rescuing is also expected, given the historical demographics that it's primarily men who buy and play video games. Essentially, the fact that video games use the trope of the "damsel in distress" is absolutely no surprise given it's popularity in most of our other media - hence, the reason it's a "trope" or commonly used story mechanic.


Why am I always rescuing this dude?

Is the trope sexist?
Certainly it's sexist. It's equally as sexist as the strong male who is always rescuing the damsel in distress. It often portrays the female as disempowered, without the aid of the empowered male. What is often overlooked though, is that video games have a long history of "dudes in distress". Most every war game has the empowered male player rescuing a disempowered male operative taken prisoner and tortured by the Russian/Middle East bad guys, or rescuing a captured buddy. Video games (in particular the WRPG genre) also have a long history of allowing gender choice for the player... so in many games the female player character rescues other damsels, dudes and even small children from the cave or cellar where they are being held by evil mages, goblins or kobolds, or the ubiquitous "thieves". Increasingly we're seeing the damsels rescuing the dude (Nathan Drake has been rescued by both Zoe and Elena), or in other games the distressed damsel turns out to have rescued herself (in The Secret of Monkey Island, Guybrush arrives only to find that the distressed damsel has already foiled her captor!) Video games also have many many female protagonists that simply don't need rescuing (Lara Croft, Samus Aran, Jade, Chell), which is actually somewhat surprising given the male demographics of video games. All in all, yes, the "damsel in distress" trope is sexist, but only when one focuses specifically on that trope and ignores all the variations of the trope that exist. When one starts to look at the copious examples of the variations, it becomes a lot less sexist in that the discriminatory aspect of the female needing rescuing is offset by the males needing rescuing as well. Is it sexist for a male to rescue another male, or for a female to rescue a male or another female? Is it sexist when the male tries to rescue the female only to find she doesn't need rescuing?

Why all the rescuing?
Well, the fact is that video games aren't always about the story or plot, they're more often about the gameplay. From Donkey Kong to today's games like Dark Souls (which I'm currently playing!)... plot in video games is often a very secondary facet and the use of tropes or well used plots can help to merely provide a loose basis for the actual game play. Rescuing a female loved one (sister or love interest) is no more common in video games than the tropes of "it's war!... you're a good guy (the bad guys are Russians, Middle-Eastern or Aliens)" or "you have been given a special power to save or destroy the Kingdom, world, universe, or whatever", or the wonderful "find the lost remnant/covenant/object that can destroy the world, before the bad guys do". Rescuing Princess Peach is merely the excuse Mario needs to keep going.. and going.. and going through all the various levels. The Zelda games seem much more about Link's journey rather than any actual rescuing. In Two Worlds 2, I often forgot that I was apparently a man trying to rescue my captured sister... because really, there were so many side quests and other things to do.
As video game plots get more complex, I think we start to see more variations. For example in Resistance Fall of Man, Rachel Parker is initially "rescued" by Nathan Hale in that he opened a door for her allowing her to escape, but she later becomes a key figure in the game - directing the actions of Nathan Hale by feeding him information, being suspicious of whether he is infected or not... and eventually she ends up rescuing the male Cartwright when he becomes injured on one of the final missions. She's not a "damsel in distress" and yet, yes.. a male does initially "rescue" her. More complex plots generally give us more complex characters... and rescuing takes on new meanings with games such as The Walking Dead.

Does rescuing need to go away?
Personally, I don't think so. Feminists seem to have no issue with advocating for government or social programs such as women's shelters, or special women's programs to aid, support and "rescue" women in distress, so it's apparently fine for society to "rescue" damsels in distress... it's apparently only wrong when a man does it. I think if a man sees a woman being slapped, or abused or yelled at... he SHOULD rescue her. He should step in, say something, prevent the abuse, even at the possible risk of his own life (in fact in my home town a man recently stepped in when another man was arguing vehemently with his girlfriend in a parking lot, and he was hit, fell to the pavement and later died). What this trope needs is simply two things.. more women being the rescuers... because we too should be stepping in if we see anyone (male or female) being victimized... and additionally, I think that we women need to look a little more closely and critically at our own media. Most of the "damsel in distress" trope in video games tends to be saving a woman from physical harm. In women's media like romance novels or movies (Twilight, almost every romantic comedy), distress is more often the message is that we are "incomplete" without a man, or that a man will financially rescue us and make life better. Falling in love with the right man will apparently rescue us from emotional incompleteness, and we will additionally be "beautiful" because of course beauty is in the eye of the man who loves you. The reality is that love is wonderful... but we should be "complete" people without our loved ones, and our beauty should not be dependent on a man's view.

In video games, the damsel in distress is indeed one of many well worn tropes. Overall (and particularly in comparison to other media), I think it's essentially harmless and not even overly sexist as presented in video games. Video games are a unique media where viewpoint is not static and there is a sense of immersion not often found in other more passive forms of media. We women that play these games are the protagonist... whether the protagonist is presented as male or female. Yes, I have rescued a lot of damsels, but I've also a rescued a lot of dudes in distress as well. Many of our games even allow for the main character to be male or female and while there are often inconsistencies where I can tell the game was primarily written from a male perspective (like getting to make out with the Duchess in Dragon's Dogma after rescuing her), most of the game is rather genderless.... in some ways it's true equality. We can play as powerful, aggressive female warriors... men can play as weaker, stealthier and sneaky protagonists. We can choose to talk our way out of situations with high charm stats... or to simply bang someone over the head. With advancements to technology we are even increasingly seeing unique plot scenarios that only occur based on the gender of the character you choose to play.

The "damsel in distress" is a complex trope, it can be good, it can be bad.. it could certainly be less gendered (more dudes in distress!) It's generally much more complex than the simplicity often shown in video games. I do hope that Ms. Sarkeesian treats this topic with more depth than merely pointing out that this trope exists and that it's "bad". I realize that there are more far reaching aspects to this trope and hope to have more to think about on this topic.

.... but while I await her video, let me get back to reading this month's Harlequin romance:

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12:09 PM on 02.14.2013  

Gaming Porn for Women

Last year for Valentine's Day my husband got me a funny little book called "Porn for Women" and included really nice pictures of guys saying things like "God, that's SO interesting... tell me more" or "Oh look! The NFL playoffs are today. I bet we'll have no trouble finding parking at the crafts fair". It was cute and I thought it would be fun to adapt it for gaming so I created these pics last year, but then I never posted a blog because frankly... it's entirely sexist! This year, I just don't care about the sexist thing... so for the two other people out there that might find these funny, here ya go!











Have fun this Valentine's Day! For myself and my husband, it will be love and bullets as we will likely load up a shooter game and go kill some bad guys. Having a gaming spouse is awesome... but it's also a lot like assembling Ikea Furniture together... you have to have a pretty strong relationship to make it work. There can be arguments regarding picking out the right furniture, because tastes can vary... and then there is the aspect of working together which more often results in that lovely bookcase ending up looking like a coffin that you wish you could bury your loved one in without anyone being the wiser!
So if you're in a game and you hear "sorry I ran you in the jeep over honey!" or "Dammit sweetie, why can't you fucking carry a med kit!"... then say hi to us! :)   read


4:24 PM on 11.21.2012  

Competition, video games and real life...



I'm not a competitive person. I tend to prefer multiplayer shooter games that are based on team tactics and allow for helping out team members with the ability to play medic or engineer or other non-shooty aspects to the game. I love discussing team tactics and working together to achieve a common goal... and in the rare case when that actually happens, games are magic for me. They fill my heart, not just with a love of the game, but with a sense of real affectionate for the random players I might be in the squad with.

My lack of a truly aggressive competitive spirit seems to be fairly common among my gender. There have been several recent studies that seem to point to a possibility that the salary gap between men and women may, in part, be due to women not wanting to apply for positions that are very competitive. The first study showed that men are much more likely to apply for positions where salary was based on personal performance, and women tended to strongly prefer positions that had low competitive levels - where the salary was a flat fee (independent of performance) or where the performance was based on how the team did, rather than the individual.
The second study was even more controlled and eradicated issues that might actually arise in the workplace (women were equally skilled, there was no chance of discrimination and the time limit would create no conflicts with home life), yet 75% of the male participants in the study opted for a competitive tournament setting with the chance to make more money, whereas only 35% of the women chose this option.

Now these are just preliminary studies and don't represent all men or all women. Obviously there are strongly competitive women in the workplace, and non-competitive men. The main thing I took away from these studies was a side thought on whether video games could actually help non-competitive people become more comfortable in competitive situations? Looking back on my own experience with competitive multi-player games, I do think that video games can be helpful in better understanding many of the variances in a competitive environment. Gender, age, race, sexuality, appearance... these factors play almost no role in video game competition, so we are all free to better examine the actual nature of competition and how it might apply to real life.



Understanding the Game:
Playing a variety of competitive video games has shown me that it's not entirely about skill, sometimes it's about looking at things like the points structure. In a game like MAG, people can often achieve better personal scores by playing the role of medic - gaining massive points for healing and reviving. They can use a well situated vehicle's turret as an armoured gun to more easily acquire kills, and if they equip a repair gun, they can get additional repair points for repairing their own vehicle. In games like Modern Warfare 3, spamming the recon drone and marking enemies can help to bring up a personal score if one's killing skill isn't high. In a game like Warhawk, sneaking around and continually hiding out and taking zones can make someone an MVP.
A game may seem to be about killing the opponents and achieving team objectives, but a closer look at a game and it's structure can reveal ways to "win" and achieve high personal scores that are a little bit outside of the main game's structure. The same can hold true of the workforce. When competing, it's important to understand the structure of the competition. It may not be about achieving the best sales record - it might be about the ability to bring in new clients, grow existing clients, client satisfaction, and retaining clients. In some workplaces, personal popularity and networking is more of a factor than performance, in other workplaces, promotions may be entirely based on statistics like the number of calls handled in a phone support situation, so brevity and volume might even be more important than client satisfaction. It's all about understanding how the game works.



Understanding Your Own Skills:
One thing I've learned from video games is that I don't always know my own skills. I always thought I was a bad sniper, but by actually giving it a go, I've found out I'm a awesome sniper! I can easily rack up the most kills in a game by sniping, but again, it goes to understanding the game and by not taking objectives or reviving other players, my overall points will often be low. I can however, apply this new-found skill to an assault rifle with a 4X scope and a silencer... and be in the action accruing points while still getting those long range kills I seem to be good at. Gaming has taught me that I should try things I don't think I'm good at, and additionally to look at new ways to use those skills. In the workforce, I think we too often focus in on something we "think" we're good at, but don't try other aspects of the job we dislike or where we think we will do poorly. Every game and every job is different. Sniping in one game is very different from sniping in another game... and sales in one job might be very different from sales in another job. Being competitive often means trying out all aspects of your job and often finding you may be good at something you didn't previously like, or felt you weren't good at! It can mean adjusting how you use your skills in order to be more competitive.



Understanding the Competition:
Those of us that play competitive video games have, at one point, found ourselves being red-lined, pwned, or totally destroyed. Those are the games where we can barely spawn without encountering an undignified death. In the workforce, we may well be the "new kid" and everyone around us looks skilled and quite ready to teabag our lifeless resumes or corpsehump our performance statistics. Video gaming has taught me that there is value in seeing an arrogant and overpowered enemy. Often it's not all that difficult to sneak around behind enemy lines, take the objective and win the game. In other circumstances, it's possible to find a safe spot where you can snipe all those arrogant red dots rushing out into the open and at least achieve the highest score on my team.
In the workforce, whether you're a web page designer, an accountant, an artist or a CEO - look at your competition. What are their weaknesses? What can you do better or different to win against established forces? Looking at the competition and adapting becomes second nature in video games. Seeing their weaknesses and using them to your own advantage is part of healthy competition - in a game, or in the workplace.



Understanding Your Own Team:
Sometimes you get on a team where everyone wants to snipe and nobody is going for the objective, where people are rushing headlong into an obvious enemy area, or where people are just... well... dickheads. Sometimes when you look around at your own team, you realize that you're on a team of losers. In a video game you can try to take charge and see if you can bring some order and strategy to the idiotic chaos, you can cut your losses, forget about your team winning and just go for personal points, or you can just quit the game and find another game with a better team. In the workforce it's important to look around and see if you're on a team of winners, or a team of losers. If you're stuck with the losers, you might try and make them into winners... or you can just forget about them and look after yourself. You can also try to get on that team of winners you see over in the corner. Regardless of your decision, it's important to take an objective look at your team - be it your work unit, branch, or even the personal relationships you've formed in the workplace. It's also important to realize, that just like a video game, your team might change over time. Some clans in certain games become the "winners", but changes over time might see new clans arise and older one's start to disintegrate. Being competitive means having an honest look at your own team, and often making some hard decisions.



Fair Play and Morals:
It doesn't take too long when playing competitive video games before you will encounter those that glitch, cheat, or have no sense of fair play. You may also on a rare occasion encounter the opposite... someone in the group who says, "we've won the game, it's over, pull back a bit... everyone switch to pistols!" - I love that guy! Mostly though, you'll find those glitchers, cheaters and asshats. When people on your own team are using a glitch you are presented with the moral question of use it, or not. Report them, or not. The more I play competitive games, the more I start to realize that the use of some glitches or cheats is not entirely a black and white issue... there is a lot of grey where certain glitches are used by everyone to the benefit of the game. In many situations, what one person might call "cheating" another person might simply say that it's not outside of the rules of the game (flag tossing in Warhawk was often used to pad points before a patch was brought in to disallow it).
These same situations often arise in the workplace, especially if you're competitive and take better notice of this phenomenon. It's interesting but I remember one example of a company that found that some of their sales people had teamed up in order to win a quarterly prize offered to the employee with the highest sales. They would use one employees number when entering sales and then split the prize. Corporate decided to look the other way because what was happening was that employees were teaming up, working with each other, looking for potential partners... and overall sales were dramatically increasing because, through teamwork, employees with normally low sales when teamed with other employees actually had a chance at winning... so everyone's sales were up. Even employee morale was increased because more employees had a chance of winning and people were getting along better so as not to offend a potential future partner in this "scam".
In various work situations - as an employer or an employee, we are often conflicted regarding whether to cheat, or how to deal with others who cheat. We also have to go back to the rules of the game to even determine IF there is cheating. These are all situations faced when playing most competitive multiplayer video games and individuals can learn from how they handle these situations and possibly apply what they've learned to workplace situations.


TLDR: Overall, would playing competitive video games help non-competitive people become better at competition? My own feelings are that it might help them to better understand competition, it might give them more faith in their abilities, it might help people become more familiar with how to handle certain competitive situations... so yes, I do think that playing competitive video games can have some real world positive value. Video games are also one of the few venues where men and women can compete directly against each other - very much like the workforce.

From a personal viewpoint, I do think that playing competitive online games has made me much more comfortable competing against men. It's also brought me a certain level of confidence and a better understanding of competition. It's "toughened" me up a bit more where I am more willing to take risks for greater rewards, and where I'm also more willing to compete based on my personal performance and not always based on cooperative game play.

So if your young daughter starts to take Mario Kart a little too seriously... knocking others off the track, wanting to "win" at the cost of others - this may not be something to discourage. Finding her competitive spirit may not seem very gentle or ladylike... but it may better prepare her to break through the glass ceiling in the competitive real world of the workforce.

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12:30 PM on 11.15.2012  

Surprise!



So I finally (after trying out a LOT of demos) found a Kinect game I actually like. Someone on another blog indicated that the game Rhythm Party was similar to the old Eyetoy Groove game... so I looked up the demo and gave it a try! I loved the game, and yes, it's very similar to Groove. This is a simple game of hitting certain marks in time with the music... using your own moves. I really dislike the current trend of "copy the professional dancer so we all dance the same" thing. I don't want to dance exactly like the geeky dancer doing those "I'm a trendy kid" moves... I just want to dance any way I want and get some exercise. The only real drawback to this game is that unlike Groove, it doesn't allow for any customization (creating your own routines), and it doesn't show a camera image of me... no, it shows part of a blurry camera image of me... with no hair. I don't understand why Kinect games just don't show a simple camera image, but instead I'm usually missing body parts, or more commonly, my hair! I don't even have short hair, it's shoulder length, but I guess now I know what I'll kind of look like if I go bald. Maybe Kinect just doesn't like gray hair - age discrimination! Still, Rhythm Party is exactly what I wanted... let's buy the thing!

Surprise!... it's 800 Microsoft "points". Last time I bought a game on XBL it was a "games on demand" and I paid the exact price with my credit card. This was the first time I have been faced with the "points" thing. Ok, I guess I need to buy 800 points.... no, I can only buy 500 points or 1000 points. Ah! Ok, well I can probably buy some DLC with the left over 200 points. Wrong again, DLC for the game (extra song tracks) is 240 points! At this point, I'm almost ripping my hair out to match the Kinect version of reality. so I decide to see if I can buy the code for the game, or a points card from an online source - maybe EBGames or Amazon.ca. No again. Americans can apparently buy 400 or 800 point cards, but not Canadians. Well dammit! If they just told me the game was 1000 points or $14.50 I would probably have just bought the game and figured it was an ok deal at that price - but now I'm just pissed. They want me to pay extra for the game and then have these absolutely useless points sitting on my account. To make matters worst, it seems that the US price of 1000 points is $12.50... so Canadians (even though our dollar is near par) are getting ripped off. Sony has offered Canadian/American dollars on par for many years now - with the exact same price on games in both stores. I also understand that Americans can purchase in increments of 400 or 800 points... which doesn't seem to be an option available to Canadians either online or through purchased points cards. I already have a Hate/Hate relationship with my Xbox because of the requirement for Gold to even use the web browser, never mind any game I might buy for $60.00 that I won't be able to play because most of the games I buy are for the online multiplayer component.... and now I've encountered "microsoft points" - UGH!


Yup... you're fucked!

The Xbox with Kinect was a gift from my husband. He bought it for me during the big PSN hacking outage because he knew how much I missed online play. It came with a one month trial of Gold and I have to admit that I really enjoyed the online play of the Xbox, but I have a moral issue with paying an additional fee to play the game I just paid for. I can pay $59.00 per year so that I can use the web browser on my Xbox, or Netflix or play the games I bought... or I can get all those services for free on my PS3 and pay $49.00 per year for PSPlus and get a ton of free games. There just doesn't seem to be a lot of comparison regarding which choice offers better value, so yeah, my Xbox has been Gold-less and accumulating dust aside from the few times I play an older WRPG on it.

Still... I do need the exercise, so I'll buy the 1000 points and just convince myself that I'm buying this game for $14.50. I already checked and apparently my left over 200 points won't even buy me a goddamn virtual puppy for my avatar - they're 240 points! I'm gonna try really, really hard not to get frustrated over the point manipulation thing of so many games being 800 points, but not being able to just buy 800 points.

It's not just my Xbox that I'm pissed off at. I'm looking at my PS3 and feeling my hair fall out over the continuing frustration of third party games simply not working on the system. I've been playing MAG as my go-to shooter game for well over two years now and was looking forward to Black Ops 2 as a new shooter game. I held off on pre-ordering the game because so many shooter games have launch issues. Some eventually get fixed (Battlefield 3) and some never do get fixed (Ghost Recon). Additionally, the PS3 has issues with sustaining the needed player base on shooter games to be able to play them well past launch, so I figured Black Ops 2 might just have the volume for me to be able to just jump in any time and play a game. On launch day, I hit up the PS3 section of the official Black Ops 2 forums and found pages and pages and pages of complaints about two issues - PS3 freezing in multiplayer and server issues. The new developer thread on the "servers unavailable" issue is now at 225 pages and growing fast (in addition to copious complaints not on the official thread tracking the issue). The PS3 freezing thread is also gaining quite the following. The worst thing is that many of the PS3 freezes happen when people finally manage to get into a game, so when they do re-boot their PS3 units and re-load the game they are insulted with a warning that they are on probation for quitting games! The devs did seem to take notice of all the complaints, and they do seem to now be tracking these issues and working on them, but until a patch resolves this issue, I'll hold off on buying the game. I really don't want to be stuck in the Skyrim situation of owning a game that just barely works on the system. I did manage to platinum Skyrim but had to disable all auto-saves and use manual saves... which constantly reminded me I was playing a game and I was not at all immersed in the world. I held on to the game for the advertised DLC... and like others with the PS3 version, I'm still waiting.



I don't understand how Activision can produce previous Call of Duty games that eventually worked fine on the PS3, and then fuck up the current game so badly. They're using the same old tired game engine they've been using since Modern Warfare, so it seems they should have been able to manage the basics of people getting into the game and playing the game. Some third party PS3 games do work fine... I had absolutely no issues with Capcom's Dragon's Dogma and it seems almost entirely random as to which games will have PS3 issues and which won't .... but I guess if it's a huge AAA game with millions of dollars invested into it (like COD or Skyrim), the chances of it not working on the PS3 seem to increase. :(

Anyway, I guess I'll de-stress by getting some exercise with Kinect Rhythm Party and by trying out some of the PSPlus games I've acquired. I tried out Just Cause 2, and it's a goofy fun game if I ignore the quests and just explore the island while blowing shit up and playing with the cars, boats and helicopters! There are also a bunch of other games (Warhammer, Payday, RE5) that I haven't even tried yet.

Ah well... at least I feel a little better after venting about my recent gaming frustrations! :)

... and hell, maybe I'll just load up Modern Warfare 3 and see if people are still playing.   read







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