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Red Head Peak: Gamer, Teacher, Geek

You can find me writing at Kotaku and I'm also on Tumblr. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can follow me on Twitter.

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Imagine if I was to walk up to you in the street, grab your hand, and then use it to slap a passing stranger. As you turn to me hoping for an explanation I instead blame the whole incident on you, shaking my head in disgust and remarking on what an awful thing you just did.

Video games do this kind of thing to us all the time. Rather than patting us on the back as we save the day, numerous games force us into playing the bad guy or doing the wrong thing. This doesn't put gamers off however; some of the most tremendous games have you playing the anti-hero throughout, or occasionally throwing you into a situation that will ultimately leave you feeling guilty, despite the fact that it wasn't really your decision.



It's a long standing belief of mine that one of the greatest aspects of video games is their ability to provoke reactions that other media does not. The ability to cause guilt is a prime example. Some of my all-time favourite games have had me committing the 'wrong thing' at some point, and the whole experience was all the more memorable because of it. Other games, whilst not my favourites, left a lasting impact because of one or more incidents when the game turned to me and declared that I was an awful person and I should feel bad. Below are three examples of games that made me feel guilty.

Spoiler Warning: I will be referring to key moments in each of the games below.


Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening – Waking the Wind Fish

The guilty feeling in Link's Awakening creeps up on you. Link 'wakes' up on an island populated by good-natured people and equally good-natured talking animals. The island has become infested with monsters and is being slowly enveloped by evil. Your goal is seemingly clear; collect eight instruments, wake the Wind Fish (the Island's guardian) and save the day. However, as you head towards the game's climax, the player is slowly clued into the fact that the waking the Wind Fish will actually lead to the destruction of the island.



With the final boss defeated, the Wind Fish appears to you and reveals the truth. The entire island is his dream. By playing the eight instruments, the evil will be defeated, but the island and all its inhabitants will cease to exist. You save the day, but at a big price.

I was quite young when I first completed this game. I remember sitting, staring at the screen, with my thumb resting above the 'A' button. I didn't get a say. No choice. I was about to wipe away an entire island for the greater good. I almost wanted to leave the game there, unfinished. Yet, I had enjoyed the game so much by that point, and wanted to see Link win. So I dutifully pressed the button and watched as the land and its inhabitants flickered from existence. Link's Awakening still stands as one of my favourite games of all time, and not least because of the impact of the finale.

Shadow of the Colossus – Killing the Third Colossus

This might be my favourite game of all time. I'm usually someone who enjoys discussion and debate, but if you were to tell me you didn't enjoy this game, I would most likely tell you that you are wrong and/or lying. Unless, of course, you dislike the game because the level of guilt levelled at the player from start to finish.

The sense that you are doing the wrong thing runs through this entire game. The story, the visuals, even the music let's you know at every opportunity that you should not be in this land, killing these sixteen ancient titans, all so you can save one woman (who the player knows nothing about).



When I defeated the first and second colossi, I didn't notice what the game was trying to do. I was still mesmerised by the gameplay, art style... pretty much wowed by the whole experience. Only when I took down the third 'boss' of the game did I realise that I wasn't going to get through this game without a serious challenge to my conscious.

The third Colossus is known as Gaius. He is/was a very tall human-like form with a humongous stone sword. Like all the colossi, Gaius is neither in anyone's way, nor is he causing any harm to anyone. He only begins to attack when Wander (the player's character) trespasses on his small and isolated platform. His mighty, slow, arching sword swings are no match for the Wander's nimble movements. A well-timed swing leaves Gaius' arm exposed for climbing, and the player dutifully sends Wander up the colossus to stab his head and exposed stomach.



The guilt of murdering any of the colossi is not instant. You are allowed a single, delighted moment to celebrate the success of overcoming such a massive challenge. Then the camera pans out to watch the giant creature fall to the ground as the soundtrack switches from 'adventure' to 'tragedy'. In the case of Gaius, he staggers pathetically before stumbling forwards. There is the briefest instance where he tries to hold himself up using his sword, before collapsing completely. The player/Wander is then left alone, to reflect on what a thoroughly awful human being they are.

It's very little wonder why so many people have left this game unfinished. I have myself have replayed SOTC so many times, marvelling at the way this game deliberately provokes such a negative response in the player. I'm not sure any other game has left such a lasting impression on me

Spec Ops: The Line – Using the White Phosphorous

This is not one of my favourite games, but one that certainly left its mark. Spec Ops: The Line begins like the majority of shooters. Your character is one of three members of Delta Force, carrying bags of bravado and bullets. You're here to save the day and that's just what you're going to do. That feeling doesn't last long; it's soon clear that this game wants you to know that war is bad and you're not going anywhere until you feel bad too.



If you've played Spec Ops: The Line, you will already be very familiar with one major incident in the game that intends to leave the player in no doubts that this story will not end well.

Martin Walker, the player character, and his two Delta Force buddies find themselves looking down onto an enemy strong-point. There's an army beneath them, and no discernible of getting past them undetected (according to the game at least). Your saviour comes in the form of a mortar with white phosphorous rounds. John Lugo, another member of the trio, declares that these rounds should not be used because of 'what that stuff does', but Walker assures him that there is no other way.

So the player obligingly fires round after round of white phosphorous into the encampment. Dozens of 'soldiers' are dispatched within mere minutes. It's already apparent that what you've just unleashed was pretty devastating. To confirm this, the game forces you to slow-walk through the area you have just bombarded. Charred survivors reach out to you as you trudge past them, your head held low. It's abundantly clear that the game is doing it's very best to make sure you know you are an awful, awful person. Before you can object, arguing that you didn't know this would happen, the game drops another weight around your neck. Amongst the soldiers you burnt to death, were families. Before you can state your case, the game virtually lifts you up by the collar and shouts into your face: "How could you do such a thing?!"



The entire scene is amazing, in my opinion, hammering how the psychological, physical and collateral impacts of war. It's a big risk, as well as a big talking point, for a game to attempt. Whilst I wouldn't say I enjoyed Spec Ops: The Line, playing it was an experience I appreciated going through.

Whilst Link's Awakening and Shadow use silence and isolation to enforce the emotional impact, in The Line we are reminded of our sins by Adams and Lugo, the other Delta Force operatives following you into battle. The only way the game could have made the guilt-trip more enforced is if Adams and Lugo had been replaced by Walker's mother and father. Following him round; sighing and shaking their heads; criticising him for his poor life choices; asking him why he never visits...

Final Thoughts

There are a variety of games which I have played that attempted to make me feel guilty. I picked these three games to write about because they succeeded in this aim. I felt bad for what I'd done. I hadn't made those choices – these were integral, unavoidable parts of each story that I was steered towards. It wasn't really me making those decisions, but the guilt was there nonetheless.



In fact, if a game gives me the option to do something bad, or offers a good/evil moral decision, I personally rarely feel the same level of guilt. This is usually because I play the evil version second to see what difference was made. In the original Bioshock for example, I felt only the smallest pang of guilt taking the bad option with each Little Sister because I had actually been a good person the first time round; now I was just a casual observer to the protagonist's evil deeds.

I also picked these three games because they each deliver the guilt-ridden blow in very different ways. With Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, the guilt came as a twist at the very end of the game, at the moment when I was ready to celebrate my victory. With Shadow of the Colossus the guilt hangs over you, Sword of Damocles style, throughout the game. That guilt is reinforced with the death of each fallen giant. Spec Ops: The Line hits you with that guilty feeling at the midpoint of the game, and continues to remind you of your wrong-doings from that point onwards.

Your Thoughts?

Do games ever provoke this response from you? Which games made you feel guilty? Were you aware of a game trying to make you feel guilty but failed? What's your favourite game that made you feel bad?

Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed this post you can find more on my Tumblr or my Wordpress. You can even follow me on Twitter. If you didn't enjoy this post... at least you made it to the end. Well done you ^_^
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I’m sure that anyone who has played an instalment of the Legend of Zelda series must admire Link, the protagonist of the series. Whilst there are in fact numerous different versions of Link, with slightly altered personalities and art styles, those who have played will understand that every version of the young warrior is brave, noble and prepared to put his life on the line to save the current Kingdom under threat. Those who have followed the franchise will certainly hold the many forms of this hero with high regard. From Koholint Island to Termina to Hyrule, each incarnation of Link is highly respected and often loved...



...but should Link be feared as well? Once the evil is vanquished, the war is won and Link’s job is complete, what would the hero do next? Does he slip quietly back into the simple life he had before his adventure began?

This is my third ‘Weird Theory’ to date. At first I questioned Mario’s motives for rescuing Peach. Next, I intended to address what was really going on with Kratos. This time, I wish to introduce a slightly different theory about Link. This theory doesn’t refer to something that has happened; but instead addresses something that could happen (and by all rights should have happened) in at least one of the many versions of the Legend of Zelda.

THE THEORY:

Short Version: Link should become emperor of the world.

Long Version: Whether you believe that each Zelda game is independent, or whether the games are connected, the Link in each case has yet to reach their full potential by each game finale. By the end, the hero has the skills, power and convictions to continue onto even greater things. By weighing up the evidence available it is easy to see that Link has the capability to become the most powerful creature in the Legend of Zelda universe. Whether he uses these powers for good or evil, I believe that Link could become the supreme overlord of whichever realms he wished to conquer. This domination could even spread to other worlds and realities. Link has the potential to become a god among men... and all should fear him.

THE PROOF:

1) Link’s Super Power

Link learns very, very quickly. Faster than anyone should be able to process new information. No matter what the weapon or tool acquired, the Hyrulian hero can wield the object with near-immediate proficiency. Hand him a sword and shield and he will dutifully slice his way through wave after wave of monsters. It should take years of practice to master a bow but Link can rattle off arrow after arrow with without any tutelage. Think of all the different items and equipment that the various Links have used over the years – magic items; explosives; musical instruments; sail boats; steam trains – with only the smallest levels of training and practice.



This is one significant reason to be cautious of Link. He can comprehend anything in an instant, simply by being near the object or following a few seconds of training. That ability to absorb information would not diminish once each game reached its conclusion. In fact, once Link’s ‘job’ is done, he could learn to do whatever he chose to put his mind to.

Give Link a sword and he’ll swing it like a pro. Consider what would happen if Link wandered into the castle library and began to leaf through books on battle formations and war strategy, or state management. If Link got his hands on the Hyrulian equivalent of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the young warrior would instantly gain the mind of a warlord. Furthermore, if Link sort to learn how to harness the various forms of magic and sorcery present in each world, his own powers would develop dramatically. Link has the potential to become king of Hyrule simply by being given the role. And he could definitely  become king...

2) He is meant to rule

Once each game fades and ‘The End’ screen appears, Link is ready to become ruler of Hyrule, or whichever nation he has just saved. You could argue that Link is not of royal blood, but there’s so much more to monarchy than that. Firstly, it’s the most popular and powerful man in the nation that gets to be king. This hero has proven himself on both counts. It’s never Zelda or the royal guard that saved the people from evil – it was Link. It would not be long after the game that treasonable talk would begin over who should really rule the land.

In the medieval world, the Kings, Tsars and Kaisers of the world had one common factor that ensured their power and continued support – the divine right of Kings. Simply put, no one questioned that one man should rule the world because that person had been chosen by the god or a higher power. It didn’t matter if that king was mad, violent of just plain wrong; that man is meant to rule. Now if only there was someone in the Zelda universe that was chosen for greatness by a higher power... and it could be easily proven by, let’s say, a mark on the back of their hand...


Furthermore, monarchies are meant to be ruled by men. Sexist to be sure, but it’s a historically proven fact that the system is patriarchal. As I mentioned in my first weird theory, the traditional role of a princess is to marry a powerful and wealthy man who will ‘help’ her rule her nation. Until Princess Zelda is married off, she is ruling over and unstable monarchy. She would need to find someone with power, influence and a decent amount of rupees. Who else but Link?

So Link is a powerful entity, with the capacity to learn anything and a claim to any throne he desires. The only thing he’s missing to make him truly powerful is an army...

3) All those monsters

By the end of each game, the truly evil presence has been defeated. Those dungeon bosses aren’t coming back either. Despite this, the land is still infested with enemies. We’ve all seen this phenomenon: you walk into a dungeon room, murder all the monsters within and leave, only to discover new monsters occupying the space when you return. What’s even stranger is that there is always the same number of bad guys replacing the ones you dealt with.



With Ganondorf (or other antagonist) dealt with, Link would have to turn his attention to sorting out this monster infestation. Here, he has two options: he could dedicate his time to attempting to wipe out the seemingly endless procession of Moblins, Octoroks and Lynels. Or he can bring them in line, show them who is boss, and tame the monsters. For many of these creatures, a simple show of force would be enough to prove that Link was someone they should follow; the rest would quickly learn who the new boss is.

4) His Dark Side

I realise that a possible counter argument here is that Link couldn’t possibly take power, or want to raise an army of monsters, or rule the world because he’s such a nice boy. The Triforce couldn’t have possibly chosen someone with an even a shred of darkness in them to save the day. If you believe that, then you are fooling yourself; we’ve all seen Link’s darker side.

Even though the Link in each case is still a young warrior, the signs of a more dangerous attitude are ever present. That Master Sword is meant to slay evil, yet Link can hardly resist the urge to swing at every patch of grass, shrub, signpost or pot that he passes. He can barely go ten seconds without causing property damage. Woe betide anyone who let’s Link see a crack in the wall of their house, because he won’t think twice to using bombs to blow a hole in that wall to see what’s on the other side. And those poor chickens...



We should also take a moment to talk about Link’s method of healing. That to me shows this hero is ready to travel down a darker path. You know what I’m talking about... I’m not the first person to question what he does with all those hearts. I would never go as far as to call Link a cannibal (certainly not to his face) but Link either consumes hearts or smooshes them onto his skin to absorb their power. He will even keep spare hearts in jars for later! That is, when he’s not holding fairies hostage...

Like it or not, Link has a cruel nature under all that heroism. Whilst he may not be completely evil, he is certainly capable of making the cold, calculated decisions a true warrior-king needs to make.

5) Death will not hold him

We need to talk about Link’s other power. Fast-learning every possible skill and ability is one thing, but what makes Link truly dangerous is his ability to rise from the dead.

Games can be very weird around death. Some death scenes can be brutal and violent, but moments later the game pretends that event never took place. Solid Snake falls to cries of “SNAKE? SNAAAAAKE?!” but then all characters involved carry on from the checkpoint without stopping to talk about what happened. In Prince of Persia the narration dictates that you didn’t really just fall off that wall and die because he’s remembering the story wrong. However, when Link dies in the Legend of Zelda series... we are asked if would like to continue.



You might think I’m over-thinking this (which of course I am, or we wouldn’t be dealing with another one of these Weird Theories...) but cast your mind back to the older forms of Zelda gaming. Remember the start screen? What details did you save file present you with? The name of ‘your link’, the number of hearts you had acquired and...what was that last detail...oh yes, the number of times Link has DIED SO FAR. Suddenly we realise just how dangerous each Link is. Powerful, popular, resourceful and literally unstoppable.

6) Nothing is out of his reach

With the tools and equipment at Links disposal, there are very few places he cannot go and enemies that he cannot defeat. Whether he is Hook-Shooting his way across canyons or turning into a painting to pass through gaps in walls or sailing across vast oceans, Link will find you and deal with you.

Yet his reach often extends much further. Whilst most of his possessions allow him to open up new routes or journey further than anyone else, other artefacts allow Link to travel to other times and other worlds. The Ocarina of Time and the Harp of Ages imbue Zelda with the ability to cross time. In Link Between Worlds, he has access to two different Kingdoms in different dimensions. The very confines of time and space are not enough to hold the several versions of Link.



This is where Link’s power and dominion expands outwards. We already know that Hyrule is just one of many Kingdoms that Link can conquer, but imagine how much further he could spread. If one form of Link is capable of journeying through time and space, then the kingdoms he finds there are also his to command. Pushing the theory even further, what would happen if one Link crossed into the realm of another Link? Would one slay the other and take both kingdoms? Or would they join forces and seek out other worlds together?

Stretching the theory to its very limits, what might happen if the games in the Nintendo collection take place within the same universe? We often see references between the games and of course the fighting tournament they all take part in. If these worlds are connected, then they could fall within the borders of Link’s future empire. I’ll give you some time to envisage what might happen if the might of Emperor Link descended on the Mushroom Kingdom...

7) What else would he do?


Honestly, can you see Link’s story going in any other direction. By the end of each game this hero is still young, yet he holds so much power, in so many forms. I defy anyone who suggests that he would spend his remaining time at the fishing pond or retiring to work on a farm. For me, Link will strive for greatness because that’s what is left for him to do. All those weapons, all that skill and all of that potential should be used for something, especially since there are so many incarnations of Link at this point in time. If it has happened in one of these versions, maybe we just haven’t found out yet.

Your Thoughts?

Each Link has the potential for greatness, but do you agree that he would become the conqueror of worlds that I have suggested? Is there any reason why he wouldn’t take the world as his own, and reach out to take other worlds if he can? Could all the lands within the Nintendo multiverse bow to his imperial majesty? Is it possible to over-think video games?

...don’t answer that last one.

Thank you for reading.

I’m RedHeadPeak. If you enjoyed this post you can find more on Tumblr or Wordpress. You can even follow me on Twitter. If you didn’t enjoy this post... at least you made it to the end. Well done you ^_^
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In real life, I am able to walk in straight line, without feeling the need to leap into the air every two seconds. I can park my car between the white lines; I have no impulse to roll out of the car before it has come to a stop. When I catch the train, I make a habit of going as a passenger; I’ve never thought that the journey would be more efficient if I was driving. Furthermore, I have never looked at a parachute and thought “this would make travelling to the shops so much easier”.

In the world(s) of video games, that sensible, logical part of my brain goes to the back of my head, reads a book or has a little snooze. Games offer an overabundant collection of ways to transport ourselves from A to Z, and a significant number of those methods sprint, jump and fly in the face of rational thought. Sometimes it’s the most straightforward; sometimes it’s the most hilarious; sometimes we travel a certain way just because we can. In this post I would like to address some of my favourite random modes of transportation that convert the basic need to travel into an entertaining spectacle. Why walk when I can...

…slide down a sand dune? (Journey)

It seems only natural to mention Journey in a post about travelling. The primary objective of the game is to undertake a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain. It’s a simple, gorgeous game where walking seems to be the main requirement. In the early stages of the game you find yourself at the heart of a blistering desert. Those first few levels can be completed quickly, if you are content to trudge steadily through the sands to your destination. That would mean travelling in the right direction... but is certainly the wrong way to go about it.



Instead, the correct way to play Journey is to go out of your way. Hop, skip and jump to the top of the nearest sand dune and slide on down the other side. If you happen to drift down the dune towards the objective, that is a bonus. If not, well then you get to go again. 

The game creators clearly understood the singular delight in such a simple yet joyous feature of the game. Firstly, by exploring in this way you can often find trinkets and secrets off the beaten path (or the path that would be beaten if this was not a desert). Secondly, there is an entire level dedicated to a descent down a giant sand dune. As I’ve mentioned, the aim of the game is to walk up to the top of a mountain, so this descent is pretty illogical. This however, is not an idea that occupied my brain at the time. Back then, there was only really space for one thought:
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

...tow myself through the sky? (Just Cause 2)

Did you know you can drive cars in Just Cause 2? I’m as shocked as you are.
I would never resort to anything quite so menial myself. I often look down on the residents of the Panauan islands from on high as they flit about, and I scoff at them as I glide onwards to my objective. I’m not in a plane though. Oh no, I could soar through the skies in an aircraft in some other gaming universe. I’m taking the more majestic, serene route. When you can fly by parachute, why would you travel any other way?



For those who haven’t played the game, Just Cause 2 takes great delight in continuously throwing a middle finger up to Logic with one hand, whilst flipping-the-bird at Physics with the other. This is a game where you can surf on the roof of fighter jets and cars (which is the only way I have ever travelled by car in the game). This is a game where you can prevent falling face first into the ground by pulling yourself towards the earth with your grappling hook. Flight by parachute is also possible, and is my preferred method of transportation.

From a standing position you grapple the ground several metres away from you. A second after you begin your very brief and very horizontal journey, you deploy your (regenerating) parachute. With the smallest of efforts you are able to tow yourself up into the sky. Once airborne, you only need to pick a spot on the ground ahead of you and fire your grappling hook once more to pick up speed. Repeat the action when you start to slow down. That’s all there is to sailing gracefully through the sky. 

...drive a bouncing taxi? (Grand Theft Auto)

A good sandbox game should deliberately offer too many things to play with. There should be a sense that the creator added something to the game with an “I’ll just leave this here” mentality. The Grand Theft Auto series provides a smorgasbord of travel possibilities. Cars, trucks, motorbikes, planes and helicopters are the main ways to get about, many of which will get you where you need to be in no time at all. I shouldn't have any reason to complain. Nevertheless, whenever I slide into a taxi in GTA V, I sigh quietly to myself. The taxis don’t hop any more.



In earlier versions of Grand Theft Auto, such as Vice City, taxis had an unlockable feature. Complete a set number of taxi missions, and the car horn would be replaced with a ‘Boost’ ability. One tap would send the car upwards. If speeding forwards you could easily clear the car in front of you. If you were travelling against traffic (because this is GTA so that’s probably what you’re doing) then you could clear three or four cars in one mighty bound. If the police were chasing you, you could often re-enact the classic “good guy leaps out of the way and the bad guys crash into each other” cliché. 

I sure there’s an argument against this game feature – it doesn’t make sense that a taxi in GTA V could leap straight up into the air or bound over oncoming police cars with ease. That kind of argument would hardly convince me that a hopping car isn’t something I deserve to have near me at all times.

...pretend to be a train? (Infamous)

There are so many ways to travel around in the Infamous series, but you would find it difficult to convince me that there’s more than one correct way to do so:



Me: Choo Choo!

Boring People: RHP, you know that there’s free-running in the Infamous world, right? The parkour element of the game is pretty sweet. You’re fast, nimble and once you’re up on the tops of buildings you can grind along power cables between buildings. You can even glide for short distances using static electricity! Getting back down to ground level is easy – there’s no fall damage – and it’s entertaining too. You can perform a power bomb that takes out enemies all around you. You can go anywhere you want, as long as it’s not damp. The game creators put a lot of effort into letting you explore anywhere you want to go. Are you even listening?

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. I was too busy BEING A TRAIN! Choo. Choo.

...ride a Chocobo? (Assorted Final Fantasy games)
My posts often suggest an idea or ask a question, or celebrate games in some respect. Now and then though, I’m aware of when I am about to say something distressingly controversial. In this case: Chocobos are better than horses. There. I said it.



I’m not adverse to horse riding in video games. Shadow of the Colossus, Red Dead Redemption and Ocarina of Time are all games enriched by the addition of a faithful, four-legged steed. If however, I was offered the choice between a horse and a chocobo, you can be sure I’ll pick the one that goes “kweh” over the one that goes “neigh”.

They are fast and nimble. There’s much less effort required to turn these two-legged beasts in another direction when you are in a tight spot. In some cases they come in a range of colours. They also have the unparalleled ability to be constantly cheerful and happy to see you. They even possess the ability to glide across chasms when the situation calls for it. (That last ability would have certainly prevented one particularly heart-wrenching moment in one of the games mentioned above...)

Final thoughts:

So often when playing games we hammer the sprint button or seek out shortcuts or switch to fast travel so we that reach our destination faster. I’m not about to preach that “the journey is more important than the destination” because the destination in a good video game is going to be pretty exciting. That’s where all the explosions and monsters will be. My view is that a great game makes travelling just as exciting as the place you are trying to get to. Furthermore, I believe that most gamers feel the same way. Think about the number of times you were meant to be walking a straight line in a game, but failed to do so because you were double jumping or dodge-rolling repeatedly instead.

Your Thoughts:

Finish the sentence, “Why walk when I can...” and explain why that mode of transportation made a game more special, entertaining or exciting for you.

Thank you for reading:

If you enjoy my video game ramblings you can follow me on Tumblr. You can also follow me on Twitter. If you didn't enjoy my video game ramblings, then you did very well to get to the end. Well done.
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Teaching is a profession which can blend into your personal time. In my life, video gaming has become something that is scheduled; pencilled in amongst lesson plans and marking. I’ve not given up on gaming though. Not only because I enjoy it, but because gaming has actually been a benefit to my career. This is why I think being a gamer can have a very positive impact on any teacher:
 

 
1) You get to be the Cool Teacher
 
I am not a cool person. I’m okay with that. In fact, I wear my lack of coolness like a badge of honour, which in itself is a decidedly un-cool thing to do. From the beginning of school to the end of university I was content in the knowledge that the cool kids were not inviting me to their place to… do whatever the cool kids do…
 
That’s not what my students think. To the vast number of students that play video games, I am one of the ‘Cool Teachers’ (I realise that doesn't sound very cool in itself). The very fact that I can even talk about games like Modern Warfare and Minecraft gives a major boost to my reputation. The most often asked gaming question I am asked is “do you have a PS3 or an Xbox?” and when I respond with “both” the amazed reaction is priceless.
 

 
Now, of course, I'm nowhere near vanity to suggest that being liked by students is necessary. Some of the best teachers are good at what they do because they are strict and unlikeable. For someone like myself that lacks the experience, conviction and – to some extent – the age that can pull off a serious but respectable approach, the coolness gaming imbues any teacher with is certainly beneficial. Behaviour within class can be greatly improved when the students are on your side, and the resulting friendliness and approachable nature of students around school can have a wonderful impact on your day.
 
Then again, to the non-gaming students, I am still massively un-cool. That probably goes without saying.
 
2) You find new ways to teach
 
In a previous post I described how I have used a reference to a video game in lessons. In future posts I imagine I will explain a few more of these in-lesson tangents. Not every student will have played the game in question, or understand the reference; the aim is to get the students to explain their understanding to each other. I’ll use the most recent way video games have hopped into my teaching, mainly because it wasn't even my idea. It happened by chance, and was suggested by a quick-thinking student:
 
During a lesson on World War Two (the outcome of Pearl Harbour, to be specific) the word ‘morale’ appeared. This is one of those words that students don’t understand at first glance, or confuse the definition with the word ‘moral’. In the past when students have asked what morale means, I've explained it to them with various different examples. When the word pops up again, some of the students can recall the definition. One or two will still struggle.
 
This year though, a student raised their hand and instead of the usual “what does morale mean?” I was presented with a very different question: “Is ‘morale’ of soldiers like the ‘morale’ in FIFA 13?”
 

 
A dozen curious eyes flicked up from workbooks. Intrigued, I answered their question with more questions. I asked them what morale was in FIFA 13, what affected a player’s morale, and what difference it made to the team. Students who had played the game leapt to contribute, explaining what the term meant in terms that every student could appreciate. Not only did they begin to understand the concept in depth, but it lead into a great little discussion relevant to the topic. We discussed how morale would have been affected by the incident at Pearl Harbour, what impact the following declaration of war would have had on Americans, and how the morale of Allied soldiers in Europe would have been affected by America’s increased support.
 
The best thing about using references to video games is that the students can speak on subjects they already understand, and use what they already know to help them and those around them learn more.
 
3) You boost their confidence
 
The way in which someone responds to school life, their lessons and to their teachers is a big part of education. Many students lack confidence for various reasons. Reluctance to speak in front of the class; aversion to challenging tasks for fear of making mistakes; asking the teacher for more help… these are all issues that can hamper a student’s enjoyment of school. Many students who argue that ‘school is boooooring’ do so because they don’t feel that they can engage with the work, or they are afraid that they will make silly mistakes.
 
As a teacher, part of your responsibility is to foster a good atmosphere in the classroom, and a positive rapport with each class, that promotes a desire to learn and succeed. This is a big challenge for all teachers. Gamer-teachers have a real advantage here. Your love of games helps build that confidence.
 

 
I remember the moment I first hint to any class that I am a gamer. The thought process is almost visible across their faces. Our teacher plays video games? A grown-up plays games like we do? Suddenly you are no longer the Autonomous Teacher-Bot 2000 that is stored in the cupboard overnight, but an actual human. Not only that, but a human that shares their interests. If students feel that they can talk to you outside of lessons about things that matter to them, it’s so much easier for them to talk to you in the classroom about the work they are doing. Even the shy, reserved, most insular characters will contribute in lessons, because there’s trust there. Even the non-gaming students will grow in confidence, because you’re now someone that clearly everyone else in the class can talk to, so why can’t they.
 
4) You can catch them out when they are off-topic or absent
 
You will at some point have been in public when a group of people next to you begin talking about a topic you know well. You know what they are talking about instantly because of key words and phrases. This happens when teaching. When students are working in groups, it’s sometimes difficult to know that all students are talking about the task in hand. It’s very easy for cheeky members of the class to proclaim that they “were talking about the work, honest we were!” without being able to catch them out. As a gamer you can pick out which conversations in a large group are about the work and which are about Pokemon or Titanfall.
 

 
Your awareness of gaming culture can also benefit you when it comes to new game releases. All students (and teachers) feel ill sometimes, we all have sick days eventually. However, sometimes student sick days seem to happen on the same specific day, and those students seem all better the next day. It’s sometimes hard to say for definite whether student sickness is genuine, but as a gamer you can be aware of reasons why students might be off. 
 
Teacher: where is Little Timmy today?
 
Little Timmy’s Friends: He’s sick sir. He’s got a migraine.
 
Teacher: Is that because he was up all night queuing for Black Ops 3?
 
Little Timmy’s friends fail to look puzzled by the question.
 
5) You get to know who you are teaching
 
Sometimes simply having the conversation about games with students can tell you a lot about them. How many hours they spend gaming reveals whether their excuse for not handing in homework is genuine. The types of games that students enjoy can reveal whether that student will prefer visual lessons or something more active. As a history teacher myself, I like to know who has played video games that are relevant to a topic we are studying.
 
On one particular occasion, a conversation with one of my sixth form classes (17-18 year old students) revealed something quite surprising about the group I was teaching. After the end of a lesson the conversation turned to video games, and it became apparent that every female student in the class was a big fan of action games (particularly zombie games like Left 4 Dead), whilst the male students were either non-gamers or preferred more puzzle/platformer games.
 

 
Because of this conversation, I subsequently began to notice that this mentality was reflected in what interested each half of the group in lessons: the female students were more interested in the gorier, conflict-based (and stereotypically ‘male’) parts of the topics we were studying, whilst the male students preferred the more subtle political goings-on within history, and had no preference for the violent features. Understanding the student’s gaming interests led me to tailor several lessons differently because of the demographic, as well as leading me to reflect on what ‘boys and girls’ typically find interesting in History lessons.
 
Your Thoughts?
 
Can you think of other ways that being a gamer is an advantage for a teacher?  Does your chosen career get a boost in some way from your gaming hobby? If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, did this post give you confidence that you’ll still be able to continue gaming?
 
Thank You for Reading.
 
You can find more of my observations on gaming and teaching on Tumblr, and if you’d like to get in touch you can find/follow me on Twitter.
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I had two options today: I could write something thoughtful, profound and provocative, or I could write about Disney movies. It wasn’t a difficult decision.


As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a gamer who’s happy to wait for new games and consoles; very rarely will I pick up a game the moment it is released into the world. The last game that I felt compelled to grab early was GTA V. The next game will most likely be Kingdom Hearts 3. This is due in part to my love for the Classic Disney movies and characters that I grew up watching. I take great delight in fighting alongside the characters I’ve known since childhood. My only concern is that those characters never really get the chance to lead their own games.

If I had three wishes, one wish would be to see more Disney stories turned into games. Whilst I greatly appreciate games that include Disney characters, I’ve always felt that the Animated Classics hold a great deal of untapped potential. I fondly remember platform style games based on Lion King and Aladdin. Sometimes Disney princesses get a simple, interactive story book of a game that hardly does them justice. I can’t help contemplating what would happen if Classic Disney movies were given the chance to become fully-fledged games amongst the modern competition.

How would Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs translate into a video game? What game genre best suits Beauty and the Beast? Which movie would make the greatest gaming experience? I believe there’s a whole new world of potential in good old Disney stories. Below is what I think some of those games might look like.

Spoiler warning: I will be talking about the endings of three Disney Classics. If you haven’t seen one of these movies, you may want to scroll past that part. Also, we can’t be friends until you have watched them all...

Cinderella: A strategy game

If the Cinderella game appointed Cinders as the main playable character, the results might be less than entertaining. The gameplay would consist of completing all the worst chores in the castle, with the occasional berating from her evil stepmother and step-siblings. But then, the movie was never just about Cinderella was it? In my mind, this game would centre on the real heroes of the story: the mice.



The game itself would play as a top-down view of the castle, allowing you to see into each of the rooms in the style of ‘FTL: Faster Than Light’ or ‘Dungeon Keeper’ (no not that Dungeon Keeper, just the good ones). From your over-seeing perspective you control the actions of Cinderella’s miniature friends. The main objective of the game: to keep dear Cinders happy.

As the step-sisters attempt to demoralise Cinderella with trash-talk and tasks that occupy her time, you move the mice around the castle to help take care of those demands. Feed the chickens, clean the floors, and mend dresses. The better you do: the higher Cinderella’s spirits. You can also use the mice strategically. You might set-up traps or diversions that distract her step family. The further you’re able to keep them away from Cinderella the better. Keep them squabbling amongst themselves. You could also search the dark recesses of the castle for forgotten trinkets and collectibles to give to Cinderella as gifts. Of course, there are risks to watch out for. The mean-old house cat will swipe and any of the mice that he comes across.

Ultimately, if you’re able to keep Cinderella happily whistling while she works, the end game will eventually begin. Once the prince’s Ball has been announced, you and the mice will have a limited time to resource and piece together a worthy gown. Now, you will know full well that this endeavour will fail – the dress will be torn asunder by her jealous siblings – but that’s not the point. The real aim is to do your best for Cinderella.



This is where the video game can build on the finale of the movie. The transformations that the Fairy Godmother performs are the same each time in the movie (it would be weird if they weren’t) but in the game they could alter depending your performance in the game. The better the original dress, the more impressive the transformed version becomes. The more each mouse achieved during your play through, the more astounding they become as men and horses. Your success is presented in how spectacular Cinderella’s entourage appears. Her success at the Ball depends on your kindness.

Hunchback of Notre Dame: A stealth game

Given the recent trend of games which include audacious parkour as a central gameplay feature, I don’t think it’s too ridiculous to imagine Quasimodo joining the group. When you also add the Bell Ringers desire to stay hidden, you have the basis of quality stealth gaming. Borrowing a little from the repertoire of Assassin’s Creed perhaps, but with evasion and sneaking as an absolute must. Remember when Assassin’s Creed was a stealth game...?



Quasimodo would stay close to his tower for the opening act/tutorial missions of the game. Then, as his confidence grows, he would stray further from his home, but always aware that he must be back at the tower for when his master visits. This would be the main way in which the game expands on the movie; exploration of old Paris would be a central part of the game. When you explore the city, you might dare to approach the local citizens. As the player, you would have to find the balance between staying hidden and trying to subtly interact with life around you. You might see a robbery and try to catch the thief, or defend a young street urchin from bullies, or simply collect souvenirs for your home in the bell tower, all the while masking your identity from the public by staying one jump ahead.



Between explorations, the main story would move forward. The Feast of Fools and then helping Esmeralda to escape would both make exciting moments in the game. The only alteration that should be made is the ease in which Quasimodo learns the location of the Court of Miracles. Instead, Esmeralda’s clues in the game could be more cryptic, leading to more exploration of the city to find clues. Furthermore, The Hunchback of Notre Dame finale would make an awesome end game sequence.

Mulan: An action-adventure game

I’m pretty certain I could simply state that ‘Mulan would make a great fighting game’ and leave it at that, doing whatever the blogger equivalent of ‘dropping the mic’ might be. Mulan would make for a great game protagonist. There are great characters and some awesome action sequences. Even the training sequences would make fun levels, or be used as enjoyable, extended tutorial segments. There would need to be more battles – there are two set-pieces in the movie – but then the Disney version is based on the historic ‘legend’ that (don’t worry, you’ve not been tricked into a History lesson) fought for 12 years. It would be reasonable for the game creators to add extra skirmishes before the two ‘main battles’ of the story. This would actually assist the story in a way; we’d get to see a clearer progression from zero to hero.



This would be a deeper story than the average hack and slash game. The combat aspect of the Mulan game would make up a significant part of the game. Between battles however, you will be interacting with the other soldiers as you travel to face Shan Yu. This is a challenge in itself. Whilst banter and camaraderie will boost friendships and morale, you are always at risk of being found out. You have to pick the toughest, ‘manliest’ dialogue options at times, in order to keep you true identity a secret. You have to find ways of raising the fighting spirit of the soldiers around you, without them asking why you always sit down to pee...

Further Thought

These are just three examples of Disney games that I feel would make truly great games if given the chance. There are other examples I could give – Snow White as a survival game, Beauty and the Beast as a Tower Defence, Black Cauldron as an RPG – but I won’t belabour the point. Plus you might have ideas of your own you wish to contribute. I’ve also barely touched the surface when it comes to discussing all the reasons why Disney Classes would make great games. The soundtracks for one thing, would be a big selling point; I defy you to find better battle music than “I’ll make a man out of you”.

Your Thoughts?

Do any of these ideas have potential? Can you think of alternative ways these games would play out? What other Disney Classics could translate into video games? Is there any way we can get Kingdom Hearts 3 released faster? I wonder.

Thank you for reading.


If you enjoyed reading my nonsense, you can find more of it on my Tumblr, or you can follow me Twitter if you want updates/warnings about my posts. If you didn’t enjoy reading...well, you did very well to get all the way to the end... well done you!
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Last week, I posted an open question about gender in video games. I then proceeded to hide behind the sofa; I’ve been led to believe that the internet becomes a dark and scary place when it comes to this particular topic. When I finally raised my head above my cushion parapet, I began to realise that things are a little calmer than expected…



Some people agreed with the notion that more games should include gender choice, providing examples of games which do it well. The majority of people disagreed with the notion, but did so in the best possible way. Whilst I am an advocate of gender choice in video games, these comments highlighted the difficulties when trying to implement this feature. Before you read this post, I implore to follow the links below to the previous post:

Read the replies at Destructoid.
Read the replies at Kotaku.

Rather than dive into the comments as they unfolded, I wanted to wait and see what was discussed. I had originally intended to push this discussion further, by looking at previous games which could have included gender choice. Instead, this ‘Part 2’ will focus on some of the great ideas and counter-arguments that were raised after ‘Part 1’, starting with the very nature of the question itself….

Obligation and Shoe-horning (Shoulda Woulda Coulda)

The phrasing of the above question split opinion. On the one hand, many people argued that games should add gender choice if they can (If it can be added, without detriment to the game, then why not?). Others however, pointed out that saying a game “should” include gender selection is inherently wrong. Game designers must not feel obligated to create a second model for their protagonist is they don’t want to. We shouldn’t feel the need to tell game creators that gender choice “should” be in the games they put together. If they want to add it, well that’s great; lots of readers expressed their love and respect for games that do include the option.

There were other comments that argued that gender choice can feel ‘shoe-horned’ into games; the female version of the protagonist added to pander to a target audience. That’s not difficult point to prove; there are lots of games where gender choice has very little impact, and seems to serve no purpose. It is however difficult to pinpoint which games added a female character because they truly wanted it there, and which games added the option simply as a way to appeal to more players. A game I played recently makes for a good example: Guacemelee!



This is a game where the protagonist is a muscled, manly man. If you’re playing with a friend, they jump into the fray as a female luchador. The game does (sort-of) allow you to play single player as the female character, but it’s convoluted. As far as I am aware, you only have the choice on the PS3, and even then you are required you to jump through hoops like you are inputting a cheat code. This gender choice definitely feels shoe-horned in.

This is something to consider when criticising games in general for the lack of female characters. Whilst we know that women are under-represented in games, and voice those concerns, we should not expect (or want) game developers to immediately start churning out female protagonists because of growing pressure, or out of a need to pander to audiences. Game developers should ultimately make what they want.

If I had asked, “Could more games let you choose your gender?”, then this would be an easier discussion. Many comments confirmed that when gender choice is implemented, it’s appreciated, and there are other games which could do the same. However, as has quite rightly been pointed out, gender choice should not be included for the sake of it, especially if it impairs the games design, premise or story…

Gender affects the Game (This is a man’s world)

A lot of responses that disagreed with more gender choice did so on the grounds that the gender of the player character is not just important, but integral to the game. Specific character gender is often seen as vital when story is a main part of the game. It’s a very hard argument to counter. I enjoy imagining whether ‘that character could me a man/woman’, but there will always be something in the game that changes as the character’s gender is swapped.

One game heavily criticised for its lack of female characters was GTA V. These criticisms of course referred to the lack of both playable and non playable women. Nevertheless it’s hard to argue that the sex of these three protagonists is unimportant. And not because women ‘don’t fit’ the GTA landscape, or can’t match their villainous male counterparts. (there have been real and dangerous female gangsters since the 1920s.) The GTA V protagonists are arguably male at their core.



It requires a distinctly high level of testosterone to even begin to explain Trevor’s behaviour; Michaels’ character is highly influenced by his role as father figure within his disreputable, ‘nuclear family’. Franklin, in my opinion, is the character whose gender could be most easily swapped. This is a character defined less by emotions and relationships and more so by their objectives – a young street gangster trying to make more of themselves and impress the veteran criminals. However, the way in which the Female-Franklin would be seen and treated by the other characters would differ greatly. Whilst I personally believe that ‘Frankie’ would have made a very interesting contribution to the story within GTA V, I cannot see how his/her gender could be swapped without altering minor aspects of the game, and I cannot fault the decision to make the other two characters male.

One of the many characters I’ve imagined with swappable gender is Nathan Drake. What would happen to the character, story and gameplay if Nathan Drake could be Natasha Drake? There’s nothing overtly masculine about Nathan and his personality traits, his confidence, quick wit and carefree attitude could all be transferred. Whilst I believe Tomb Raider and Uncharted are very different games, Lara Croft shows us that women are more than capable of the kind of stealth, combat and exploration that Drake goes through. In my mind, the only real issue with Drake’s possible gender swap are his love interests. To allow for a changeable gender means that, like in Mass Effect, the sexual preferences of the players love interest have to be flexible too, if not abandoned entirely. I think Elena Fisher might object…



There were some comments that pointed out that a small number of games with gender choice do make minor changes to the central story depending on which choice you have made. Whilst I’ve not played these games myself, it’s interesting to see that game creators are aware that gender differences can affect a story and use this as part of the game’s design. This leads on to a practical issue with gender choice that several people raised…

Budget and Time (Hey big spender, spend a little time with me)

This isn’t really something I can comment on personally, but this is something definitely worth discussing. Many comments pointed out that adding gender choice takes a significant toll on the budget and timescale of a project. I’m not a game creator, but I am curious to know how true this is. I can see that, in some cases, another voice may be needed for the script, and a different character model is needed, but how much impact does this have? Furthermore, could you therefore argue that game companies with bigger budgets should be more inclined to offer choice of gender?

Representing gender (That, that dude looks like a lady)

So you’ve decided to add gender choice to your game. Now you need to decide how to show that difference. Whilst in ‘Part 1’ I argued that Mass Effect’s Fem-Shep was equally as awesome her masculine alternative, this was countered with the argument that there isn’t anything inherently ‘female’ about Fem-Shep. Her voice, mannerisms and parlance with other characters matches Male-Shep throughout the game. I have to agree, and also state that Male-Shep never really presents himself as overly masculine either. This isn’t a particularly bad aspect of the series – the characters are meant to be largely neutral avatars – but it does highlight an issue with gender choice. There’s a risk that the two characters you create are male/female in a cosmetic sense only.



If you decide to make two characters that are different because of gender, you also have to decide how you are going to present that difference. You could go with long standing clichés such as ‘men=blue; women=pink’ or ‘boy=cap; girl=bow’. Not everyone is going to agree that the way you represent the genders is correct. Why can’t my female character have short hair? Why can’t my male character’s armour have a ‘boob-window’? The act of trying to allow greater choice in your game could ultimately reinforce old stereotypes.

The FPS (Do you want to see the world? In a different way, yeah)

Different types of games seem better suited to gender choice. The RPG scene has an over-abundant collection of games which allow you to choose the sex of the character you play as. It was interesting to see people declaring the First Person Shooter as another genre ready for greater gender choice. This makes sense to me: if you’re looking through the eyes a character, which in most cases is entirely silent, why not allow the player to choose the eyes they are looking out of? Of course, this may not have any visual bearing until you go into cooperative/multiplayer mode, but as I said in ‘Part 1’, having the choice on any level should be a positive thing.



Many shooters feature a protagonist that is a soldier. In these cases, it seems all the easier to employ gender choice, simply because it is not uncommon for first names to be ignored in a military environment. Soldiers are often referred to by their rank and last name only. Why not let the player choose the first name, and the gender that goes with it? If nothing else, why does the FPS need to tell us whether the character is male or female? If it’s a solo-campaign game, then let the player decide for themselves.

* * *


My Conclusions

Should more games let you choose your gender? Well, no game should have to, but it seems more game creators could ask themselves whether the gender choice could be fit into their design. They shouldn’t do this because they feel pressured, or because it’s seen as the ‘right thing to do’, but they should instead add gender choice because it adds something positive to the game. It might improve immersion for certain players, add a new perspective to the game, or even add a new reason for a second play-through.

Is this a solution to the disparity between male and female protagonists? In a small way, I still like to think it is. There are clearly lots of issues and pitfalls for game creators to consider when including gender selection, but I see the simple act of discussing gender in games as a positive thing (as responses to ‘Part 1’ proved). If more games creators explore or debate the options of gender choice, the underlying discussion – “could this character be female?” – might be addressed with greater conviction.

Your Thoughts?

There’s no way I’ve covered everything that was mentioned in the comments. If you feel that something that was raised in ‘Part 1’ should be discussed here, let me know. If you feel you have something new to add, please comment below or on the previous post.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

If you want to contact me. You can find me on Tumblr or follow me on Twitter.
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