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9 hours ago - 11:12 AM on 09.04.2015

Venture Into The Borderlands - Part 1: Funny Little Robot

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening! Welcome to my written Let’s Play of Borderlands 2, dubbed as the “Venture Into The Borderlands” series. Sorry for the name, but it just sounds snazzy to me and I couldn’t work out a graceful way of putting the number “two” in there.

Basically, this Let’s Play was born out of my want to finally experience Borderlands 2 and my lack of ability to do it without having a purpose to it. I did consider doing it as a video but, well, it is a 20+ hour game I think. So I thought it’d be more painless to everyone involved to do it as a written style, like a Borderlands Bard speaking of wild stories over the roaring campfire flame. Basically, every week I’ll spend five hours on it and then write up my thoughts and what has roughly happened. It could be me analysing the game, it could be me just throwing my opinion around or it could be me slowly being driven insane by the tidal wave of memes.

I think there are memes anyway…

I’m pretty much playing it off-the-cuff, with the hopes that people enjoy this study into Borderlands 2, likely including its DLC.

 

At least more than I did collecting hair from beasties for someone’s hat.

 

Everything in Borderlands 2 will be new to me, so really you will be getting an unfiltered slosh of opinions of the piece. Although I do have experience with the franchise, completing Borderlands (and most of its DLC) and playing through Tales From The Borderlands whenever the episodes get released.

I have to say though, stumbling upon this guide, it really offered a strong start to the game. All those codes? You better believe I entered EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Yes, including the ones that give you something depending on the level of the character you load up next. A lot of the Golden Keys didn’t work, but I worked out I got 133 keys to play with. More than I’ll need, in fact probably quadruple, but I guess it is handy to just keep in your pocket just in case.

With the key entering done… Let’s start up the game!

Okay, blinked?

That’ll be the 5 hour mark for me done and, well, I can barely remember much of what happened. It is weird. I can sum it up in a sentence the events so far, but not much more specific than that. I decided I’d go with a character that was an all-rounder since I was playing alone, one without an Achilles heel but also without a particular area of strength. So, Axton it was and off I went on my journey into the Pandora wastelands.

I have to say though, wow, everything feels so unusual in comparison to Borderlands; like starting the game already mostly fully-equipped, rather than slowly introduced gently into the water. I guess it was a reflection of the rather silly idea to input all those codes for my first play-through, as I was over-whelmed with all the various things now clogging up my surprisingly small inventory. Oddly though, the thing that struck me the strongest was: “HOLY SHIT, YOU FAN THE REVOLVER?!”.

Although some things don’t change at all. In this case, it is the series still clinging onto the idea of Claptrap being a vital part of the adventure; as well as having a shared vocal/visual hallucination called “Angel” who assures you that you shouldn’t just shoot Claptrap and have some peace-and-quiet. Although, this time around, Angel feels the need to occasionally swear and then correct herself.

 

A habit the actor behind Angel, Britanni Johnson, also does after downing a hot pepper doused in hot sauce. Just with less correction and more apologising. 

 

I still don’t fully understand the anti-humour in being forced to subject yourself to a painfully bad comedy character. Claptrap is like one of those Family Guy sketches that go on way too long, in the hopes that it resurrects humour in a Dr Frankenstein manner, except somehow (using science fouler than necromancy) less funny and more painful to watch. Perhaps there is an endearing aspect to Claptrap I’m just not getting? Maybe there is something I’m missing to this Stewart Lee performance that lacks the high-brow intelligence and the self-awareness of the stand-up?

That’s why I always struggle to judge a comedy act: Since comedy is subjective and perhaps it is funny to someone. Me though? It just feels like a burden that everyone was aware could irritate people, but the development team didn’t want to waste all the many hours spent writing and designing the sodding character. It is as though Roy Chubby Brown’s mind got trapped into a child and now you had to supervise him and all his painful humour; while others went off to fix the freak scientific event plaguing everyone. That if you just left Roy Brown to his senses because you can’t be bothered with his Daily Mail-inspired routine, he’d probably play in traffic, get himself killed and permanently doom the world some how.

Fuck… How did such an irritating character (something the game seems aware of) become a staple of the series? Maybe that’s why Tales From The Borderlands feels funnier and better? No Claptrap…

 

No damn need to drag the “Best Minion Ever”, as the game likes to boast, around as he makes foul guttural noises called “humour”.

 

…Anyway, this time around rather than just being a bunch of hoodlums looking for a vault, you are vault hunters betrayed by your employer Handsome Jack. So, naturally, since he tried to fire you (with explosives into a charcoal dust form), you must liquify his assets (which by that, I mean you must render him and his everything into dust and a mixture of bodily fluids).

In 5 hours, I helped Claptrap (who is annoying), helped someone with the worst English accent (who is annoying) and helped various bosses to end the prolonged psychological suffering they must have been experiencing up to this point, with a swift execution (who is also annoying). Yes, the cast of characters do frustrate me, especially as each one seems to be trying to do their own stand-up routine as though I was playing a particular funky, vibrant and nitrous-oxide toxified version of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Especially since each one felt a sprinkling of memes is the way to go (e.g. SHUT UP AXTON WITH TELLING PEOPLE “COOL STORY BRO”).

Although, yet, I was only bothered by Scooter. Was he always so… Raspy? There just feels a constant creak in his voice that I’m sure wasn’t there before, as though someone forgot to squirt some WD40 after the original Borderlands performance. IMDB and a Borderlands Wiki website all say it is the same voice actor but… I don’t know…

I managed to try to meet up with Roland in Sanctuary only to discover he is on a top secret mission and may be in trouble. So, because the voice in my head told me to, I may have to go rescue him which will happen next week. Although Rolo seems good enough to handle whatever danger he’s in personally, but I guess the game needs a reason to usher me out of Sanctuary like a busy parent at Christmas telling me “Just… Go play with your toys…”.

 

And so I did.

 

I think the other thing that really interested me as I was playing through was the odd achievement list. The original Borderlands had a list of mini-achievements (e.g. shoot so many of an enemy, use a particular gun, etc) with no pay off, while giving you a bonus depending on how much you use a particular weapon. Borderlands 2, however, let’s you earn tokens via achievement grinding which can be used to boost vague things such as melee damage, reload speed and shield recharge rate.

So, of course, after being told by the game to go play outside because plot is busy, rather than go help Rolo I went to an icy lake to go play baseball/skeet-shooting with the local wild-life. After all, if I can reload a whole 1% faster while Roland is likely being tortured, having some shotgun mouth-wash and then thrown out for the skag to chew on, then Plot can hopefully learn the folly of telling me to just go earn my narrative. Especially since, so far, Plot hasn’t earned my attention quite yet.

 

I played baseball/skeet-shooting alot.

 

Currently though, including some ups and downs I’m saving for later weeks, I am actually enjoying it a bit more than the original Borderlands in terms of the gameplay. Sure the writing is weak, although the memes aren’t as invasive as I was warned, so far the gameplay is enough to keep me on my toes. Despite this, it is unknown if the fun of the gameplay will last.

Hopefully next week the story picks up or I’ll be probably playing football with the skags next so I can crank up my melee damage by 0.4%. I don’t think Borderlands 2 wants me to, like Nero, play on my lyre while Sanctuary burns.

 

I wonder if this is symbolic of something...

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12:13 PM on 08.14.2015

Challengers Wanted: I'm The Guy With The Gun

I think it is interesting how people choose the combatants they stick with. They may go with aesthetics (e.g. I think Raphael is cool as hell, so I do tend to use him in Soul Calibre games) or the gameplay (e.g. in UFC games, I tend to enjoy striking characters as grappling or floor manuevers just aren't my thing, so stats will tend to be higher in standing strikes abilities). However, there is one oddly specific thing that lures me to a character over and over and over, like pollen to a bee.

A gun.

Not one of those high-tech magical sorts, with the lasers and strange output that can not be comprehended. No, I mean the type with gunpowder, iron and grit. Preferably a nice gun that'll fit in your hand, but a lovely two-handed beauty could lure me in gently. Now, this is may not be unusual when looking upon my choices of League Of Legends characters, when I do play it. I enjoy playing as Graves and Miss Fortune when I get a chance to, maybe even dabbling with Gangplank when I want a punt at piracy. You could even suggest it still leans on normalcy as a factor of why Naoto is my favourite Persona 4 character (sshh, it's competitive against the AI).

Where my obsession with being the guy with the normal gun begins to perhaps become a demented obsession is in the realm of fighting games. Yes, I like Wesker in Marvel Vs Capcom 3. You better believe I'm Erron Black (Gunslinger of course) in Mortal Kombat X, twirling my revolver around and creating massive internal bleeding with a bullet with your name on it. Oh, and before you ask, damn right I was Stryker in Mortal Kombat 9. It was such a thrill for me to be a bad-tempered SWAT leader who took down demons, gods and inhuman beings with just a gun, a taser and a torch. It even fuelled a decade long obsession with unlocking a character in Bushido Blade that had a gun, one that I've yet manage to accomplish.

 

 Considering recent press in America, I think it might have been wise to leave Stryker at home for a game or two.

 

“Riobux you nefarious bastard” you may be getting ready to type in the comments below, “you just like the screams of your opposition as you plink away at them until they either break their controller or your thorax”. Except, no. I have no interest in cheap tactics to victory, I really don't mind losing (which explains why I still like Raphael in Soul Calibre). So, what reason could there be?

Well, one possible root lies with an Extra Credits episode on why the U.S. have produced more first person shooters than Japan (I'll shove it at the end of the blog for the curious). In it, they describe how both America and Japan have different forms of empowerment fantasies which are rooted in their unique sociological and historical contexts.

Japanese games tend to focus on “the power from within” (which, for instance, is symbolised perfectly by levelling mechanics found in JRPGs) due to a religious and historical background that emphasises on self-actualisation* and the weapon being the extension of the self. That through improvement from within, we can exert an external power. Megaman, most JRPGs and even animes like Dragon Ball show that strength comes from internalisation of victories and mastery of the self. Guns are just an extension and medium for projecting inner strength onto others.

On the other hand, the history of America is founded upon the gun. It is the tool that people grasped to claim democracy and freedom in the face of monarchism and oppression. It is not part of the self, it is instead a method to empowerment. It is something to be respected in how it is simultaneously dangerous but also a required item beyond simple hobbyism. In fiction, it is what separates the poor weak citizens cowering to bullies and the lone hero with a gun, a plan and the determination to right wrongs. Even the more urban environmental games, like more noir titles, still keeps a handy firearm that can be held at the waist and gripped in one hand for when things really go wrong.

 

Sometimes things go wrong and the only tool you have will only make things worse.

 

Except, I don't know. It might suggest why I prefer the simple handgun (as I prefer to be in an urban environment in games) than more heavier and perhaps more useful tools like assault rifles. It is also true that I tend to veer away from more Eastern culture, as most JRPGs, animes and other representations just don't really get my interest. I also enjoy more individualised play, enjoying a more lone-wolf role than direct teamwork (except when getting into healing roles and, eh, let's leave that on the bench).

However, well, I don't have the cultural history that is America. I didn't really grow up with it, I don't have an interest in their history and I didn't learn a language due to them. In fact, if a game, film or book feels “too American”, I get annoyed. Military shooters are classic for this, especially when they celebrate the American hero all the way (which made me love Spec Ops: The Line more, as it just commented about how childish the viewpoint was). Two series I love which could have fallen into the American bravado sensation, Killing Floor and Payday, are both done through a lens of another culture interpreting American media (Killing Floor was predominately first designed by Canadian Alex Quick and Payday series by Swedish developer Overkill). So, considering these factors, I'm not entirely sure it is a representation of my Western roots.

Another possibility is media. I believe it is hard to ignore the powerful nature that is media generally. From fuelling our anxieties and worries through selection and presentation of news stories, to letting us know particular games exist through adverts and coverage all the way to even influencing the values people hold. So growing up with films that have glorified the hero with the gun and a purpose may have instilled a fascination of the handgun in me, making me see the weapon as part of the costume of the sleek cool protagonist.

While it is not an easy task to separate how much media has had an influence on me (as it is hard to assess your own thoughts and work out if they're not your own but rather the product of your surroundings), if my favourite films suggests anything on the subject it is that it is not the case. While I enjoy action films, they just don't stick with me. I prefer more slow burns like Drive, A Walk Among The Tombstones and Shutter Island. Even when a film does have strong action elements, like The Watchmen, the gun is just a rarely used component in comparison to wit.

 

Sometimes wit isn't enough, and that's okay. 

 

I'm not sure if I'm any closer to mentally working out why I enjoy characters with guns than when I started. There is just a slickness to them, a coolness to them that reminds me of noir films and of Cowboy Bebop which I enjo-...

...No, wait, I watched Cowboy Bebop after Mortal Kombat IX, Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Bushido Blade, false alarm. Perhaps it is something so deep rooted in my psyche that it is unable to even be acknowledged, lying so deep that to even suggest it would sound wrong even if correct? Just know that if there is a fight to be had, I'll be bringing a gun to this fist-fight you want. Unfair? Says the people using mysticism, superpowers and undecipherable technology to win your day.

*Sorry, the Western psychological term for simplicity sake and is technically wrong. According to the Extra Credits video, it is about “spiritual attainment and mastery” due to a Shinto and Buddhist background. A brief look into both areas, for me suggests it mostly resting upon disciplining one's self internally, but I admit general unawareness of these practices. It is a really basic understanding that I'm sure someone can correct me on. I simplified it to “self-actualisation”, a Humanistic psychological concept of being the best one can be physically and mentally, although I think mostly for myself than the audience. Again, I'm really sorry for this simplification and I'd be more than happy if someone could correct me.

 

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11:23 AM on 07.13.2015

An Introduction Of Myself (With An AMA)

Good morning, afternoon and evening, wherever you are.

As the title may indicate, this is something of an introduction. The type where I bang on about myself in a way that is humorous as to divert from myself ego-masturbating or self-loathing. I admit it is a bit late perhaps, considering I started doing the blogs a year ago today and stopped working on my own blog about a month ago. Although the year ago part is why I've finally poked my head out of the cracks in the woodwork and finally got around to telling people a bit about myself, as it is the anniversary of my first Destructoid blog. So I thought I would finally introduce who I am to you folks.

So, let's just get the boring dry “what sort of bloke are you” out of the way.

 

"Are you even a bloke?"

 

I am Riobux and I'm a Sociology With Psychology BSc graduate (yes, I got a bachelor of science rather than arts with sociology) while also attempting and failing at a master's degree in Social Research Methods. My actual name being Kailan May which I guarantee most of you will manage to mispronounce and misspell terribly. Why disclose my real name online despite growing up in a state-funded school where everyone was told if you tell people online your name you're going to get buggered? Well, I am hoping to get into games journalism (despite having no formal education in the area and less than a year of experience), where one of the important parts is getting my name out there and known. Although I still currently write under the name “Riobux”, so eh. I currently work over at Gamers Honest Truth and We Are Just Gamers (also known as the website Reinhold Hoffman did after getting banned).

 

I am also currently a reservist at the C-Blog Recaps, where every so often I get called from the Reservist Shed to help cover for someone before being sent back to the shed. The wooden shed where bets are made on just about anything, jenkem isn't just accepted but is also the norm and the only reading material on the bookcase is obscure autobiographies at least a decade old and bizarre limerick graffiti. Rumours exist of a reservist who still lives under the floorboards after his entrance/exit tunnel collapsed, and that late at night you can still hear twisted and malformed cock jokes being uttered. I'm sure it is just a myth... Right?

 

...Right?!

 

Besides that, well, I don't know what to tell you. I'm also sure I mentioned some things about me that doesn't interest a single person (e.g. Degrees? Man? Why do I even care?). I'm absolutely dreadfully awful at describing myself really (hence how awkward this blog is without the AMA/F.A.Q. part). So this is where the AMA comes in. Feel free to ask me anything in the comments below, even just something I know rather than about me. I will then gather up a good few answered questions about me, such as my favourite car wax or my opinions on hair-gel, and put it in this main post in the form of a F.A.Q. for others to look upon; since I'll be keeping this post linked to the right once I get around to doing a new blog (which may be soon on a somewhat infrequent schedule). That way, I have an introduction with information that people give a toss about. 

So, let the real introductions (in the form of an AMA) begin.

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11:36 AM on 06.05.2015

A Hiatus From The Destructoid Blogs

For now, I will be leaving the Destructoid blogs for a hiatus.

I don't think it is much of a hidden thing that recently I've generally been slipping in terms of kicking articles out the door. I know last week was meant to be a Band Of Bloggers thing and this week I had meant to write something analytical, both failed. Both things I feel incredibly guilty about actually. It is perhaps more obvious my end seeing how close I get to my weekly deadline, as well as my difficulty juggling other things. So rather than try to drag on with an unstable schedule of “oh, maybe this week I'll write something, maybe not”, I'm going to take some time off. Hopefully recharge and return back to the table with some new-found knowledge and new things to discuss.

The first thing I know a few people may wonder, and is the easiest thing to answer, is if this will affect any other commitments I have (i.e. GHT, WAJG news writing, C-Blog Recaps or anything else I've forgotten). The answer is a firm: No. Don't worry about anything else I do at all.

Now, for the longer and perhaps more difficult question to answer: “Why?” I do not have a solid answer for this. I have a long list of reasons, but none of them are good.

I've found myself over-burdened with work really, as I have more and more projects to work upon (including something cool coming to GHT I'm hoping to be a part of). Despite this, it isn't a time issue at all. Excluding the work I do online (which I don't get paid for), I am unemployed. I have very little commitments outside of the work you see including very little interaction with my own family, no friends offline and a very small pool of friends online. So I have plenty of time despite the projects I take on.

 

I guess in terms of being social with others, I fit the gaming stereotype.

 

What it probably more likely is, is perhaps a reflection upon how mentally taxing it can be to work for me. It is partially that writing the piece its self does have an effect on me as I have to solidify my own thoughts and try to put them to paper. What likely also does have an effect, as much as it pains myself to acknowledge it, is my own mental health concerns.

Without going too much into it, as no one deserves that, I have anxiety problems that makes me always self-doubt, worry and see myself in a very negative light. So no matter how much praise I get, no matter what wonderful attention I receive and no matter the content of the interesting comments people make concerning my blog posts; I pretty much always see every product I make myself as, to put in a nice way, awful. Which means often I'll think of an idea and wouldn't run with it (e.g. I had a few for the recent Band Of Bloggers, but all of them struck me as terrible). It may also be why I don't think as well as I used to, I think.

These two things likely contribute to why I procrastinate as much as I do these days. A review that would have taken a day before took three or four days now. Which was mostly me just psyching myself up, “putting myself in the right mood”. Days went by with no work because I thought I was just “preparing myself”. I'd delay reviewing so I could play through an episode after that day's commitment was done, only to find out afterwards that I'd have maybe six more hours before I'd be too tired to work. Six hours would have been plenty before (as it was an episodic game review), but these days it is a hassle.

There are some other parts of it, some things I have considered, but I have gone on way too long just whining about myself. Like my family likes to tell me “you should try a 9 to 5 job then!”.

 

"Game journalism not a real job."

 

There is also the problem of a lack of topics to cover. From what I can tell, mostly, the well has run dry for things to talk about. I'm sure I am forgetting some possible cool topics but currently I do not believe I'd be able to write about them to a good enough level.

Anyway, I'm hoping to return in the future with more things to talk about. I have something planned for the anniversary of my first blog at least, so I know at latest I'll be returning for that. I am hoping with a bit of time off I can recharge myself, work out some cool topics and come bursting in. Until then, I hope to see you guys around.

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2:06 PM on 05.22.2015

Affect The Affections Love In Videogames

This week I would like to talk about the depictions of love in videogames.

Ah, the tickle of butterflies in your stomach. The sensation of awkward nervousness around someone. The obsessive thought-patterns about that particular person. Love. It can leave someone who is powerful on their knees in tears, as well as leaving the weak and fragile as mighty as wolves and as cunning as crows against opposition. It sits opposite hatred as a fair maiden. Love really is a powerful motivating force for people and, I believe, a ceaseless well of inspiration.

Despite this, and countless forms of fiction on the subject, I am not so sure videogames are good at presenting a romantic narrative.

Videogames appear to side step a lot of parts of love, ignoring large chunks of the experience. The aspects of love that are handled, I feel appears to either disregard important parts of the process or perhaps simulate it in an off-kilter manner akin to an emotional version of uncanny valley. So today I wish to briefly discuss seven areas that I feel videogames either ignore or may do badly in terms of presenting love. Followed by the usual wrap-up conclusion.

The first area that I feel videogames somewhat ignore is the experience of exploring sexuality. There are naturally people who enter teenage life, and then adulthood, knowing fully well who they are sexually. They may know their sexuality, their fetishes and even their type. However, some will need to explore who they are. The person may step into a relationship with a particular gender only to discover then that, actually, it isn't their cup of tea. It may just be that they'll fall in love with someone they didn't expect to or they fall in love for the first time with a particular gender. The experience of this transcends just falling for someone and even steps into a moment of self-discovery.

 

For example, my own sexuality is still in a situation of discovery despite being 24 and has been since I was 13/14. Although I am about 80% sure at this point, even if my own sexuality does pull tricks on me.

 

This important moment in a lot of people's lives, even if it is a moment of finding out something isn't your thing, is something sadly missed entirely. There are several reasons for this I feel. Two of which are parts I wish to touch upon later in this article. However, one I feel is worth mentioning is the typical scenario of a sexuality being explored. I believe usually people will assume they are a part of the norm in a society, unless given a reason to doubt it but not enough to be certain. So people will only seek to explore their sexuality if they are given evidence (e.g. particular thoughts) that they do not fit the norm.

This means a game would have to include homosexuality, for a character to explore the possibility they are homosexual or bisexual (or heterosexual if they believed they were homosexual or bisexual before). While it seems like an obvious point, videogames still rarely exhibit homosexuality. Although when they do, sometimes they can touch upon exploration of sexual feelings or sensations of love to particular genders such as in Persona 4 and Gone Home. Often though, a character will have a particular sexuality and never show any wavering in said view. Which I feel is a shame as discovery seems to me to have an under-stated amount of importance to love, especially with regards to LGBT people.

A second part is the very limited amount of inter-racial (excluding fantasy races) relationships depicted in videogames. There are only a handful of examples of love being shown inter-racially, such as Binary Domain, Mortal Kombat X and Payday 2 (well, depicted in a live-action trailer). However, the limited amount of love displayed by two people of different races is partially because it being a reflection of a wide-spread societal situation. In the US, in 2010 the rates of inter-racial marriage was 8.4% and in the UK in 2011 it was 9%.

 

YES! I managed to slide Payday 2 in again! This time in the form of Chains in the John Wick Payday 2 trailer.

 

On the surface, this may appear to be a terrible form of racism that needs to be stopped. However, there is evidence to suggest it isn't a form of racism necessarily but rather a string of factors. An experiment using speed dating by Fisman, et al suggested background played a part in people have same-race preferences. An article on The Guardian proposes two separate psychological theories of why people believe those of other races look alike, that either people are more used to seeing their own race than of alternative races (suggesting a nurture theory) or due to the individual perceiving other rac as having fewer unique personal attributes which could be used to distinguish between different races (which suggests at a possible nature possibility). Which I would suggest that being less able to perceive differences in a face would make it harder for an individual to love someone of that race, than someone of the same race where it is easier to tell people apart. In the end though, while there is a small amount of inter-racial forms of love in games, it is debatable if this is necessarily a problem or just a reflection of reality.

The next area that is disregarded with regards to love is NPCs just not being interested. Well, I should perhaps be a bit more precise, as in most games technically NPCs just aren't that into you. It is a rare moment for a game to offer up the chance to ask suggestively “hey, so, want to take a long stroll on the beach, come back home and whatever happens happens?”, for the NPC to then say “no”. Usually the ability to ask indicates that love can happen and it is an initiation for love (which, in games, means sex). Although a character just saying no has occurred when asking them (e.g. Dragon Age: Inquisition), it is just still in a position of being rare.

On the other side of this, is NPCs never propose to you. In life, like how you may have confessed your love to someone else, someone may have told you that perhaps they feel more strongly than simply liking you. Maybe you've told them back that you have waited for the day for the person to declare their feelings to you as you felt likewise but was too scared and shy to admit it. However, perhaps more interesting in this context, maybe you have had to let them down carefully as you admit that perhaps you just aren't that much into them. It could even be that you're not into the gender that is announcing their love for you, creating an absolute impossibility of dating you due to reasons beyond the person.

 

Sometimes it is impossible for romance to bloom because THEY ARE A FUCKING HERETIC AND THAT IS HERESY!

 

It is possible for the person to take it in many ways, which has the potential to create a lot of interesting narratives. Maybe the individual becomes twisted into a machine of hatred, fury and destruction by their obsession for you but the inability to have it, always proclaiming “YOU COULD HAVE STOPPED THIS! ALL YOU HAD TO DO IS SAY YES!” as they execute a civilian. It could be they wish you the best in a moment of bittersweet joy. It is even possible the person is rolled up in a ball in a state akin to depression. There are so many possibilities, and yet it lies untouched. Now, why do you think that is? I'll retouch on it later, but it'll be curious if you draw the same conclusion as me.

When love is included in a game, ever noticed what stage of love you experience? Every single time in games the sensation of love is centre entirely upon the falling in love. That relationship honeymoon state where you realise that you do not consider an individual just an equal and a friend, but rather something even more profound. Even when this love is shown, it rarely steps into a complication such as, to bring it back to an earlier point, a startling realisation that you're both the same gender but believed you were heterosexual. As this could risk diverting the point of the plot moment away from fully being about the connection of two souls and onto focusing on one fundamental aspect. As love tends to be a minor plot point usually, it is fine as a large amount of complexity for a small side-plot could just end up confusing people. However, it is a shame love isn't dedicated enough space for this plot to hopefully emerge.

There are other stages of love that are barely shown though. The feeling of contentment of a relationship lasting on, including towards the end of both of your lives, as well as the emotional experience of losing someone or drifting apart are barely if ever noticed. While it does exist, it is rare to have to face your husband or wife divorcing you or dying, usually having to see it after the fact (e.g. Kayne & Lynch: Dead Men). It'll often be that side note on top of the other symptoms of their life falling apart (e.g. Max Payne 3). The main example I've seen of experiencing a marriage collapsing is The Novelist, where you enter the game witnessing a marriage on the rocks and through your actions it can lead to a divorce occurring or it being successfully patched up.

 

The Novelist would be incredibly creepy as you watch the family, if it wasn't so depressing to watch the family fall apart. 

 

While this holds another reason I want to talk about later (me delaying reasons is going somewhere, don't worry), there is an important part to consider I think. The stages of a relationship that remain untouched assume an important thing: That the player is fine with the default relationship in place. It is possible for a player to be stuck in a relationship and be told “this is your partner now”, only for them to reject it as they do not personally like the partner. It can lead to an unintentional disconnect that feels frustrating and dull. So the game would have to take this risk, or include a love plot long enough for the player to pick the love interest and experience it beyond the “honey moon” phase of the relationship. Both have their risks, although I believe the risk is worth taking for that pay off.

I think another concerning aspect of love in videogames isn't necessarily what they have forgotten but rather what the transition has included. Rather than allowing players the opportunity for their character to fall for another person freely, or choose not to if they wish, there are some games that wish to reward particular love options. They may get the ally to operate better in combat, give you bonus statistical rewards or even extra equipment.

On the surface, it is possible that it seems like a nice thing to do. That you get a little extra for doing something you feel like doing. However, rewarding different options with different mechanical rewards can turn a decision into less a form of expression and opinion and more into a choice dictating your character's build. For example, if you're playing as a rogue character you may end up dating in-game a character you hate just for the critical chance increase. While this type of thing may work for some games that are about friendship and are built around forging them (e.g. Persona 3 and 4); it can feel incredibly out of place and frustrating in other games, especially in ones about creating your own narrative (e.g. Dragon Age: Origins).

 

Meanwhile, Persona 2 is about killing Hitler and the Lovecraftian god Nyarlathotep. 

 

The final part of love in videogames I feel is important to talk about is a problem that simultaneously underlies a lot of the problems talked about above (the exploring sexuality, NPCs not being interested, NPCs never proposing to you and the limited areas of the life of a relationship that gets simulated), and yet is its own beast. It concerns about a philosophy towards game design that underlies a lot of game creation.

That videogames need to be empowering.

This ideology exists in most games, with the main genre where empowerment steps aside being the horror genre. This idea even exists when romance is brought up, making it impossible to feel out of depth or confused. Developers tend to focus on the empowering parts of love, while playing down or simply removing the disempowering moments, thus delivering what could be considered a synthetic simulation of love. A large portion of developers empowering the player is them always being in control of every part of the relationship, never feeling things going awry for reasons beyond your control. A character will not suddenly back out of your relationship with them as they feel unable to sustain it. Your love interest wouldn't suddenly form a physical issue or a mental disorder that you must now cope with. The person you want to be with wouldn't change into someone you barely recognise and now must decide if you loathe them or not. Things go as the player feels, making them feel strong constantly rather than an equal split of awe-inspiring affection and despair-inducing powerless. This lack of vulnerability is a shame.

In conclusion, out of all things on this list that I hope occurs more in videogame romantic subplots, it is disempowerment. As I feel a major part of falling in love with someone isn't just being with them, but also dropping down all your walls and leaving yourself open to the other person. While this allows both people in the relationship to truly embrace the other, it is also leaving yourself weak to the other person if they wish to exploit you or destroy you. It is the ultimate form of trust. To give someone a blade, remove the ribcage guarding your heart and trusting the other person not to stab you. Sometimes we end up harmed and betrayed, but yet, isn't it worth it in the end?

 

Fun fact: I used the word "love" thirty-five times! Smashing the previous record of twenty-five!

Special thanks to ExtraCredits for inspiration.

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12:58 PM on 05.15.2015

Riobux Recommends: Vlad The Impaler

This week I wish to recommend a choose-your-own adventure game called Vlad The Impaler.

Every so often a game warrants talking about not so much due to a cool mechanic, its polish or just how deep it is. Sometimes a game just goes under the radar so much that it lives in a tunnel in a small colony, despite being a pretty solid little game. So this week, I wish to recommend a cheap little visual novel to play for an evening or two. While it doesn't have any particular interesting mechanic to discuss, I still feel it is worth exposing people to this game.

You may be wondering what Vlad The Impaler even is, as you conjure up mental images of being a ruthless vampire hunter (e.g. Van Helsing). However, that isn't quite the type of game this is. Vlad The Impaler, boiled down to its simplistic form, is a choose-your-own-adventure game with an ability score system bolted on. You start out picking a class (with class specific abilities and their own individual ability scores). After this, you're left to venture your way through Istanbul with a rough story in mind: It is 1452 and you receive a letter asking you to root out what dark evil exists in the shadows and alleyways of the city. From this, you make choices that give you bonuses (or minuses) to your ability scores and maybe the occasional item, as you gradually learn more and more of what is really going on. In this sense, the game is rather simplistic.

 

Ah, simple.

 

One of the greatest strengths Vlad The Impaler has going for it is its ability to drip with atmosphere. The art that exists for each scene is sketch work that, while sounds potentially awkward, feels like the drawings of your character in their journal. It holds that lack of full clarity of what you're looking at, which breeds a “fear of the unknown” and curiosity to find out in the player. Meanwhile, the writing is able to describe in great detail the events you're facing, unafraid to add a little gory flair or bleakness into the tale your create.

After all, you do make the story. Which is another thing I did enjoy, although I admit that I am a sucker for games that give the opportunity to affect the plot. You get to pick where you go and what you do, with a very limited amount of turns before it is time to discover the true evil of the land. While your choices don't particularly affect the direction the plot turns usually (even the various endings boil down to either failures or the end-game decision), they do affect the event you picked as you will decide which direction the event goes. You also gain ability points from this system, which will determine if you're able to pull off something you can do at a later date. Although this will usually boil down to “you fail and you die”. So, in that sense the decisions are somewhat shallow, although I still did enjoy carving out a tale and only getting to experience so much.

There is also a nice little alignment system, which ends up determining your class's final evolution. While I am not hugely sure what effect this ends up having on the game (except perhaps what weapon you can get at the end?), I did find it interesting to see how my character would finally end up as I felt a sense of character evolution during the plot.

 

Like being an assassin without ever having to assassinate anyone.

 

However, there is a very core problem that could cut into people who are perhaps more... In love with the English language. The writing is filled with grammatical problems full-out. While I could personally understand what they were probably meant to say, it often boiled down to words being missing from the sentence to make it structurally comprehensible. I'd really be surprised at this point if the grammar errors are fixed, as the game was released in July, 2014. So just expect to sometimes take the time to try to understand what is being said, and rarely take complete guesses what is going on.

So, who is Vald The Impaler for? If you are looking for a neat little visual novel game to pass the time with cheaply, at £4 as full price is definitely worth your attention. Especially during a sale where it may be 25% off or even 50% off. Just a small caveat: Play-through times are about 10 to 30 minutes a go. So to really get the full worth of the game, I would recommend checking out other events you hadn't picked and go with an alternative ending.

With that in mind, if you're still tempted to throw down about £2 to £4 for a quick piece of fun for an evening, then I recommend checking out Vlad The Impaler on Steam. I'll see you guys next week with a new analytical article!

Note: Due to work load, the next analytical article may be published two weeks from now rather than a week from now. I'm really sorry. 

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2:42 PM on 05.08.2015

The Ontology And Epistemology Of The Reviewer

This week I want to discover two philosophical stand-points that game journalists hold that affects the reviews they create.

This is something I've been tempted to do for a while; but really wanted to wait for just the right moment to pounce upon people, like a charity worker from the shadows asking for change. However, there have been two obstacles: The first is it is a somewhat complex subject that I really wanted to make sure I took my time with to do it justice, and secondly that it is a dry topic that may lead to most people shuffling out quick. Fortunately, the former has been somewhat cleared, as I have a good few days to really research hard, ponder harder and write the hardest.

 

However, the dryness, well, good luck reading through to the end!

 

So when it comes to making reviews, I feel each writer has their own personal philosophy they follow as a guide through the process. While perhaps not overtly decided, subconsciously there is acknowledgement of various philosophical perceptions that can be considered as the ontological and epistemological position each reviewer has decided upon. These underpin every review as they help determine the writer's views on aspects such as what is a game, what makes a videogame good and what constitutes a legitimate playthrough prior to reviewing; which can then make the difference of how well received it is.

I plan to hopefully discuss these two rather complex philosophical concepts and how they relate to guiding a journalist through the process of not just forming their perception of a game but also how they then present these thoughts to readers. Just a fair warning, I am simplifying these concepts and I may be squishing square-peg into the round hole through-out.

I wish to begin with the first half, Ontology. The word has its roots in the Greek words, “ontos” to mean “being” and “logos” to mean “study”. Taken to its literal translation, it would mean “the study of being”. However, the meaning as often used in philosophy (or at least within sociology) is more abstract than the literal translation would indicate. A person's ontology is the answer to the question: “What is reality?”. While on the surface this could be seen as a philosophical question where the answer has little baring on a person's life due to how abstract it is, it is an incredibly important question for a sociology researcher to acknowledge.

One such implication that can come from the answer, is the identification of an objective social reality. Sociologists who believe it is possible to discover the truth behind a social situation will tend towards more scientific and statistical approaches towards research (i.e. quantitative data, a.k.a numbers), often using macro research methodology (i.e. large participant amounts) and usually be referred to as “Social Realists”. Other sociologists may believe that there is no social reality that exists outside of our perceptions and interpretation of events. “Interactionists”, as they are referred to as, will usually use micro research methods as they focus on smaller participant amounts to obtain as much data per person as possible to try to create a holistic understanding of each person's perception. This data is usually collected through interviews, literature reviews and observations in the form of qualitative data (i.e. word data). There are also various other forms of implications that can occur from such a basic question, and each of these can direct a researcher down a very particular path in terms of methodology.

 

Social Realists are not to be confused with people who claim to be Realists, believing their perceptions untarnished by the viewpoints they hold. Naturally, a joke among psychologists to get through the harder days of research.

 

The application of ontology to videogame reviewing I wish to propose is the definitions of very basic terms and the impact this has. During the process of talking about videogames, journalists will use terms that hold uncertain and personally defined definitions. These include what defines genres (e.g. what genres exist and what are the characteristics of each one), what is a character (and, to be more specific, what is a non-offensive character) and even what is a game. By creating definitions, lines in the sand are formed. These lines can create weight to the terms depending on how specific the definitions are, as the more specific the characteristics the more exclusive the label become.

An example of this is “What is a game?”. The rough definition each writer holds to this very fundamental question can help define the importance of mechanics. One such example is the definition proposed by Nils Pettersson at Gamasutra: “A game has explicit rules and goals, and is played with the primary purpose of learning.”. This definition leans heavily on mechanics as being essential to being a game, as indicated by holding “explicit rules and goals” and having a learning element. While it could be suggested that a strongly story orientated game could fit in the definition, as learning what happens could be a goal and the learning element, I believe it isn't in the author's intention. Especially Pettersson's departing words on the topic: “...if you wish to trap a player inside the game you create, if you wish to keep them playing, you must:

- Present her with a problem that require her to learn in order to overcome a challenge

- Create rules that are explicit enough that she is unable to simply bypass the problem.”

The requirement of a challenge is something atypical in games that are as story-orientated as Gone Home, The Yawhg and Elegy For A Dead World. This could lead to less mechanically driven games being less part of the game definition, and therefore seen in a lesser light. Plus, it can lead to less importance being given to the story and more to the mechanics being offered.

To contrast this definition is Dexomega's definition on their Kotaku blog, where video games are described “as the culmination of combining visuals with a story and with gameplay, my three elements of the visual arts. Visuals are a form of feedback that is interpreted by the audience, story is the sequence of events that you receive from the piece, and gameplay is the ability to use an interactive system to affect the story.” The key part of this explanation is the final part where gameplay is interpreted as an interactive system that affects the story. This is loose enough to allow for games that hold a strong narrative element and is interactive-light, and therefore allow the reviewer who holds this definition to put greater importance on the story being offered than the mechanics on hand.

 

I like to feel I'm breaking new ground, or at least sailing against the wind, by referencing Kotaku without talking about social rights. 

 

Although, of course, you can offer to take the ExtraCredits route of stating the question “What is a game” is Mu. Where the question is simply wrong. This offers absolutely no prestige value to the term “game”, but in turn leads to the journalist holding absolute freedom to hold very high importance to narrative if they should choose.

Understanding the ontological position of the reviewer can help the reader understand the language being used. As shown above, three radically different definitions of videogames offer very different understandings of the importance of mechanics to games, with countless more definitions being created by each writer. Every definition of what words mean offer different implications and suggest the views held by the reviewer that can impact their interpretation of the product being assessed. By being able to interpret the language of the writer to the language of the reader, this can help avoid mistranslations that may lead to confusion and frustration after the viewer buys a product that, in the end, they didn't want.

Once someone has arrived at their ontological position, then comes assessing their epistemological standpoint. Epistemology comes from the Greek root words “epistme” to mean “knowledge” and “logos” to mean “study”, translated to mean the study of knowledge. This is taken to mean in sociology the question: “How can I know reality?”. In comparison to ontology, epistemology tends to have many more answers that vary more wildly. Each answer to this question indicates a methodological preference in the discovery of social knowledge. One such example is Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist during the late 1800s to early 1900s who felt that knowledge can be discovered using a scientific method. This impacted his work as he used statistical data and analysed it for correlations, shown during his work assessing the sociological causes of suicide.

Within videogame reviews, it appears epistemology exists in a smaller frame than ontology. While ontology concerns its self with definition of phrases, epistemology concerns its self with two clear questions.

The first question regards: “What is an appropriate experience to be able to derive a review from the product?”. While more narrative focused games do not need this question assessed, as it is clear that it would have to be upon completion of the campaign, more mechanically focused and open-ended games would need this question answered.

To use an example: When should you review a multiplayer-orientated game, and under what conditions? It is possible to put a time-limit on how many hours you should spend, although this could run the risk of having an incomplete experience if each multiplayer-session is long (e.g. strategy games) or repeating a lot of matches if each session is short (e.g. FPS games). Another alternative is an amount of matches, although some games have multiplayer-sessions that take 20+ hours of gameplay to complete (e.g. Europa IV, Age Of Wonders 3 & Civilisation 5). You could also determine when to review when you feel comfortable to do it, although this is open-ended and can accidentally leave content untouched if the reviewer feels ready prematurely.

 

I feel there are some games that you're never comfortable to review, and that's okay.

 

There is also the question of who you should play multiplayer games with. A popular option, especially in PVP games, is to play with the public as it would likely simulate the experience the average person would have. However, this can lead to the reviewer feeling disgruntled due to an unpredictable event occurring, like constantly being crushed, being harassed or having poor team-mates. While a competent writer will not intentionally let this affect them, as it is unfair to blame the developers for a bad experience with the community, it could subconsciously put the journalist in a bad mood. There is also the problem of if the game isn't released to the public yet.

Another alternative is to play with a friend. While this assures a fair and enjoyable experience, this presents two problems. The first is that you would need a friend with a copy of the game, which can especially be problematic if the game hasn't technically been released yet. The second problem is your experiences with the friend can affect you. If s/he comments to you about a particular thing they like or dislike, it is possible you will adopt this view unintentionally. If you have a particularly good time, you may give the experience higher praise than warranted. Just like if you ended the session with a heated argument, the multiplayer may be seen as a sour moment.

You could play with AI, although it could lead to a negative view point of the multiplayer if the AI isn't too great. Something that may be unfair if the multiplayer is mainly designed with player characters in mind. There is also the option to play with the development team, as sometimes offered, but this can lead to an unrepresentative play experience if they walk you through a session (e.g. if the game is ill-explained and the developers just explain it, the reviewer may accidentally over-look how confusing the game is) and can lead to an awkward experience if the videogame appears poor quality due to knowing the developers.

The second question epistemology may concern its self with in videogame journalism is: “What makes a good game?”. While technically unfair to the developer, reviewers do have personal preferences of what games they prefer and do not like. This tends to influence what games get handed out to what reviewer at videogame websites, like for instance I wouldn't review a space-sim as I do not enjoy that genre. However, on a smaller scale, I admit I like stories a lot. Most of my favourite games are on the list due to the narrative they present. So if a game is narratively sound but presents poor mechanics, it is likely to have more of a pass than if the mechanics are good but has a poor story. Not enough that it would be unfair and not noticeable enough that it is a conscious difference, but I am aware subconsciously lies that distinct probability. As, just like me, each reviewer has their very loose and rough criteria of what they see in a great game which is specific to themselves.

 

Okay, I image-searched "opinions" so I could make a jab about reviewers never being objective annoying people. Instead, well, I got The Floating Head Of Reasonable Opinions. So that's nice.

 

I think the main thing to consider by the end of this, besides the importance of reviewers to consider their epistemological and ontological positions, is for every person who reads reviewers to understand that there is a reviewer for everyone. That each journalist holds their own philosophy of review, which can be matched to what people believe assessing videogames should be about. The problem is it is a very trial and error situation.

While this could be rectified by filling out a form that people can then read, this presents two problems. The first is how abstract the ontological and epistemological questions are. I guarantee that I have not even scratched the surface of the many questions that lie in the depths below the surface. Plus, it would likely be difficult to answer the questions well due to how abstract the answers would be. The second problem is the answers would be so varied in nature that, at best, audiences would only be able to get a “somewhat-near fit”.

In the end, I believe it is important for those who wish to review to consider their ontological and epistemological position, or at least to have a rough idea of their views. As this can not only help craft more streamlined reviews, but perhaps more importantly allow the writer to know their own views and the source of these views better. As by understanding our own process of generating our own opinions, we can hopefully avoid holding views that are easy rather than speaks to our own interpretation of videogames and side-steps creating half-formed reviews that leave the author concerned and unsatisfied. I hope this article wasn't too dry and hope even more the following weeks are a lot more lighter. See you then!

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4:11 PM on 04.24.2015

The Validity Of Short Games

This week I'd like to talk about the possibility of hour long games, with a particular focus on narrative-driven games.

So about a week or two ago, there were rumblings of Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 getting announced. Considering the constant commentary about cinematic first-person shooters being short, I had joked to myself about a Call Of Duty being based on the shortest war ever. The Anglo-Zanzibar War, while mildly disputed, lasted 38 minutes from beginning to end. The string of humour surrounding such a game (including a pre-order bonus of playing as the one wounded British soldier) got to the point where I had even sent a tweet to the Call Of Duty Twitter account asking if Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 would be based in the war; as well as contemplated writing a silly article for Gamers Honest Truth saying that Activision or Treyarch have neither confirmed or denied rumours COD: BO3 would be set in the Anglo-Zanzibar War. In the end, the silly joke was used for a C-Blog Recap for Wednesday, which I am now part of the reserves list!

However, this started to make me think. I believe the reason why I had become so attached to the joke was the sheer possibility of it occurring, and the more time I spent thinking about how funny the concept was (due to said attachment) the more it became a question of “well, why not?”. So I wish to talk about the validity of games with a play time less than one hour, which I will observe the pros and cons of such games (although there will be more aspects I will be unable to consider) and then conclude with any final thoughts on the subject.

The first positive side of a game that is less than an hour long, is the opportunity to cater a story-driven game to people who just don't have the time to sit down and play for more than an hour. Some people live a particular lifestyle where they may have, at most, an hour to just sit down and have a breather. Games that demand 6+ hours to experience a story may be ones that are left by the wayside in favour for just quick books or films if they want a story or mobile games that are more accessible to the time-constrained.

 

It is a simple fact that some people's schedules are just too busy to play videogames.

 

So by having some games cater stories for the time-constrained, it can mean allowing a market that would have been left to simplistic Android and iOS games or films and books for story, to be able to enjoy an engaging interactive story quickly for an evening as the opportunity arises. In a similar way someone may get an hour or two free and quickly rent something from Netflix for the evening. This can lead to not only more people interested in videogames (as some time-pressured people do prefer something more thought-provoking in an emotive sense, like how a story can stir emotion, than puzzle games and adventure games), but also further discussions on narratives in videogames by an untapped audience.

A second positive side is, just like short stories in comparison to novels, some stories just end up naturally shorter than others. Sometimes a writer will write something that tends on the more simplistic side with maybe just a short over-arching plot. To then decide that such a plot can't be in a game or would need to be padded heavily since it is an expectation that games should last at least an hour is an actual let down. Would it not be a strange moment if Washington Irving in 1820 was faced with the dilemma that his story was too short? That stories should be above 100 pages and his fiction The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow rested at an unfortunate 25 pages? So I wonder, why should a plot be unfortunately rejected or padded to avoid the risk of upsetting people with a short campaign?

One example I'd like to use is The Yahwg. This is a choose-your-own-adventure story that takes ten to fifteen minutes to play through. Looking upon the final form, I feel it would be inappropriate if the developers were forced to drag the story out further to appease those looking for a more in-depth game. Due to its short story-length, it is designed for multiple play-through with friends as you observe your character's legend and their effect on the world around them. To make it longer would definitely lose the casual multiple-experiences intention the game seems to have, and I believe it would be surprising if the more padded form was more engaging. In its shorten form, it appears to do what it wants to do and leaves before you grow weary of the build up to the final crunch.

 

The Yawhg also gives you the chance to be a medieval Batman, so that's nice.

 

However, there are some problems that seem to come inherent to shorter games that would need to be avoided to make a short campaign effective.

The first problem is one of the reasons for the often simplistic mechanics in mobile games. The more deep and complex the mechanics hope to be in a game, the more time a player needs to fully get used to them, to experiment and discover their own solutions to the obstacles the game presents. While games like Portal, Dungeon Of The Endless and The Masterplan are all long enough for the player to get used to the implications of the possible solutions of the dilemmas they offer; a game running only one hour would have to be simplistic enough in its mechanics for the player to feel comfortable with how they work by the end of the game.

One such example is the game You Have To Burn The Rope, a game that according to HowLongToBeat takes 2 minutes and 27 seconds to complete and is the 2nd shortest game on the list. You Have To Burn The Rope tells you the objective in the title, and the corridor leading up to the boss describes the entire game's mechanics. These are incredibly streamlined to not just one gameplay challenge to work out but also tells you the solution to this conundrum: Your weapons do nothing, burn the rope, defeat the boss. There isn't any room for the player to consider other actions or to feel they don't quite understand the depth of the game's mechanics, but rather you kill half a minute and walk away content. While an hour long game wouldn't have to be as streamlined and focused as You Have To Burn The Rope, I feel any depth and complexity would likely have to be of a non-mechanical nature (e.g. narratives and any thoughts it provokes) as to provide a simplicity that doesn't feel mechanically anti-climatic and bloated by the end.

 

In case you're curious, 1st place is Run Jesus Run a.k.a The 10 Second Gospel.

 

The second problem I'd like to discuss is money, as much as a difficult subject it tends to be. A game being offered as something to last less than an hour is one that will likely be a difficult sell for over £3. Plug & Play, a game that is described to last 10 to 15 minutes, costs £2. With this pricing range in mind roughly, a developer would have to be careful to not have a budget that exceeds over even £10,000, as it would be hard to make back the development money. Considering £10,000 isn't much to a medium or large developer, they would either have to find a way to make the hour-long-games into something done by a very small development team (e.g. 2 or 3 people?) or find some other way to still make it profitable without pricing the game at too much. With such a small play time, I believe over-pricing is something that is very easy to accidentally do.

Thinking about the possibility of short one-hour games, I can not actually quite discern at how possible it is for a developer to focus on the method of delivery. Even episodic games, especially Telltale's library, tends to last about 1 ½ hours at least per episode. So for a developer to focus on simple games to quickly pick-up-and-play for an hour, especially ones as a medium for a short story, appears unlikely. Especially as films, another medium known for story-telling, tend to last somewhere between 1 ½ hours to 3 hours, averaging around the 2 hour mark.

 

And then some films decide that five hours and 25 minutes is a good run time for a single film.

 

However, despite this, as videogames increasingly become mainstream and ingrained to pop-culture, I believe there will be a market for interactive-lite experiences that seek to just tell a story in a similar way films currently do. Just with a slight interactive edge such as decision making (i.e. like The Yahwg) or walking through the motions the character in the “interactive film” would do in a linear manner (i.e. Heavy Rain or, perhaps, even Call Of Duty could be considered this due to its cinematic manner although with a more interactive-lite version). Maybe The Yahwg, 39 Steps (although haven't played it) and the Half Life mod Radiator (maybe something I need to discuss at some point) are possible indications that games for the time-constrained who want something more narrative based than 2048, Pocket Train and Hill Climb Racing is not just a future genre but has been a genre that has laid low in some form of secrecy?

Either way, for those who prefer the power of the pen than coding a simple conundrum, your audience awaits. Especially with game-making tools such as Twine. Enter stage left, perform your hour piece and exit stage right. Expect an applause.

 

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2:40 PM on 04.17.2015

Band Of Bloggers: What Does Bloodborne Say About RPGs and Action-RPGs?

This week I will consider about the genre differences between action-RPGs and RPGs using Dark Souls and Bloodborne has a fantastic example.

I believe it is hard to deny that Dark Souls and Bloodborne, while holding some similarities, are incredibly different games. Despite sharing a similar development team and the same director as Dark Souls, I feel that Bloodborne's differences are not just cosmetic but run deep. The changes run so deep that I wish to propose that not only is Bloodborne an action-RPG rather than a straight RPG, but also as they share a similar team and style to Dark Souls that it could be used to fully illustrate some of the core-characteristic differences between action-RPGs and RPGs. I believe such an example is important as, on a day-to-day level, people do struggle with defining genres of games let alone sub-genres such as, well, action-RPG (i.e. RPG with action elements) and RPG (i.e. a straight pure RPG game). So I wish to talk through four differences that I feel illustrate mechanical differences between these two genres.

 

The first aspect is the ability score layout. There has been a decrease from 8 ability scores you can level up in, down to 6. On the surface, this isn't much at all. However, there have been more of a simplification of what each ability score determines. Remember in Dark Souls how if you wanted to get a magic build or a faith build, at the very least you'd have to level up intelligence/faith as well as attunement? In Bloodborne, you have Arcane. Strength for strength weapons. Skill for dexterous weapons. Even the new “Bloodtinge” can be boiled down to “gun-use”. These changes also include removing equipment load, folding spell use into item-use and a singular magic system (rather than Arcane and Faith from before).

 

They have also simplified the weapon choice. The starting weapon choice boils down to "Threaded Cane so you can blugeon or whip peasants and monsters down to size, or be not a dashing gentleman/lady".

 

This simplification allows greater accessibility for those who, in the past, may have felt over-whelmed by the ability-score system of before. Now people are able to decide what style of combat they prefer and use a mostly self-explanatory skill system to adjust how their character functions. This streamlining also means a greater emphasis on player ability/equipment used rather than statistics, something that favours more action-orientated games which prefer to just jump into the fray than the thoughtful RPG method where you build to your play-style.

 

While it is possible this leads to less customisability (it does mean less subtly-different statistical builds), it also allows the player to shift tactics on the fly more easily to suit the challenges they face, which I feel adaptability (rather than thoughtful tactical approach) is another staple of action-orientated games. Although adaptability and tactical approach could be seen as the same thing, the former emphasises making plans up as you go along while the latter is about preparation. As the bane of action games is waiting, a game trying to be an action-RPG will tend to be preparation-lite so the only waiting are simple lulls before the tension of combat.

 

A second part is the game rewards you for taking an incredibly aggressive approach towards combat. The biggest obstacle for the defensive player tends to be motivation to rush through combat rather than take their time. This especially occurs upon getting hit, as the immediate thought-process for a cautious player is to retreat and re-analyse their tactic so they don't get hit in the future. Bloodborne side-steps this by rewarding attacking after getting hit, by letting some (if not all) their health come back depending on the amount of damage inflicted for a short time after being hit. This rewards a more aggressive attacking tactic, something that is more in line to the typical gameplay in an action-RPG.

 

The third difference is a continuing on from the reinforcement of the second change. This is a game that also strongly discourages defensive play by limiting your options. One of the most classic and easiest forms of defence is the shield. You lift the shield up and a percentage of the damage is absorbed by the shield, with the downside being you can't attack and, sometimes, you can have the shield knocked away which leaves you stunned and vulnerable.

 

Dark Souls also presents a third option: Raise your shield and be killed in one hit as Havel crushes your skull anyway.

 

However, in contrast to Dark Souls, there isn't any shields. While you are able to dodge, you can not block. This forces the player to stay constantly aware of their surroundings for enemies that could hit them due to a lack of a shield (e.g. sharpshooters) and even makes the process of being defensive active (i.e. choosing where to dodge and when) rather than passive (i.e. just holding down the shield button to prevent being hit with something). This serves to discourage defensive play by making it a process you have to take part in and limiting options of defence. It also makes the process of preventing an attack an active one that requires player to use their own skill, akin to action games, rather than passively relying on the statistics of a shield, which is more favoured in RPGs.

The final adjustment is the death system. It is somewhat of a tradition of Souls games up to Bloodborne to discourage death. Not only you lose the souls you've collected (which can be picked up again as long you don't die again), you will also get an additional penalty. Demon's Souls halved your health, Dark Souls put you into an undead state where some things were locked off to you and Dark Souls 2 would decrease your maximum health for each additional death up to half your health. This punishment served to restrain people from over-coming the challenge through risky behaviour and trial-and-error, but rather try to solve the problem (i.e. the monster you need to kill) in a thoughtful manner akin to an RPG setting.

 

Bloodborne, however, removes all penalties except the loss of souls (which may be picked up) which allows people to try multiple times to overcome an obstacle through brute force and luck if they feel they can't avoid it through guile or fix the issue entirely. It allows the possibility for the player to be underpowered statistically and instead focus on skill and chance to get past the hindrance, which downplays the importance of ability scores and increases the chances of simply focusing on gameplay ability.

 

And then there are some games that try to make ability scores and skill points important, but are so easy despite being on the hardest difficulty that it goes from "eh, normal mode I guess?" to "now just kicking new born children in the face".

 

However, despite all my talking about action-RPGs in comparison to RPGs as though they are a basic black-and-white categorisation, I think it is important to note in conclusion the gross simplification in even suggesting they are distinct. At best, it is a gradient from thoughtful RPGs like Baldur's Gate to the more twitch-gameplay of action-RPGs like Fable or Torchlight. Despite this, I have also heard some good arguments of how our current genre system is wrong and should rather reflect other things such as the reasons why we enjoy games. I think a discussion about category systems is something that will have to come back to one day, definitely. However, I think for now I'm going to just have to get back to Bloodborne and see if its the first Souls game I'll complete.

Note: Sorry if this is less than my average quality. I was pretty much pressed for time and kicked this out in a night. I think this does beg for a huge analysis of genres as a whole, something my conclusion notes. 

 

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4:02 PM on 04.10.2015

Roll The Dice: Risk And Reward In Games

Today I wish to discuss a psychological mechanism which determines our risk taking.

 

Ever stared down absolute danger and the impossible and thought “I can do that!”? Despite every ounce of logic within you screaming “NO! DON'T!”, you do it. An important move, a mad dash or a strange and unreliable tactic has occurred. There is no illusion how unlikely it will work out for you. For a moment, your character is walking across a tightrope across two buildings with no safety net. Against all the odds though, you did it. Things didn't just work out for you, a prize awaited you at the other side worth twice your weight in gold. However, you still made that chance effort when you could have stopped and succeeded to a degree.

 

Welcome to the psychological phenomena that is the risk-reward mechanism.

 

The risk-reward mechanism guides our actions in videogames to an incredibly large level, as we rely on it when we make a choice that isn't just “oranges vs apples” but rather choosing between a safe route and a more difficult-but-more-rewarding route. So today I wish to first outline what this mechanism is in a pure psychological setting, and then discuss four ways this thought process appears in videogames. With finally a conclusion to wrap things up into a neat bow.

 

So what is the risk-reward mechanism that I'm mumbling about? It is a group of thought processes that occur to weigh up the perceived possible rewards and consequences if you should or should not do an activity that may hold a possible outcome. Although I will admit the group of thoughts may hold alternative names as well as each single thought process having their own name (e.g. the ever popular Diffusion Of Responsibility theory would fall under this, as you're lowering the risk towards yourself of the consequences of inaction), so I am simplifying it.

 

Like everything dry, could take hours of research in an university library and many more hours to write it up, I am simplifying it for my own sanity as well as yours.

 

This psychological event occurs every time we must make a conscious decision to do something, often in a fast manner in our subconscious as we consider things such as social risk/reward (e.g. “if I do X, how will others think of me?”), material risk/reward (e.g. “if I do X, how much money could I get from this? How much money could I lose?”) and well-being risk/reward (e.g. “what are the chances I could get harmed from this? Could this improve my health?”). It really can be as simple as choosing what chocolate bar to get from the corner shop, to being as important as if to leap off the train platform to help a fallen epileptic. Stories of people saving someone's life (not as a job) can include a feeling of a disconnect from reality, as the conscious self takes a step back to allow the subconscious to take control. There are relatively few thoughts that are left to a purely conscious consideration of “what should I do?”, as often by the time the conscious state can decide the opportunity is gone (e.g. that epileptic from before? Whoops!).

 

So I believe this raises an important part: How can videogames utilise this risk-reward, and how do they do so already? Based on the description above, I believe it is hard to deny there are particular cases where you may have experienced it. Now, I would like to discuss four general scenarios where the psychological technique is used for various effects.

 

Perhaps the most obvious application for the psychological mechanism in videogames is gambling. I guess this is the part where the line between videogames and non-videogames blurs just a little bit, but I'll get back to games besides ones you'd find in a casino in a moment.

 

One of the main themes when it comes to an individual playing games like Blackjack and Poker is the perception of risk and reward. Knowing when to bet and when not to is centred entirely around the weighing up the rewards and the risks (i.e. the chance you will win the bet), as you try to avoid the bet not paying out, which could be considered one of the most important skills of gambling. Mark Giffith's work with gambling, especially in his paper “The Cognitive Psychology Of Gambling” exposes that the more time an individual spends gambling the more likely they will see games of pure or very large amounts of luck (such as slots) as having a much higher basis in skill. This, therefore, can lead to greater perceptions that the risk is based on the operator's skill, and therefore decreases the level of perceived risk while keeping the perceived rewards the same.

 

Mark Griffiths also did some work surrounding videogame addiction and talked about how people who played games were more vulnerable to electronic casinos than typical people. Naturally, right or wrong, it makes a good few people who play videogames very uncomfortable.

 

How does this relate to games, beyond the obvious gambling mini-games (e.g. Red Dead Redemption's poker, GTA V's slots or even Resident Evil: Outbreak's coin-toss mechanic of Jim Chapman)? Think about the dodge or critical chance mechanic in any game, although I'll be using Payday 2 as an example. You may decide to wear something weaker (e.g. a suit or very light armour) or use weak weapons (e.g. akimbo Bernetti 9) to maximise the odds of a dodge moment or a critical hit, but in the end it does boil down to pure luck if the character ducks out the way of a vicious blow or their attack deals extra damage. Succeeding to do either creating a smirk, as though you yourself had managed to do it.

 

While there is an aspect of skill involved (Payday 2's skill tree design for instance), any activity in the game holds a very uncertain risk with promised rewards (e.g. succeeding in the task) awaiting those gutsy enough to take the challenge. In the end, by allowing this luck-based risk-reward mechanism you can create a rush in the player by a string of good luck moments while keeping it balanced by making it possible that it goes oh so horribly wrong.

 

A second use of risk/reward is as a method to increase replayability or to incentivise taking up a greater challenge (thus making the game last longer by the player's failed attempts) by offering a reward to the risk of a harder difficulty. Some games, rather than setting the campaign mode up on one difficulty, will allow you to decide on a level-only difficulty. This can lead to rewards for playing a level on a harder difficulty such as more money (to buy equipment), more XP (to unlock skill points) and unlocks of cosmetic or non-cosmetic equipment. By rewarding people for taking the harder difficulty (especially on a level more meaningful than an achievement), it allows players to examine the risk and rewards of playing the game on a harder mode and potentially increases the time spent struggling through a level or replaying older ones on a harder mode for a particular in-game reward. Making not only the player enjoy an internal reward/motivation (e.g. pride of beating something hard) but also an external one.

 

They say write about what you know, and I know Payday 2 perhaps a little too well.

 

While this mechanism can also be used for campaign-difficulty options (e.g. cheat codes for replaying the game), it is less likely to be successful as an incentive unless the in-game reward is in another mode besides the campaign as it'll mean the player would have to replay what they've already struggled with to enjoy the reward.

 

A third interesting way risk/reward can appear is it can lead to interesting forms of competition and avoid the problem of dominant strategy. Due to the competitive spirit distilled in leader-boards and PVP, players can be encouraged to get that extra edge by taking a risk. This can appear in games such as League Of Legends, as players pick the perfect foil to someone else's hero that they're not familiar with, or Halo's Firefight mode as they try to help an ally out of a tough part. As players try unconventional tactics, it can mean they'll actively seek out new ways to counter popular tactics thus helping to avoid a singular dominant strategy emerging. This form of experimentation also means the player will be more invested in the game, as they study it thoroughly for details others may have overlooked, and be inclined to play more of it to test out theories they have.

 

The final part about risk/reward I think is interesting is what happens when against all of the odds, it works out. I believe most people who spend at least five hours a week have had that moment they can recall where they just took that insane risk that shouldn't have worked out, but did. We share it to all of our friends about that one time, despite usually being useless, you got a 20 kill streak some how. How everyone was down but you held that line until reinforcements come. Maybe even that moment where you were at that exit, turned around and saw a lone team-mate who had fallen to the floor, so you raced behind cover and picked them up.

 

That last story? That's mine.

 

These tales of absolute luck stick in the mind and are shared like campfire stories in the night. We let out sounds of awe as we mutter words of disbelief how things went. “You seriously threw a flash-bang in De_Dust 2, and killed five people?” . That confident nod where you know that despite how outlandish the claim is, you know its true. It really helps breed excitement, awe and legendary tales among our community. It is the videogame equivalent of the Old Man Henderson, something where a level of prestige is given to the person who did something insane out of pure luck and we repeat the stories with grins plastered on our face. From this, our community ever so slightly evolves a tiny bit to accommodate the incredible legends and our culture increases in complexity a tiny bit.

 

I think looking back at the aspects of the risk-and-reward mechanism that could be used in videogames it is, like most psychological theories that can be applied to games, something that can be used for positive and negative purposes. While it has the ability to build our community stronger as ever as we talk about the insane risks that paid off or how we fell in love with the game at a deeper level through our struggles, it also has the potential to be exploited and cripple us like if gambling mechanics were used even more so than they currently are. However, I think our current usage of gambling mechanics with actual money (e.g. buying keys to boxes that could contain a number of things) has actually been lightly used and mostly ethically, especially as even if you “lose” (i.e. not get the grand prize) you walk away with something still. Unlike the Skinner Box, the “risk-and-reward mechanism” isn't a dirty word that conjures mental images of cons or exploitation, but rather tales of bravery as you have done what others could not and everyone thought you couldn't do. It isn't the shadowy backroom planning where they work out ways to trick people into paying money, but rather that mental image of going over the top and surviving.

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3:09 PM on 04.01.2015

Objective Proof That Videogames Are Not An Art-form

There has been a long lengthy discussion about if videogames are or are not an art-form. Not only in the dorms of universities or on gaming forums, but even all the way to government. The US government passed a revision that allows funds dedicated to the arts to also be used to fund videogame development. However, as I wish to discuss, this conclusion is wrong. Not only just wrong on a subjective level like one looks upon an abstract painting or a Rorschach ink-blob, but wrong on a purely scientifically objective level and I will prove it to you today in a clear and precise manner. So, without further ado, let us discuss the evidence.

 

Let us begin with a simple observation. What do the following artists have in common: Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet. Now, how do they differ from the creators of these games that are considered art: Flower, Okami and Shadow Of The Colossus? You'll find that all those in the latter category are created by a team of people rather than a singular person. This may not be remotely important at a first glance, perhaps even a pedantic point. However, when a piece of material is made by a singular person the final result is a direct process from the creator's stream of thoughts to the final output.

 

They also all have beards.

 

When something is instead made by a team, alternatively what happens is the creator has to explain their vision to others. They then have to interpret said vision to a compartmentalised team which has to take apart that original vision to create their part of the creator's train of thought. This leads to a very watered down form of the original idea that lacks the purity and strength of something created by a singular person. Which considering art is all about making strong statements, this weak message that video games can achieve at best does not fit the situation at all.

 

There is also the prestigiousness that the artistic manner has that, really, video games just can't match at all. While the artistic world is embracing interpretations of deep and meaningful thoughts that artists are trying to leave with people, let us consider what video games are trying to do. The majority of them are still trying to make people have fun, in the same way that a swing-set would try to leave just an impression of fun and nothing more.

 

“But what of those games that are about not having fun” you scream, clutching onto Spec Ops: The Line like a teddy bear. Even those are tied down, forever damned in a culture where “fun” is king and deeper philosophical insights are a silly after-thought as publishers and most developers ponder ways to cut thinking down as to maximise fun. Consider how Spec Ops: The Line has a multiplayer. Consider about all those comments about the triviality of war in media and plant that next to a multiplayer where you compete by killing others. Consider how it would be if the Saint George And The Dragon was given a smiling face as a businessman whispered in Paolo Uccello's ear “got to be more fun pal-o, just not enough fun in your painting, put a little less blood, more brighter colours and make the dragon more happy”. Video games just can't look beyond the fun, and until then they can't match the prestigiousness that comes with art.

 

"That's great Pal-o. Here, got you some Starbucks. Don't worry about paying me back, its coming from your paycheck."

 

On top of all I've stated so far, you have to understand that artists don't beg for validation like video games do, they just make things. The phrase “thou doth protest too much” springs to mind when I see artists not ever argue if their contribution is a form of art but simply make more and more things. Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, ever the vain, videogames try and try to scream about “LOOK AT IT! MY PRODUCT IS TOTALLY ART!”. Which I have to ask: If your product is an art-form then why do you have to state it? Art doesn't need recognition it is art, not does it require some spokesman to scream from the high-heavens of its art form. Art is just is. If you have to point out something is just totally art, I mean just look at it, perhaps it isn't art all along?

 

There is just one little possible snag in my argument that I see people raising, although it is a flawed argument against my objective claim.

 

I see some people arguing that videogames are in their early form of art. Kellee Santiago did a TED talk about videogames being an art form. She claims that video games are an art form in the same way that prehistoric paintings on a wall are art. That while the narratives are simplistic and done in a chicken scratch manner, it still counts as early art. Which from that progressed to the likes of Raphael. While this is true to art, and may be true to videogames (although I doubt it), this still doesn't address the situation right now in 2015. Which, I would add, just like prehistoric scratchings are not really art and doesn't share any deep philosophical insights (although do have value on a historical level), video games do not count as an art form.

 

Art.

 

So I hope that my article clearly demonstrates in an objective manner that videogames are not an art form and...-

 

...What's that? I didn't prove anything objectively? That all I did was subjectively look at an issue, pick-and-choose evidence and create a strawman argument of videogames? That all I did was just declare it as objective rather than actually do so? That it is possible that objectivity does not exist but rather we all subjectively look upon the world with our own perceptions that are affected by schemas and past-experiences; and the closest to objectivity is a shared subjectivity with the majority if not everyone?

 

 

...Huh...

 

Happy April Fools day! See you guys next week!

 

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2:21 PM on 03.27.2015

Gone Gonzo Game Journalism: Could Video Games Be Gonzo?

This week, I will discuss the possibility that videogame journalism is or could ever be gonzo journalism, similarly to Dr Hunter S Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

So recently I had a scrape-in with gonzo journalism, if you can call it that. This wasn't anything planned really, as the best forms of gonzo I find tend not to be. After my Q&A session with ArenaNet, I knew I would have to dedicate an entire article to it as it would cheapen the opportunity I had gotten if I had just slapped it with the rest of the “games I had tried” articles. So once I got back to my house, I got the recording and threw it to someone who also writes for the website I work at. A few days later, after much frustration of the poor quality of the recording (including one part where the speaker was especially quiet amongst a noisy background), he throws it back to me along with the transcription.

Three days later, there is nothing. I'm still staring at the transcript, trying to bring myself to dismantle it into key points so I could assemble something resembling an article from it. I had played Payday 2 enough to find it stale, Bravely Default was testing my patience and the idea of picking a dry game like Analogue: A Hate Story to finally play through at this moment was a poor idea akin to rubbing my face on my desk while begging “why?”.

 

Really, as much as I like the idea of Analogue: A Hate Story, a game where you just read a rather lengthy tale involving Korean history while manipulating a computer database is not the game to play when your patience with everything is completely fried.

 

So, during the darkest hours of the morning, two or three pints of beer in, I figured “okay, maybe if I write the introduction, that'll get me into the swing of things”. So I slam on the keyboard for an hour or three, I don't know how long it took. I figured “okay, maybe if I write it as a narrative, getting my experiences of doing my first ever Q&A and slowly meld it into the information-filled aspect of what the interview actually contained, maybe it'd be good enough”. However, nearly half a page later, I knew I'd have to consult if I should stripe it down for parts so I could salvage a much shorter intro still or if a page long intro wouldn't get me stabbed in the throat by the editor The writer who did the transcript had idea number 3: Complete the piece, hand it in.

At the time I thought it was insane, I mean, it lacked absolutely any information at all. It was just me talking about how I am incredibly anxious. However, I completed it. The co-writer loved it, despite me still feeling like it was a glorified blog post, and later the editor loved it too. Using such phrases like “I totally felt emotions and stuff with it” (actual wording) felt like poor plasters on that itch that perhaps it was simply awful, although in the end it got published anyway.

 

If your editor uses the phrase "I totally felt emotions and stuff with it", either they are being sarcastic or a robot. If the latter, you should seek help. If the former, you've come across a real human editor. 

 

So, four paragraphs later, I haven't even touched any form of factual information. Which, as I've been pondering upon what to write about for this analysis, struck me as something somewhat common in the audience-favoured reporting styles of videogame journalism. This type of lack of pure factuality is something acknowledged when it comes to things such as reviews (which has been satirised by Jim Sterling, using Final Fantasy 13 to show what a purely objective review would look like), but as we also favour an injection of character in even our videogame news stories it may mean that videogame journalism may be one of the, if not the, only forms of journalism to favour a (perhaps watered down) gonzo style.

So first I will discuss what is gonzo journalism, and then argue for and against the possibility that either we currently do embrace it or that we may in the future use it. Finally, I will try to conclude on if we are gonzo, if we could ever be gonzo and, if we're not already, discuss the reasons why.

Well, I should perhaps start with an all important question: “What is gonzo journalism?”. Which this is a bit of a trickier question than it suggests. Due to the chaotic fashion of perhaps the father (probably the wrong word, “diabolical alchemist” may be better?) of gonzo journalism, Dr Hunter S Thompson, the real specifics of what makes it so has a few firm details and a lot of vague possibilities. So let us lay out onto the table the two core fundamental details that Dr Thompson would always stress: Subjectivity and the narrator as the main protagonist in the tale.

The concept of subjectivity as a journalistic style reaches beyond a simple preference, into a full on philosophical statement on the nature of reporting on events. The idea there is no objective way to report on a story was something that Dr Thompson held true, going as far as to say that attempted objectivity and giving a balanced view had corrupted politics (in an interview, he went as far as to state “you can't be objective about Nixon”).

 

If you want the UK equivilant to Nixon, here's a picture of Margaret Thatcher.

 

While this philosophy does lead to a greater freedom to the journalist of what, in their subjective opinion, is important about the event (or, in the case of Dr Thompson who once was tasked to cover a racing event and ended up writing Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, if the event its self was event important to talk about at all), the lack of a guiding hand can lead to a final article that is less informative and more just entertainment. This can be fine, but if a person had hoped an article that set out to report on an event and twenty pages in they realise the event was never going to be covered, this can lead to a betrayal in expectation.

Perhaps independently, there has also been a sociological movement that has concerned its self with the possibility of if there is an objective reality to study, or just various different streams of unique personal interpretations of reality. Depending on if you feel there is an objective reality or not would help determine if it is possible to report on a firm objective and balanced truth, or if the best we can accomplish is either a balancing of many collective interpretations or to full on embrace the researcher's own unique perception on reality. The latter, taken to its extreme, could end up as a sociological form of gonzo journalism.

The second aspect, the narrator as the main protagonist, is perhaps an extension of the previous key aspect of gonzo journalism but, I feel, is also an independent part. Not only is this is a committal to subjectivity, as you are emphasising it is your personal interpretation of events, but the interactivity allows a greater manipulation of the subject at hand. It makes it more possible, if the journalist feels, to delve deeper into the main story or even take a diversion they feel is important to make. It not only grants even more freedom to discuss what they feel, even philosophical parts (e.g. as I was on the train on the way to London, I noticed a small town called Three Bridges, thinking to myself the simplistic town-naming system of what might have been ancient England, compared to the semi-complex naming system of America where the origin isn't easily apparent, what this could infer about the people at the time), but also makes it possible to discuss events as it occurred to you in your view rather than as an objective distant photograph.

 

"Ancient England". Also known as 1841.

 

However, beyond these two characteristics, there are further ones. Alayna Smith in When The Going Gets Weird briefly talks about additional possible parts others have theorised such as the participation of a male bonding figure, constantly struggling to meet deadlines and “incisive, but often not sustained or highly developed, social satire or parody” (p4). There have also been suggestions that for a piece to be gonzo it must require the reporter to commit to the gonzo lifestyle of heavy use of swearing, alcohol and some dabbling in drugs (although Dr Thompson even professed that while it worked for him, drugs isn't for everyone). However, while the above factors definitely worked for Dr Hunter S Thompson, I feel that in the videogame journalism industry they are either unimportant or even possible hindrances. While it is possible that you could replace the cutting social satire or parody with statements on videogame culture and the industry, the other aspects would be hard to imitate beyond reasons than for the sake of imitation. Due to this, for the sake of ease, I'll be using the two basic characteristics as outlined above.

Now with our rough definition of modern gonzo journalism (subjectivity and the narrator as the main protagonist) in our hands, hopefully we can now assess how this compares to videogame journalism. So lets look at why it is or could become gonzo journalism.

The first aspect that could hint at videogame journalism being gonzo already is the distinct possibility that one of the core parts of it, reviews, already mostly fit the two parts that make up gonzo. While there is always the attempt to be analytical and fair with an assessment, most reviewers acknowledge that to be objective in reviews is an impossibility. In fact, Jim Sterling at one time made a satire of the notion there ever can be an objective review with a purely objective analysis of Final Fantasy 13.

 

"You can't be objective about Nixon, Thatcher and Final Fantasy 13".

 

While there is an avoidance to cast the the reporter as the main character in their own article, there are often references to personal experiences and examples of play when making a particular point. While not offering specifics, Darren Nakamura talks partially of his personal choices in his Game Of Thrones: The Lost Lords review (http://www.destructoid.com/review-game-of-thrones-a-telltale-game-series-the-lost-lords-286943.phtml). So while the reviews fit the first criteria as a glove, it would likely require a very particular writing style to fit with the second. However, it is a very real possibility that shows up in very minor ways, especially revolving around games that brag that your choices affect the plot.

There are also some news coverage that does tend towards injecting the author into the coverage. While this doesn't necessarily confirm the “subjective coverage” angle of the first requirement, although it does suggest it, the injection of the self allows accessibility to the reporter's views. One such example is Jonathan Holmes's coverage of if Playboy is a legitimate news outlet. The avoidance of a neutral tone seems to be to inject charisma into what could be dry coverage, thus making it more interesting for the reader, as well as to infer a subjectivity to the matter to allow the possibility of disagreement with mutual respect of opposing opinions. This combines together to present a more light-hearted and less-serious article that perhaps something more dry and factual would have seemed.

However, there are two aspects that could make gonzo journalism with videogames an impossible goal.

The first is the typically refined and friendly tone of videogame journalism. While there are exceptions to this rule (like Jim Sterling's Inquisition, although that could be considered more a commentary than journalism, and, possibly, John Walker's interview of Peter Molyneux (although my personal view of Walker's style in the interview is a very negative one)), there is a tendency for articles to be written in either a neutral tone or a positive outlook.

 

If your interviewer for a job asks you if you're pathalogical liar, perhaps it isn't the job for you.

 

This is in contrast to the typical gonzo style that is very raw, critical and satirical. While it doesn't fall under the characteristics I mention, the very refined aspect can run counter to the typical opportunities of rawness that pure subjectivity and being the main character in your own article offers. Especially as a neutralised version of yourself in the story could be seen as not a real representation of you in the article's tale. So while it could still be technically gonzo to be as friendly as, say, Jonathan Holmes tends to be in articles it could be argued to avoid the spirit of gonzo that Dr Hunter S Thompson laid down.

There is also the problem that videogame journalism does have a tendency to stay very close to the topic. Going back to the Jonathan Holmes coverage of if Playboy is a legitimate news source. It appears to stay very much on topic, something that runs in the face of traditional gonzo coverage where the author is given a chance to go off-topic if needed. However, this could start to define a modern form of gonzo coverage due to the tendency for roughly 500 to 1000 words to a news piece, rather than the book-sized coverage of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. As there isn't enough words for typical divergence, an article would either have to be dedicated (either fully or mostly) to being centred on the author in a subjective way, or on the intended subject of the piece.

 

Outside of gonzo journalism, usually divergence in journalism ends badly. 

 

To conclude, I think the possibility videogames use gonzo journalism currently is obviously no. Even cutting down the requirements down to just two factors, it is rare for something to remotely come close to embracing both parts. If we could one day approach the modern form of gonzo journalism I've outlined, with a bit of determination it is a very real possibility. However, even excluding the other characteristics others suggest are required to embrace the soul of gonzo, the type of experiences or philosophical insight required to produce one article is something that would have to be somewhat rare to keep the charm that comes with something like Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Done too much, it could lead to just being a commentary track on the background of the subject matter or, worse, be dragged into boredom as the author delves into the monotonous dull parts of their life.

Trying to keep the release schedule somewhat rare (maybe once a month or less) would be unfeasible without the writer managing to make it last as long as a book and then releasing it in chapters, which at that point it could be argued it could be better to just publish it as a book if you have something resembling a following.

Despite this, it is okay. Gonzo journalism isn't something you have to turn on all the way constantly, but rather something you can flick on-and-off as you desire. Nor is it something you have to keep pure and whole, but rather instead something you can dissect what you desire and shuffle on writing. While the philosophy can run counter to some other mainstream journalistic philosophies, such as analytic journalism where they wrestle with a complex singular reality to try to create a public understanding of it, it doesn't mean you can't pick-and-choose what works for you without delving into double-think territory. It is really up to you, when and if you do write, to pick a style that fits your own philosophy, or even make one up. Just write until you can report in a way that reflects your understanding of what is truth and the best way to present it. That, I believe, is the only way we can write in a way that helps us comprehend and communicate the reality as we know it.

 

Sorry about missing last week. Doing the interview analysis ended up being a lot harder than I first figured and I wasn't able to write anything up. Once my gonzo article and interview article has been posted on GHT, I'll be sure to link it below.

 

Edit: So the gonzo-ish article I did is now up if you want to give it a read. Here's the link to the article.

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