This community rules. Thanks to wanderingpixel for the above!
I am a 34 year old cubicle monkey living in Austin, TX. with my lovely wife of 2 years, Dawn. And yes, we are acutely aware of the cheesiness of the rhyme scheme. And no, it doesn't bother us when people make fun of us for being so saccharine, because we are both huge dorks in our spare time. Being happy in life gives your character +1 million XP towards the "not caring about other people's opinions" skill.
Above : Me from my theatre days. Puppy Licks says it makes me look like Kefka.
Likes : sense of humor, intelligence, creativity, the ability to argue without fighting, not taking one's self too seriously.
Dis-Likes : console crusaders, people who are cruel on the internet because they are too timid to express themselves in real life, people who cannot separate facts from opinions, Fox News, onions.
I am an editor and writer over at Gamer Limit.
Feel free to pop over and check out what we're up to!
Systems Owned : XBox 360
(Some Of) My Favorite Games of Times Past :
Legend Of Zelda (NES)
Quest For Glory I-III (PC)
Star Control II (PC)
Civilization I-IV (PC)
Vampire : The Masquerade -- Bloodlines (PC)
Mario Kart 64 (N64)
KOTOR 1&2 (PS2)
(Some Of) My Favorite Games of the Current Gen :
Fallout 3 (X360)
Persona 4 (PS2, but made during the current gen)
Currently Playing :
Puzzle Quest 2 (XBLA)
Robot Unicorn Attack (iPhone)
Bit.Trip.RUNNER (Real Life)
Crackdown 2 (As soon as it comes out)
Last year at PAX I remember standing around timidly until I finally recognized a few people whose pictures I saw online. Within 10 minutes of walking up and awkwardly introducing myself, I was surrounded by people who welcomed me into their community with open arms. This year, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting some lurkers who were just like I was last year, and pull them into the ever-widening Dtoid family. The circle has been completed.
I can't even begin to shout out all the amazing people I got to interact with at PAX. From community, to staff, to industry, to my lovely wifey (she always gets a shout-out, deal with it), I was awash in a constant sea of energy, hugs, video games, and of course - Irish Coffee! I am grateful to everyone involved with Destructoid; through this family I have found both friends and opportunities that I never would have fathomed before. I truly feel like I'm leading a charmed life.
That being said, the focus of this little cblog is to pull the focus in on some of the community members who joined us in Seattle in spirit. As you all may know, our very own mrandydixon has recently become a father, and so was unable to make the trip.
I thought it would be a great idea to give him a little breather from the sleepless, dirty-diaper changing, drool wiping grind of new fatherhood. As such, I invited his avatar and his daughter's (missalicedixon), to fly with us on our PAX pilgrimage to enjoy the show in the town. I learned two things from this experience.
1. mrandydixon's avatar took it quite literally when I told him that we'd give him a break from fatherhood.
2. It takes a village to raise a Dtoider.
missalicedixon was an instant hit with the community. Pendleton was so taken, he immediately offered her two free tickets to the gun show.
America's Sweetheart, Ashley Blavis, demonstrates her winning smile and maternal Prinny instincts.
Waiting in line for the Destructoid LIVE panel (which was insanely awesome... and also just insane), wifey determines that missalicedixon has a copy of Hellgate: London in her diaper.
Since diaper-changing is usually a daddy type function, I went to my folder to get mrandydixon's avatar out only to discover that he had somehow not made the trip. I was frantic until I checked my apartment's living room webcam from the hotel, and realized that wifey and I were had.
Well, we DID promise him a break, and I wasn't about to break poor missalicedixon's heart, so we pushed on and had a great time in Seattle together. We decide to act as good godparents, and give her the essential cultural enrichment required to be a worldly and knowledgeable nerd when she grows up. That meant hitting the science fiction museum.
As responsible wards, we let her know that her helmet was beautiful and unique, but also that there were many types of sci-fi helmets in the world and that they should all aspire to understand and respect one another.
Because nothing's cuter than dressing up a baby, we d'awwwwwed and geeked out simultaneously when she put on Sean Young's dress from Blade Runner
Finally, we impressed upon her the importance of eating right and studying hard if she wanted to grow up to be a real astronaut. She loved trying on the suit.
Meanwhile, back in our apartment in Austin...
The Chapel was a super-cool place and wifey, missalicedixon, and I had the best time hanging out with staff and community. She's really quite a sociable and photogenic little girl.
Meanwhile, back in our apartment in Austin...
Well, that sealed it -- it was time to head home. But the trip meant so much to me, and I had really bonded with missalicedixon in the short time we acted as her wards. So, while wifey poured coffee down mrandydixon's throat and made him take a shower, I made sure to feed her one last time. The experience taught me one final thing -- everything you give to a child, they give back ten-fold.
Irish Coffee. It was the perfect Boston drink for PAX East. It's hot, it's sweet, it keeps you alert and awake, and yet it sneakily ushers copious amounts of Jameson into your bloodstream.
The Destructoid community functions much the same. They keep you on your toes, their enthusiasm and joy are intoxicating, and I can't think of a better panacea for the biting cold of the northeast than the warm embrace of the second family I've come to treasure.
PAX East was a wonderful experience on many levels for me. I got to reconnect with those Dtoiders I was fortunate enough to meet at PAX Prime last year. I got to meet a whole new group of Dtoiders and really get to spend time with some of them. I even got to catch up with my sister and her fella who live in Boston!
Dtoiders represented HARD in Boston. DanlHass brought home the bronze medal from the Pitch Your Game panel (he's writing a blog with the details, can't wait!). Power Glove not only worked hard to keep the robot army coordinated for meetups and updates, but he and his team also took 1st place in the Monday Night Combat tournament. Kauza even accidentally (allegedly) team-killed Jeff Gerstmann when we were playing the demo of Breach.
The cry of JASON! was in the air. I must have shouted it hundreds of times. It was a clarion call summoning the faithful, an inside joke that formed the basis of a shared culture and experience, and a reminder that games can be simultaneously life-defining and joyously frivolous.
For me, the defining moment of PAX East was on Sunday evening. After running on 3-4 hrs. sleep a night for 3 days straight, and pounding Irish Coffees in the evenings, I simply had to recharge by myself in the hotel room for a few hours before making the final trip out to Pizzaria UNO on Boyleston St. one last time to say fare thee well to my robotic brethren.
I was dragging myself up from the bed for the final round, when I get a call from Kauza. As soon as I picked up and said hello, I was answered with a chorus of Dtoiders screaming SHAUN! SHAUN! SHAUN!
Although I was not in fact slowly drowning under a storm grate, I couldn't help but get choked up by the laughter and camaraderie I experienced in Boston. An uncanny valley filled to the brink with gamer love.
To those I was blessed enough to meet and spend time with: thanks for making this trip so memorable and fun; we'll always have UNOs.
Before I share how my adopted avatar experience went this PAX, I have to give a quick shout-out to robotbebop for taking the avatar adoption that I did on a lark, and kicking it up to a whole new level. It was wonderful to see so many other Dtoiders join us there in spirit, and I only hope that even more people participate in it next time!
As for my traveling paper companion, I have to say that Anonymouse was the perfect model of a well-behaved avatar. After dealing with Kauza's belligerent, lecherous avatar last year, it was truly a breath of fresh air.
The most trouble Anonymouse got into at PAX was "borrowing" my Dtoid login in the press room to go back and fap every single one of his recaps with my account.
Mouser is much snugglier than a robot seahorse with a jetpack.
My cblog-sensei instructs me in the mouse style of kung-fu. Am I doing this right?
What happens when a shark meets a mouse? Surprisingly, LOVE. <3
Avatar play date!
Truly, Anonymouse was a joy to have as my adopted avatar for PAX East, which is why I feel so terribly remorseful about what happened next.
Upon hearing that this PAX adoptee was so much nicer than the last, I got permission from my wife for Anonymouse to come and stay with us for a while. The one warning I gave to him was to wait to get out of the backpack until I got the cats shut into another room.
It was the perfect storm, really. My wife was in the kitchen, making cheese enchiladas, and Anony-avatar couldn't resist the smell. You know what? I'll just let the pictures tell the story. And Anonymouse -- I'm truly sorry.
People write in the cblogs for all kinds of reasons. They may aspire to games writing careers. They may have a love for gaming that they need to share with the world. They may be just shy of losing their last tenuous grip on reality, and ranting about Sonic is the soothing sublimation that keeps their sanity from plummeting into the abyss, thus preventing them from lethally assaulting Luby's patrons with a homemade zip gun and a pair of nunchaku. When it comes to the creative impulse, who knows for sure?
While we write cblogs for many reasons, we all read the cblogs for the same reason. We read them because we find things there that we can't find anywhere else. That might be a joke, some artwork, an insight into a fellow gamer's life or personality, a well-reasoned argument, love for a game, or even a classic nerd-raging aneurysm of a rant. What ever the specific content, we look for it here because the only place it exists is here.
In our last installment, we discussed the need for substance in cblog posts. Using the analogy of a meal, we looked at how giving readers something meaty to digest will keep them returning for more. While this remains true, it's not enough in and of itself to make a blog excellent.
While writing with substance will keep you from the gaping maw of the Failtoid Sarlaac, originality is one of the things that distinguishes the truly great cblogs from the crowd. In a room full of identical hamburgers, the turkey bacon club (with avocado and chipotle mayo) gains a certain allure. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
It's not easy staying ahead of the crowd.
Rule #1: Know What's Out There
One of the reasons that the Dtoid cblog readers can be a tough crowd is that the community members are generally avid and voracious consumers of video game writing. When you write on a topic that has been duplicated by other sites, the front page, or other community members already, it will often result in a "been there, done that" response from your readers.
It takes some work to stay current with what's being discussed at large at any given time, but it is well worth the effort. You'll save yourself a lot of time, heartache, and possibly abuse by avoiding topics that are played out. Many people won't even click on your article if the title looks too familiar.
When a new game comes out, look to see that there haven't already been multiple reviews or impressions posts by the community before you post your own. Avoid generic topics that have been talked to death, such as the "games as art" discussion.
If you absolutely must retread old ground, at least make sure that you have something unique or revelatory to add to the mix. Retreading the same old discussion points and exposition will only have the mob sharpening their pitchforks. As the old saying goes -- "You mess with the bull, you get the horns, and then you get butthurt."
This image is too cute to need a proper caption.
Rule #2: Zoom In
Here's the fun part where I get to contradict almost everything I just said in Rule #1. The truth of the matter is, it's almost impossible to find a gaming topic that has never been explored. While it is possible to avoid discussing an issue when the internet is saturated by it (a matter of timing), it's not possible to avoid revisiting altogether things that have already been discussed. It has ALL been done before.
Now, before we get too fatalistic here, this doesn't mean that there's nothing worth writing about. It just means you've got to find an angle on the general topic that hasn't been talked about before. It's time to zoom in.
There are aspects of every issue that go unmentioned in the interests of avoiding the dreaded "TL;DR" comment. These are your opportunities. Find an unmined nugget or a sub-topic of interest and relevance and run with that. Here's a few topic examples that should help point you in the right direction --
Bad: Games As Art.
Better: Cel-Shading -- Artistic Expression or Visual Gimmick?
Bad: Is Digital Distribution Good?
Better: Why All Digital Distribution Should Follow The Steam Pricing Model.
Bad: Mother 3 Is A Great Game.
Better: 3 Reasons Why Mother 3 Is Better Than Your Biological Mother.
Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.
Rule #3: Know Thyself, Then Be Thyself
Elsa put it best in the comments of the last installment when she said that more than anything else, she looks for character in blog posts. By character, I believe Elsa means that there is something about the writing that gives you a glimpse into the writer as a person.
The internet is full of individuals hoping to join the ranks of the professional gaming media. While there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this aspiration, it will often lead writers to speak in a voice which is not their own. The desire to make one's writing "professional", when taken too far, can lead a person to make their writing rigid, bland, and homogenized.
Without sacrificing clarity, you should strive to add a dash of flair (not 37 pieces) to your work. Talking a little bit about your personal experiences, discussing how you feel on an emotional level about a topic, or taking a pot-shot at yourself to lighten the mood are all examples of accents you can bring to a blog to make it reflect your personality without abandoning structure or coherence.
The opposite scenario is also a pitfall. Character is like salt; too much of it overwhelms a meal. This is when a writer moves from revealing something of themselves to putting a manufactured self out there for the purposes of attracting readers. These pre-fabricated personas may seem like the way to go, judging by how many of them are out there, but they really don't do anything but make it look like a writer is trying WAY too hard.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen a games writer who feels the need to tell their audience how edgy they are. The Jaded Games Cynic Who Doesn't Afraid Of Anything is a tired archetype. So is The Professional Games Reviewer. So is The Wacky Random Humor Guy.
If you're naturally a negative, meticulously well-versed, or funny person, a measured sprinkling of character will make that apparent to your readers without you having to push that persona over the top. Show us, don't tell us.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Jim Sterling is a fabulous example of someone who makes a persona really work for them.
But before you go off half-cocked, justifying your own self-indulgences by pointing to a successful case study, understand something -- it only works if you've established your credibility first, never the other way around. Jim established his character (opinionated, but well-reasoned and eloquent writer) before he established a character (over the top bait-and-switch artist).
Achieving originality is a bit like panning for gold at times; it takes effort to look through the countless pebbles to find the gold that has value. However, in terms of making a blog that really goes above and beyond, that effort is the dividing line between saturated and celebrated.
Sometimes an old dish just needs a new twist to wake peoples' taste buds up again. Zoom in to find the fresh ingredients in your mental garden. Let us see who you are through your writing, and don't force a larger than life version of yourself on us. We want to taste the love in your cooking... erm, figuratively, not literally.
If there's one thing that sets the community blogs of Destructoid apart from any other gaming site to me, it's a demand for excellence in writing. It's part of what drew me to stay, knowing that just participating in the cblogs was going to help me become a better writer.
Getting better at any craft is at least a moderately painful process; it involves receiving large amounts of criticism and incorporating what you can use, which can be difficult. We all want our posts to be loved and appreciated and carried down the streets on the shoulders of an adoring crowd. Facing up to where we are weak and growing from it takes courage and dilligence.
Dtoiders can be quite blunt in communicating dissatisfaction with the quality of cblogs -- it's common to hear about in the forums, on podcasts, and even from those who regularly participate in the cblogs by writing or commenting.
This is a good thing. It should challenge and inspire all of us to raise our game, whether we are writing on a serious topic, just for the lulz, or any point in-between.
The one thing that I feel is currently missing from the equation, however, is the ability to make our criticism constructive rather than a mere expression of frustration. We can't just point out that something doesn't meet our standards. For newer writers and lifers alike, we need to spell out what those standards are and then provide feedback which helps writers meet them.
This is our space to read and write about our passion for games; no-one is going to make it better except for us. We must all be stewards of anti-suckage.
With that in mind, this blog series is about providing tips and tricks for making our cblog writing more engaging, more effective, and hopefully more fun as well. Let me be clear -- I don't claim to know everything about games writing. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my skills, and I hope that you all add to what I plan to share so that I can take some new ideas back to strengthen my creative process.
I can get away with a long intro in this installment since we aren't covering economy of language, but I think I've labored the point enough. Future installments will get directly to the specifics. For now, let's jump in and discuss the topic of substance!
Your blog! It's-a-so skinny!
Rule #1 : Where's the Beef?
The most common pitfall that a cblog can stumble into is lack of content. If you keep up with the Cblog Recaps (shame on you if you don't), then you'll notice a trend. Nothing pushes a blog into Failtoid faster than a blog that looks like you were tweeting on the crapper.
There's no hard and fast rule or word count minimum that I can point you towards, but if it's something you could or would post on Twitter, it's a safe bet that it has no frakking business taking up cblog space.
If someone is taking the time to check out what's in your store, the best way to ensure they'll never come back is to have no product on display. Better to err on the side of generating too much content at first; you can always trim a piece easier than you can add to it.
Sometimes a short post is found in the cblogs that is of genuine merit, and is designed to provoke discussion. Might I suggest taking such conversation-oriented pieces to our excellent forums where they can get the response they deserve?
Keep the quality high, as the forum crowd is even more harsh on sub-standard posts, and I don't want to be accused of throwing cblog trash into our neighbors' lawn. They blast their music at all hours, but they're generally good people.
Eureka! I have disproved the Virtual Boy!
Rule # 2 : Show Your Math
Opinions in blogs are slippery eels. While our reasons for taking a particular stance may be obvious to us, they aren't necessarily to those reading. Part of what makes overly short blogs fail so often is that it makes the writer's feelings about a topic appear horribly uninformed or ill-founded.
Why do you have the opinion you have? Have you noticed a trend, or do you have examples from previous games? Have you read about an interesting statistic or bit of information that supports your point? What logic are you drawing on that leads you to make the statement that such-and-such rules (or sucks balls)?
A great way to add substance to your posts is to fully explain the reasoning that supports your opinion. It also prevent readers from filling in those blanks for you and labelling you as a fanboy or an idiot.
Google searches -- like dissertation research, except the exact opposite.
Rule # 3 : Do Your Homework
If you're going to follow the internet trend of pontificating and making absolute statements, for the love of god, please do some fact checking!
You're already on the internet if you're writing a blog; how hard is it to bring up a second browser and do a little research to make sure that your position has some basis in reality? I've scrapped or redirected entire articles after finding information that invalidated my point.
Get the names of developers, designers, publishers, games, and companies correct. Look at more than one source to ensure that you're not just regurgitating someone else's false statement or speculation. If you're feeling uber-nerdy, you can link or site your sources.
It's inconvenient and it takes some time, I know, but it also keeps you from looking like a knuckle-dragging nimrod with nothing to say worth listening to. If you want others to trust your opinion, you'd better ensure that it is rooted firmly in fact and not in your fevered imagination. Substance means not only having an opinion, but a reliable basis for that opinion.
The plus is that you'll learn tons about the industry, developers, game design, and the history of games along the way!
None of this is to say that a blog's quality or value is directly proportional to its length. That argument doesn't fly for video games, and it doesn't apply to writing either. However, length can be one indicator of substance; while there are exceptions to every rule, it's safe to say that the majority of super short blogs really shouldn't be getting put out there.
Even if you're breaking news, which doesn't require an essay to discuss, you can still add substance to your post by discussing your thoughts on the news. Do you think it will have an impact on the industry? Is it a gimmick that will fade away? Are you super squeeeeeee excited for it? Why or why not?
Give us something to chew on, and we'll come back for another meal. If not, enjoy the view from Failtoid.
Finding and expressing love is the ultimate multiplayer activity in life. It requires skill, patience, understanding, intuition, courage, passion, regular showers, a metric ass-ton of luck, and usually a nice pair of shoes.
Games, like dreams, are often created in part as wish fulfillment. The violence in games is fun for us because it sublimates a very primal urge. Given that love (or at least sex) is also one of our deepest and most powerful drives, it's only logical that we would also use games to explore it.
While not every title needs it as an element, there's no denying that the meaningful and skillful inclusion of love in games is something that most players want to see. When it comes to violence, gaming is extremely refined. We can simulate carnage and combat with a frighteningly impressive degree of accuracy.
On the other hand, love, while no less important to our psyches, is woefully enacted in gaming. Even a relationship/story heavy game such as the excellent Dragon Age : Origins still leaves the player feeling like they've been acting out a puppet show where sex is as deep as rubbing naked Ken and Barbie dolls together while making kissy noises.
That's not to say that games haven't made huge strides in this area. We talk about how gaming as a medium is maturing, and at times I feel that statement is more true than we know. In fact, to me the evolution of love in games thus far seems to mirror the evolution of a human's maturing understanding of love over their lifetime. I'm keenly aware of how pretentiously meta this may sound, but bear with me -- I will illustrate my meaning.
"And then the hero pressed X!"
Level 1 -- Puppy Love and Fairytales
When we're young children, love is a simple affair. We are innundated with information that tells us that love conquers all, there's someone for everyone, and that love is a magical force that compels us to honor and protect the objects of our affection. There may be an evil king, a wicked witch, or even a few trolls along the way, but ultimately the hero and heroine live happily ever after.
This is the love we see in early gaming. The stories of Mario and Peach or Link and Zelda mirror this rudimentary understanding of love. Whether barrels or octoroks, another castle or another piece of triforce, the barriers to love are all external. The relationships are static and defined, and the outcome is assured. . . after a few continues, of course.
"I have a great deal of respect for women with giant. . . sunglasses."
Level 2 -- Selfish Love and One-Night Stands
At some point, the fairytale comes to an end. We learn that love is actually complicated and occasionally painful. For many, it may be the first time they have their heart broken, recognizing that the good guy/gal doesn't always win the princess/prince. No matter how it happens, disillusionment with the magical "happily ever-after" paradigm is assured.
With this shift of perception, the pendulum often swings to the other side of the spectrum. Love becomes a competition, a form of conquest where all participants protect their hearts as fiercely as possible from the pain they've previously experienced. Relationships are defined solely by what the individual gets out of it.
In gaming, this was reflected in many ways by the overt objectification of women and the expectation of sex as a commodity to be acquired. The concept of sex as a mini-game, where Kratos comes in and "presses a few buttons" before traipsing away with no strings attached is characteristic of this. The ability to pick up prostitutes in the GTA series is another example. Rescuing and wooing is NOT on the menu.
You have chosen. . . wisely.
Level 3 -- Transactional Love and the Open Sesame Approach
After some length of time treating love in a selfish way, we yearn for something with more meaning and substance. Or maybe we just learn that we can't always get what we want without giving something back in return. When this happens, we stop asking "Why aren't they doing what they should be doing?" and start wondering "What should I be doing?".
Whether the motivation is a genuine connection with another person or simply a shortcut to the pleasure we seek, we begin to assess our actions differently. We spend our time trying to figure out what we should be saying or doing to make our beloveds happy. We know this is a desirable quality in society when we hear a person referred to as someone who "says all the right things".
The gameplay equivalent of this level of relating to love is quite easy to see in the modern RPG. In Bioware games, this belief structure is almost the foundation of all character interaction and relationship building. Getting someone to like you is a matter of choosing the right dialogue options, performing the right actions, or giving the right gifts at the right times. The Social Links in the Persona series are another solid example of this principle at play, along with many games in the eroge genre.
For some, this plays out as a semi-organic courtship where you try to learn about the character and respond in a way you think they'll enjoy while being true to your own character. For most, it becomes a simple exercise of trying to figure out the magic word that will get you into their digital skivvies.
6 more weeks of courtship?
Level 4 -- Unconditional Love and Tossing the Rubik's Cube
Eventually, even this equitable form of approaching love is proven to be wanting. A human heart isn't a puzzle which has a "solution". We can't simply try different combinations of phrases or actions and expect it to create genuine affection in another person. If you want to see this lesson in action, it is masterfully illustrated by Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. He is given, in gameplay terms, an infinite number of continues in order to achieve his objective.
After trying every possible way to make Rita love him and failing, his focus shifts to simply expressing his love and bettering himself, expecting little to nothing in return. Eventually he learns, as we all do, that if we want to have true love we cannot will it to happen. Instead, we must make ourselves worthy of it. Rather than looking for love, we should invite it to find us. And eventually, he does. He learns that love is both work and pleasure, and that if done in the spirit of love that work can become pleasure.
Unsurprisingly, you rarely find these sublime moments in games. Developers are just as much at a loss to create the simulation of love in games as we all are at forcing love to appear in our lives. But as we focus on the gameplay, it occasionally happens.
Many gamers found themselves sacrificing the lives of thousands out of the genuine affection they had for their dogs in Fable II. Others shed real life tears at the death of Aerith in FFVII (not me, of course, but this friend I know). Even an imperfect but very real love like what developed between Max Payne and Mona Sax can jump out and grab you emotionally when you least expect it.
It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
The interactivity of videogames makes them more able to draw us into the splendorous ups and downs of love than any other medium, since we must participate in them directly rather than witnessing a depiction. Pardoxically, this is also one of the problems.
With violence, the rules and variables are all known. The only challenge lies in creating new algorithms and sub-routines to calculate where particles fly to in an explosion, which direction gravity will pull a building down when a support is knocked out, or how blood will realistically spray from a wound. We players are the beneficiaries of an ever-improving implementation of physics in games.
Why hasn't love benefitted in the same way? Well, despite all the variables involved in dynamic physics, the number of variables present in human interaction and emotion are exponentially greater. When you take into account the wants, needs, drives, psychological baggage, mood, biochemistry, physical attraction, social pressures, and cultural differences of two different people you have a table of
variables which is far too daunting to model mathematically.
Even if you have the NPC as a constant for half of those variables, there's still far too much to ever compute in accounting for how the player will respond. Just as in life, when it comes to figuring out love, it's tough to know where even to begin.
Also, love, despite being a topic of study since we had a word for it, still has variables which are unknown. A computer system will never be able to accurately depict something which we as humans cannot fully define. This is why our model for love in games hasn't progressed much beyond the Choose Your Own Adventure book structure of gameplay.
Now, that's not to say we shouldn't continue to explore love in games. Humans have an uncanny knack for stumbling into beauty and joy when it is least expected. Games are chock full of potential for exploring both our understanding of and relationship to love. It is one of the great challenges of being human, so it is only fitting that it should also be one of the great challenges of game development. Truly, it is far more difficult to create than it is to destroy.
It is important for a games writer to take care when selecting a simile or metaphor as the basis of a concept or critique, because if this literary keystone is somehow structurally unsound then the whole article is bound to come tumbling down around their ears. I have yet to find a more glaring misuse of this writer's tool in gaming media than in many of the recent reviews of Dragon Age : Origins decrying it as a "LOTR clone".
Good example of simile :Bioshock is like an onion. Every time you think you've explored its depth, you find another layer of meaning underneath.
Good example of metaphor :E.T. the Game absolutely stinks. It is a skunk shagging a pig in the middle of an overflowing litter box.
Calling Dragon Age : Origins a LOTR clone is utterly incorrect. Using that metaphor is as lazy and unimaginiative as what these same reviewers are accusing the game of. Delicious irony. The majority of these reviewers don't even know what they mean when they reference Lord of the Rings.
Do they mean that Dragon Age is like the LOTR movies, or has a similar visual style? Do they mean it was like the books, finding a close parallel with the stories? Do they mean it was like the games? If so, which games? The hack and slash action games tied to the movies? The RTS Battle For Middle Earth games? The Star Wars : Battlefront cross-over, LOTR : Conquest? Or perhaps the turn-based, JRPG styled The Third Age?
There are plenty of defendable things to dislike about Dragon Age, but the "OMGLOTRWTF" reviewers abandon legitimate critique in favor of making a vogue statement. The sad truth is, regardless of which of these meanings you infer, the comparison is wrong. If you're going to make a comparison to one of the most influential works of fantasy fiction in the history of ever, it would behoove you to, well . . . be familiar with it. Let me break it down for you like a drunken halfling on a table in a tavern in Bree.
Is that Tavern Rock??? Then turn it up! Tolkien is my jam!
Nah, I'll Just Watch The Cliff Notes
One of the first LOTR clone complaints I stumbled across made the claim that Dragon Age : Origins "suffered" from a Hollywood-like treatment, due to wanting to emulate Peter Jackson's movies.
"If this all sounds remarkably like The Lord Of The Rings, then you’d be right. It’s exactly like it. The game even goes as far as to thematically steal key scenes from Peter Jackson’s trilogy of blockbusters, albeit to admittedly spectacular dramatic effect."
How could I not have seen it before? LOTR was the first and only film experience in the annals of the silver screen ever to feature large-scale medieval warfare. The eternal clash between the forces of good and evil? Copyrighted by Peter Jackson. What a clone Dragon Age is.
The second comparison I saw made with the films critiqued the visual design of the darkspawn as being too close to the orcs from the Jackson movies. Evil has a long-standing tradition of being characterized visually as a grotesque of good. This is why the handicapped were reviled as in league with Lucifer in the dark and middle ages.
Both orcs and darkspawn are creatures who were formerly good who were warped and tainted, both internally and externally, by the darkness. It stands to reason they would have a similar design. This iconography and symbolism is present in even in the depictions of the Devil. So confirmed -- Dragon Age is a Bible clone.
Who you calling a clone? Come say that to my face!
Dragons and Dwarves and Elves, OH MY!
Another huge misconception that drives me crazy in these reviews is the belief that the staple fantasy races such as dwarves, elves, and dragons somehow originated with J.R.R. Tolkien's work. As such, the incorrect assertion is made that any work utilizing these creatures is somehow plagarizing LOTR.
As important as Tolkien's work was in popularizing many of the fantasy tropes we've come to know, he cannot take credit for the invention of those races. Nearly all of the creatures found in the Middle Earth universe were borrowed, by his own admission, either whole or in part from the world's mythologies and folklores, mainly European. So, confirmed -- Dragon Age is a clone of the collective unconscious.
"But walkyourpath, Dragon Age has ENTS!"
Ents? Tolkien himself shrugs off credit for their invention. He mentions the eald enta geweorc, or the "old work of giants" referred to in Beowulf as the idea which sparked their creation. By his own admission, they were written as a way to more literally capture the feeling of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill' prophecy referred to in Shakespeare's Macbeth.
So, in order to prove that Dragon Age's use of LOTR-like races is cloneish, we have to look at not what creatures are present, but rather how they are implemented in the world of the game.
Elves in LOTR? Separate from humans in both language and geography, with established domains.
Elves in DA:O? Integrated into human society in the cities, and splintered and nomadic outside of them.
Dwarves in LOTR? Working to reclaim their lost glory and kingdom, with no unified leader.
Dwarves in DA:O? An established culture in full bloom, with a recognized monarchy.
Hobbits in LOTR? A diminutive pastoral race with a lust for living and great internal fortitude.
Hobbits in DA:O? Not present, even though they are the central focus of the LOTR story.
. . . my goodness, this horse has died! Onward to beat a live one!
Look at the ears. Obviously Vulcan. Dragon Age is a Star Trek clone, confirmed.
Press Circle To Answer Gollum's Riddle
After all the superficial claims, we get down finally to the meat of the matter. Does DA:O rip off the essence of the LOTR story, and is that reflected in the gameplay? I have to say emphatically, NO. There is a parallel in terms of the over-arcing story of good vs. evil clashing and that is reflected in the gameplay, but the similarities end there.
A huge chunk of the LOTR text is devoted to lore, language, history, and song. Since Dragon Age is such a clone, where's the Tom Bombadil singing and dancing mini-game? Leliana should be able to raise her cunning skill by perfectly recreating the elvish funeral dirge for Mithrandir, right?
Once the fellowship breaks up in LOTR, literally half the story is about Frodo and Sam's journey to Mount Doom. The conflict in this gigantic percentage of the story is not portrayed via combat or war, but rather through Frodo's internal struggle to overcome the influence of the One Ring.
Now, I may have missed it since I'm not 100% finished with Dragon Age, but I have not yet encountered the gameplay mechanic that requires me to continually hit "X" to avoid giving up and falling victim to the power of the darkspawn blood inside me for half the game. This same gameplay mechanic was present in the microwave hallway scene of Metal Gear Solid 4, which is also a LOTR clone.
Frodo? FRODO??!?! FRODOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
All the World's an Age, and all the men and women merely Dragons.
Finally, we'll take a quick moment to debunk the ridiculous assertion that the political intrigue elements of Dragon Age are what make it a LOTR clone. If you have not yet played Dragon Age, there are some minor early plot spoilers ahead. Also, why have you read this far?
The main story arc regarding political intrigue in DA:O involves the advisor of the king withdrawing his military support from a battle with the darkspawn. The king is slain in the ensuing massacre. The advisor usurps his throne, blames the Grey Wardens, and goes about consolidating his power base with the nobles. People loyal to the old king or distrustful of the new regent threaten to revolt, and so the plot is overshadowed by not only the threat of the darkspawn, but also civil war.
Even the executive producer of the game, Mark Darrah, referenced George R.R. Martin's work (most notably Game of Thrones) as an influence in the creation of the story for Dragon Age. Martin's fiction relies heavily on political intrigue to drive the action forward.
Traversing through all the story of LOTR, there isn't a single instance of this plot element to be found. You know where it can be found? Shakespeare's Hamlet, where the king's brother kills him and takes over his throne.
In fact, Shakespearean themes pervade the entire story. You are often betrayed by individuals you selflessly help, mirroring the folly of good King Lear who "loved not too wisely, but too well". Not to mention the overuse of spattered blood in cutscenes after battles, which never seems to go away, and will eventually cause the player to plead like Lady Macbeth -- "Out, out, damned spot!"
Whether you stop with Martin or trace it all the way back to the original political dramatist from Stratford on Avon, DA:O's story has little to nothing to do with LOTR's.
You shall not pass. . . with that weak-ass argument!
There and Back Again
There really is the flimsiest of evidence to support the claim that Dragon Age is a LOTR clone. Those making the claim have either never read the books, didn't understand the story in book or movie form, or just blindly borrowed another reviewer's failed metaphor because it sounded catchy. No matter how you slice it, it smacks of either ignorance or laziness. If you just have to mention Tolkien in a serious fashion, you better come correct.
The sad part is, there are a lot of valid things to critique about Dragon Age. The dated quality of the graphics, the shortcomings of the console control scheme, or the variance in the difficulty curve would all have been valid points to spark meaningful dissent with. But for these reviewers, they simply couldn't see the forest for the ents.