I am a student studying English. I plan on being a publisher with the hope of writing urban fantasy novels. I'm critical of the story and writing aspects of the game more than anything else because a fantastic looking game can be utterly marred by a crap story and I really hope that I can show future gamers the importance of this.
At the beginning of every year, my church does a 21 day fast. Now, already, I can tell this has turned people off but all I ask is that you keep an open mind and hear me out. I won't go into the spiritual or philosophical details as to why we do this, other than to spiritually prepare ourselves for the new year. For 21 days, you fast something: television, food, caffeine, meat, etc. This year, I had decided to opt out since I figured that I didn't have anything to fast. That is, until I looked at my Steam profile.
I have 32 games on my profile. The one with the highest amount of hours is Payday: The Heist with a total of 75 hours played. I looked at this list last night and remembered that I also bought the Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War Franchise, still have yet to beat Cave Story+, Binding of Isaac, the entirety of the Soul Reaver franchise and many others. I looked at all these games and realized that I was a glutton. A glutton for games.
This wasn't to make myself feel guilty, mind you. I had realized that I spent a large amount of money on games that I haven't even touched, but yet felt compelled to buy them. I had plan to run through all of them, but I never did. I opted to grind out in Payday or to derp through missions in Champions Online. I had books I needed to read, projects I needed to finish and, to be honest, prayers I needed to say. I had put aside the things I needed to do in order to play games. This, I decided, was to be my fast. However, I felt led to do a different kind of fast.
See, most people just flat out stop playing games during this time. I get bored easily, so I decided to pick one game. The problem, though, is that I get bored with a single game. I needed a challenge, I needed something that would keep me interested.
And needed "I Wanna Be The Guy."
"I Wanna Be The Guy" (IWBTG) is a game that grabs you by the face while kicking you in the stomach. It's not made to be fun nor is it made to be good. It's just made to punish you and to test your mettle. Countless streamers have broken controllers and webcams over this game, and I looked at this demon of a title as the only thing that could actually whet my appetite. Sure, I could have gotten Dark Souls or done Fallout:New Vegas on Hardcore mode, but where was the challenge. Exploits and console commands could easily render those games into nothingness, but IWBTG? Some people can't even get past the second screen. So there it was, the only "food" I was allowed to "consume" for the next 21 days.
I stare into the gaping maw that is this relentlessly masochistic beast and wonder if I could find some kind of spiritual enlightenment from this. Can a person play a game meant to torment and find themselves learning something spiritual in the process? Sure, I guess. All I know is that for the next three weeks, all I've got is a double jump, a pistol and some kid wearing a cape to keep me entertained electronically.
Dear Lord that sounded more filthy than it should have.
Right after I graduated high school, I felt that I finally had the time to sink into an MMO. As much as my friends tried to get me into World of Warcraft, I already sunk time into Dungeons and Dragons. I began to get tired of the fantasy genre in general and needed a fresh start.
On the side, I wrote up a bunch of superhero creation stories in my own spare time. I found a few comic lovers and passed it off to them. One of them actually asked if I ever played City of Heroes, a game which I hadn't heard of until that moment. When he said it was a superhero MMO, I asked if it was like WoW. "Yes and no," was the only response. So, after picking up the Villains/Heroes pack, I swiftly downloaded and patched the hell out of the game. It was worth it.
City of Heroes became a game that somehow held a lot for me. It wasn't like WoW, but it wasn't like any other superhero anything out there. The idea that you, a mild mannered citizen of no consequence, could don a costume and become Hollow Point or The Kiss of Death (one of the many heroes and villains I created) seemed pretty great to me. With this game, you were the secret identity while you battle Arachnos or stole from the banks of Paragon City. At the same time, it didn't attempt to try to be WoW. It kept a certain feel to it that was old school and made you feel welcome. Sure, there were the normal snobs that scoffed if your abilities didn't mesh, but that never mattered to most. You were creating a character that was yours. Your powers may have matched with someone else's, but then again, most superheroes clash with one another when it comes to powers.
The difference that was made for me was the community. In my history with the game, I never had a problem with my supergroup or with other players. Outside of a few trolls, I felt welcomed from the moment I arrived to the moment I left. I had to stop playing due to financial reasons and when I heard CoH went Free to Play, I didn't have the time for it. Even when the game went F2P, the community simply welcomed the new players and attempted to mesh them into the game as well as they could. In fact, players could put "Helper" tags on themselves to guide new players at the starting zones and get them on their start to becoming the best damn villain or hero they could be. CoH understood that it was suppose to be fun and cool to get with a group of friends to take out huge bases and defeat gigantic monsters that attack the city. At the same time, venturing out on your own had its own rewards with amazing story arcs that placed you in the darker and sometimes hilarious aspects of being a superpowered being.
I write this because I got the email saying that CoH will be going offline on November 30th. I knew the game was closing, but to see the day the game "dies" really is strange to me. I used to not understand why people became distraught over Halo servers shutting down or anything of that nature. But after not being part of CoH for so long, it's...strange. It's strange that I felt this sense of loss for a video game. But at the same time, it didn't feel like a video game to me. It was an experience that I still look for when I try out other MMOs that I have a hard time finding.
But this is now out of the hands of the Paragon and the final decision has been made by NCSoft. I'm not going to ask to keep the game alive or to bombard them with emails because maybe that's not what is suppose to happen. After being a lover of comic books for some time, I've learned a lot of things. The first being that Wolverine and Deadpool should never get into a fight. The second is that sometimes a character isn't coming back. CoH isn't going to die the comic book death this time around. Come November 30, I'll raise a glass to the thousands of superpowered players that got as close as the could to living the dream and to the men and women that helped make it happen.
So thank you Paragon Studios. Thanks for making this retired hero remember kicking the hell out of Arachnos with a group of people while singing the old Spider-Man theme song and for making me cry when I heard Statesman was put to rest. I hope all of you keep making games that bring people together instead of worrying about min/maxing, loot drops, or any of that stuff other MMOs worry about. All we had were our radiation rays, a few Inspirations and a Brute with a Sledgehammer that's "done this plenty of times" only to realize that the new issue totally nerfed him and we forgot to check the changelogs.
[So I wrote this paper for English class on groupthink. It's nowhere near scientific or anything like that, but I'm probably going to add it to my writing portfolio. Anyway, here it is. Thanks for reading.]
It was March 6, 2012. Millions of fans waited outside stores or stayed up late on their computers to buy the final game in the epic trilogy known as Mass Effect. The game was hotly anticipated by critics and gamers alike not only for its Grecian like story of war and survival, but also for the improved combat mechanics, 4-player game cooperation, and even the graphical facelift. However, in one month, this game turned its publisher, Electronic Arts, into the worst company in America (Morran) due to what most claim to be an ending that “wasn’t fitting to the series”. While this may seem like a one-off instance, a similar situation happened with a woman named Anita Sarkeesian and her bid to use a crowd-sourcing website called Kickstarter to fund a series discussing female video game characters and their portrayal in gaming. While her funding goal had exceeded the limit, her personal website, Youtube page, and even her Kickstarter page was flooded with misogynistic comments that would shake even the most stalwart feminist to her bones. These instances, and many more like it, are contributed to the phenomena as groupthink.
Groupthink is defined as conformity to group values and ethics (Turner and Pratkanis 106). This means that an individual, despite their own moral scruples, will go against their own understanding in order to become part of the group. The evidence as to why we do this is limited at best (Turner and Pratkanis 107) but one theory states that the feeling of being “the only one” causes a fear in a person. That fear is possibly due to evolutionary patterns in our psyche since our ancestors knew that surviving in a group yields a better chance of surviving alone. Groupthink also has been attributed to other instances in history such as the Watergate Scandal, The McCarthy Hearings, the Bay of Pigs Decision and even in NASA’s decision to launch the Challenger shuttle (Turner and Pratkanis 107). However, the point of this paper is to not discuss why most gamers fall into groupthink, but how it has affected certain aspects of gaming culture.
The Mass Effect Controversy
The Mass Effect Controversy happened in the wake of the release of Mass Effect 3 as stated above. Scores of gamers flocked to the Bioware (the game developer) message boards to complain about what they had witnessed. The biggest reason behind the outcry was due to the lack of choices the ending had. Some would argue that the game was intended to have a tragic ending with the sacrifice of the hero to save the universe, but fan would not listen to this. Instead, fan created a campaign called “Retake Mass Effect” to force Bioware to give them an ending that they felt was more warranted to the series (Tsukayama). While Bioware eventually released a downloadable that changed the endings almost completely (Extended ending for Mass Effect 3 game released), fans were still angry that it had happened in the first place. However, from observing from the outside, this seemed more like a child throwing a tantrum on their birthday because they didn’t get the gift they wanted.
Part of this personal criticism is due to the notion that the series has a clear arc to it. The first game has the clear beginning that an evil is coming and the universe must put politics aside in order to prepare. The second game has introduces the evil forces as world eaters and that a certain device could stop them. The last game has the final battle on Earth after the device is constructed, but it must consume the hero in order to work. This arc is a basic definition of a Grecian tragedy or even reminiscent of Ragnarok, the Norse legend of the destruction and resurrection of Asgard. Numerous fans showed that they did not like the arc due to the idea that the main character died at the end. While there is a sense that fans put a lot into a series, fans do not control a series. To use legal terms, this instance has created a precedent that will shape the future of gaming. Fans now know that if they cause enough of a backlash, a company will be forced to change whatever they want to change. This is different from, say, a marketing demo to see what works and what doesn’t work about a game. The difference is that the developer is asking fans for input instead of being yelled at on message boards to change something.
The Sarkeesian Incident
Anita Sarkessian is someone who wants to have strong female characters in games. Her disappointment about female characters comes from the notion that a majority of them are the “damsel in distress”, the “hot girl in a skimpy outfit”, or the “tough chick that really is an emotional wreck”. She decided to go to Kickstarter to begin a series that discusses these gender issues in gaming and asked for a mere $6,000 (US) to fund this project. Sarkeesian not only met her goal, but exceeded it by $152,000 (Sarkeesian) . The notion itself was fairly benign, but it was met with comments that I will not repeat due to their extreme graphical nature. Sarkeesian’s series was misinterpreted as a feminist propaganda vehicle that wanted to completely rework how females were portrayed in games and wanted male characters to be subservient to the female characters. On the opposite side of this incident, supporters of Sarkeesian bared their fangs by saying that women are never portrayed correctly in gaming due to male developers wanting to watch a woman follow their commands.
This incident showed that groupthink can happen on two sides. One side will have an opinion that is either factual or not and another side will form to counter. The issue itself in this instance was lost due to the amount of feminism and misogyny on both sides. Sarkeesian’s message was to point out how certain characters are detrimental to the growth of gaming as a serious medium and how they are also detrimental to showing young female gamers how to be independent women when they grow up (Beirne). Instead, both sides skewed the point to be about whether or not a woman is allowed to wear a bikini on a beach in a video game.
I bring this incident up because it does have a serious discussion behind it. Gaming is growing larger as an industry and as a voice in entertainment. It is still young compared to television, radio and, film, but these are the type of discussions that need to happen in order for it to grow in a healthy way. Gamers themselves argue about whether or not if video games can be considered art and this type of conversation still needs to happen. The proper counter argument to the initial reaction is to also discuss the stereotypical roles male characters have in games. Nearly every male character is deemed to be an emotionless, Dirty Harry mock-up that seemingly shows signs of being a sociopath than actually showing what it means to be a “man”. In a way, in order to fix female characters, you have to fix male characters. Having one without the other seems to be counter-intuitive to the idea of having well-thought out icons that young gamers can look up to while having older gamers have fun with.
In a way, Groupthink in gaming can both show how much a change is needed and how ready the culture is for certain things. As mentioned above, gaming is still attempting to find out what is appropriate or not. Violence has been discussed ad nauseum and the ratings board has been set in stone, but now the focus has shifted in culture, which is difficult to change. Are gamers entitled and misogynistic? Of course not. Most gamers are well rounded individuals that want to share their culture with everyone else. The problem is that the vocal minority tends to grow whenever slight dissent breaks out. People can get swept up into something without even realizing it and that’s generally okay. The main problem, though, is that when groupthink takes over, the things that people enjoy become sullied by all the aggression and hate that comes along with it.
Beirne, Stephen. Interview: Anita Sarkeesian, games, and Tropes vs. Women. 02 July 2012. 12 July 2012 <http://www.destructoid.com/interview-anita-sarkeesian-games-and-tropes-vs-women-230337.phtml>.
Morran, Chris. The Voters Have Spoken: EA Is Your Worst Company In America For 2012! 04 April 2012. 10 July 2012 <http://consumerist.com/2012/04/congratulations-ea-you-are-the-worst-company-in-america-for-2012.html>.
Sarkeesian, Anita. Tropes vs Women in Video Games. 17 May 2012. 16 July 2012 <http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games>.
Tsukayama, Hayley. Mass Effect 3: Creators address ending backlash. 22 March 2012. 13 July 2012 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/mass-effect-3-creators-address-ending-backlash/2012/03/22/gIQAJS1aTS_story.html>.
Turner, Marlene E and Anthony R Pratkanis. "Twenty-Five Years of Groupthink Theory and Research: Lessons from the Evaluation of a Theory." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 73 (1998): 105-115.
(This blog does contain spoilers to a game that was released a long time ago. If you still haven't played it and don't wish to know what happens, avoid this post.)
The other day, I decided to take a gander at The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as a trip down memory lane. I looked at my save and laughed at the hour count I had put in: 475. I played through all the guilds and daedric quests and was almost done with the story. I figured "What the hell. Let's put a bow on this."
I kinda wished I hadn't.
See, despite all the praise that the game has, there is a problem that most people didn't even realize. Your character isn't the "main character". No matter what you tell yourself or what anyone tells you, the game doesn't hinge singularly on you. The game hinges on Martin Septim.
Martin Septim, for those who are clueless, is the bastard son of Uriel Septim VII, Emperor of Tamriel. One night, a cult called the Mythic Dawn murders him and his sons in order to bring the Daedric Prince of Destruction, Mehrunes Dagon, into the world. You'd think that it would be up to you to stop it....you'd be wrong. It's up to Martin. Being the bastard son, Martin is the "ace-in-the-hole" that the Blades, errant knights that protect the fabled bloodline, used in case of such an event. Your job as the main character is not to protect Martin, is not to defeat Mehrunes Dagon and is not to lead the charge into battle against the forces of Oblivion. Your job is to be the gopher for Martin as he sits back and formulates a plan to ultimately save the world.
The game starts you out in the Imperial Prison. It's not really known why you're there, but after a few moments, you meet the Emperor, who is feeling with his life with a few Blades. He sees you and says that you were part of his dreams. Time passes and the Emperor gets shanked by a Mythic Dawn member, causing you to pick up a special amulet to give to a man named Jauffre. You then run your head off, avoiding mudcrabs, thieves, goblins and a few rats to find an old man that tells you...to go get Martin. This is the start of a long chain of quests that basically has you doing all of the heavy lifting for the "real hero" of the game. You go out and find the Daedric items, close Oblivion gates for cities, and kill an entire cult in their false Paradise. What happens in return? Martin becomes a giant dragon and kicks the hell out of Mehrunes Dagon, sending him back to his own plane. You, on the other hand, watch it all happen and get a suit of "meh" armor at the end of it all.
If I were a guy who just spent the better part of a year, running around avoiding undead, making deals with insane deities and spat in the face of danger more than once, I'd want to get a bit more than just armor. The other problem is that it doesn't stop there. In Skyrim, there really isn't a mention of the "Champion of Cyrodiil" or the "Hero of Kvatch". except in passing. Why? It turns out that the "Champion of Cyrodiil" is just an order of knights that did really awesome things to protect the province. This can range from guards to random felons who were lucky enough to escape prison and get tangled into something. It's more of a title that gets you a free ale at a tavern and possible a night of fun with an Argonian maid.
But there is a fun little catch that makes it all worth it.
In the expansion, The Shivering Isles, the player helps the Mad God, Sheogorath, free himself from an eternity of destroying and rebuilding. This is really interesting because as you progress in the quest, you become more and more like Sheogorath. As his power wanes, your power grows. The game starts to center more around "you", which is how all the other Elder Scrolls games played. At the end of it all, "you" become the Mad God and the Mad God becomes a different God. It's certainly a better trophy than "meh" armor.
How I like to imagine the entire Oblivion Crisis is thus: Sheogorath knew that his time was coming to an end. He came up with a plan that would have him find a champion. He couldn't break the rules and just take a mortal, so he convinced Mehrunes Dagon to invade the mortal plane (since he's the God of War and Destruction). Sheogorath is no stranger to the Imperial Throne (see Pelagius II in Skyrim), so he plants a few dreams in the Emperor's head to give him a "prophecy". Sheogorath wanted to find someone crazy enough to tag along on a world-ending quest and be satisfied with little to no reward. Not only did he find someone, he found someone crazy enough to voluntarily enter his world and actively engage in becoming his heir. The Oblivion Crisis was actually a giant ruse played out by Sheogorath just so he wouldn't have to subject himself through the agony of the Greymarch for the billionth time.
About a year ago, I was browsing youtube in search of time to kill between classes. I came across a trailer for Neverdead that made me a bit excited. I'm a big fan of urban fantasy, 80's action movies and anything that is "B" rated, so I got "mad hype" for this game. Neverdead is a game about an immortal demon hunter named Bryce that has actually been cursed with...well, never dying. The fun thing about this game is that it keeps to the whole "immortality" schtick by having your character actually never die. You can rip his arms off and toss them about the level, throw his head into air ducts or hop around looking for your leg in the middle of combat.
The more I read about this game, the more hype I got. The character was a mix of Harry Dresden and Deadpool, a deadpan snarker type that usually hates himself for one reason or another but does his job a little too well. The setting of a demonic invasion wasn't too original but I let that slide for the amazing soundtrack done by one of my favorite bands, Megadeth. This game had a good formula that could have made Bryce a rival for Dante of Devil May Cry fame.
But as time went on, I heard less and less about the game. The same story would run on different websites, even as the release date got closer. I thought this as curious, but I felt that the game would have been all right anyway and would be one of those "sleeper hits" that people always hear about. My confidence was high that this game would be amazeballs and would melt my face...and then it came out.
I sat there, controller in hand, looking at one of the most broken, boring, useless games I have ever played. I'm not trying to oversell my disappointment, that's how I felt at the time. This was a game that looked like it could be an amazing franchise due to it's unique concept and style.I then learned on Podtoid that Konami not only has a terrible PR system, but also that the less a company has faith in a game, the less amount of daylight it will see. That explained everything.
While you can Read thereviews for all the things wrong with it, I only have three points to make about the game itself:
1) Deadpan Snarker doesn't mean "annoying douchebag that can't keep his mouth shut"
2) The right analog stick must never be used for combat anything
3) I wouldn't be surprised if Megadeth forgets they helped on this game at all.
See, my disappointment for the game lies not only with the creators, but with myself. I've always been a cautious gamer, not wanting to get sucked into hype unless it's from a company that I can trust. Bethesda, Blizzard, Team Ninja, and Capcom are names that I've learned to trust over the years. With anything else, I take things with a grain of salt and wait a month before buying or renting. But this game hit some inner parts of me that reminded me of the awesome summers I had with my dad, watching Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash, and Hard Boiled. I hyped myself into thinking that the game was going to be more than it was ever going to amount to.
I ended up returning the game back to Gamefly before I could finish it. It was too broken and bland for me to move on and, to be honest, it kinda hurt to do that. This was a game that really had some great potential of being a breakout hit in a sea of sequels. As I went online, I noticed people saying that they had similar experiences to mine in their disappointment. It just looked like a game that seemed it would do well, but somewhere along the way, it misplaced its legs and was crawling around aimlessly.
It would be easy for me to blame myself for wanting this game to be good. It would also be easy for me to blame Konami for allowing the game to seemingly atrophy in it's own development. But the reality is that there is a mix of both. Hype is a two person dance the required both sides to constantly participate in. There have been games that have been shoved into our collective faces for the past two years now that seemingly require you to become excited about their release. L.A Noir, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Skyrim, and even the recently released Diablo III are just some of the many that I've seen being plastered about in magazines and online. Even if these companies invade our eyeballs with these ad campaigns, the choice to be hyped up or not still lies within the consumer to pay attention or not.
With life comes experience and this game did teach me that nostalgia can be a powerful thing. Looking back, the game did seem not too great, but for a moment in time, it was going to rock my pants off. And to be honest, I'm perfectly okay with that.
This one is going to start off not exactly related to games, but the connection will make sense. I used to play Dungeons & Dragons until late last year. I joined up with some local guys to play a long campaign that had me hooked from the beginning: Why Is The DoomGate Open?
From the start, it was fun. Good laughs, badass fights, extremely close calls. The story was to find out why the Doomgate was opened and when we got there, we got flung into a new plane of existence. After that, we were flung into the future to find out that we somehow became heroes of legend...around the same time we got flung into the new plane. It was, in all honesty, one of the better storylines I had been part of. That is, until I got so fed up with a player that I had to leave before I could stomach another session with him.
The guy made a character that he thought was "fun". I'm all for strange concepts and quirky-ness, but this was just insane. His character could channel magical energy through his whip, take large amount of damage, and could break every skill challenge he came across. By level 5, he rendered the tank, the druid, the mage and the ranger utterly useless. I thank Moradin I was a hyperhealer, because that was the only thing stopping him from becoming a one man band. The Game Breaker, after some time, complained that he was carrying the party and would tell the Dungeon Master whether he thought something was dumb or say "I'm not doing that no matter what". I left when our characters hit level 15 and haven't rolled a die since.
Now, what got me onto this topic was when I was talking to a friend about Skyrim. My love for Skyrim is that I feel a sense of balance between all the archetypes. No one "class" is better than the other, unless you're a Master Enchanter (but that's neither here nor there). The only way to be the best at everything was to literally master everything in the game. He asked me, "Is that why you stopped playing D&D and don't play MMO's?". Short answer, yes.
Here's the long one.
When I sit down for a game, my primary goals are to kill time and have fun. I see solo gaming and multiplayer as a great form of social interaction between people across the world and it can be used to honestly build bridges under the banner of "Fun". The biggest problem I have is that some people think that it's fun to purposely break the game and cheat in order to gain the upper hand on the other players. When they are called out on it, they blame the developers for "making it so easy for them to do it".
Let me show you the difference between a game breaker and a player: A player find a glitch that allows them to shoot through a wall, killing someone in a single shot. A player will do it a few times and when asked how they did it, they point it out. They show how they did it and will know that this makes the game more interesting until it's patched.
A game breaker will exploit the hell out of that glitch, using it to "grief" others into submission. When the same thing happens to them, they go ballistic and quit the game, only to do it all over again. Why do they do it? Psychologically, I cannot explain. I know, however, that they get enjoyment at the idea of having the upper hand by simply exploiting the game, rather than getting better at it. How do I know this? I've run into players that lovingly glitch as much as they can while calling others names in the process. The smugness is so thick, it requires a shovel to clean it up.
Now, I don't mind the "expert player" using tricks against other "expert players". There are some things that come with time, and I get that. But if you're primary goal is to walk into someone's game and find every possible way to screw it up, then you aren't a player. You're just an ass.
Unless you're a QA tester, which would make sense if you're job is to break the game in as many ways possible before it ships. That's a whole 'nother bag of Doritos.