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5:41 AM on 03.29.2010

Something About Sex: Can It Help You Cope?

For this musing, I'm going to slightly tweak the musing. Instead of using sex to mean intercourse, I'm going to use its other meaning; physical gender. Whilst it's not exactly what we're supposed to muse about, I feel it's an issue not many people would generally think about. To start, I'll explain what I mean with the title: "Can It Help You Cope?". I have, or should I say "I think I may have", some identity issues, which I'll go into more detail about later. I'm going to write about how I think video games have helped me possibly cope with this, but also how they make it worse. I apologize in advance if this seems a little forced/awkward, it's not something I tend to talk about openly.
For the last 3 or 4 years, I've generally only played as a female character in a game. In Left 4 Dead, I always use Zoey. In Fallout 3, I use a female character. In Oblivion, it's the same again. Mass Effect 1+2, Dragon Age: Origins, Lord of the Rings: Online, Saints Row 2, World of Warcraft, Drakensang - I don't need to go on. At first it was the "If I'm going to be staring at a backside for however many hours, I want it to be a female's rear" but over the years it's become more than that. I think it must have all started with World of Warcraft...
*Mysterious flashback*
In World of Warcraft, I began to play female characters not long after I started. Within the next year, I didn't even consider rolling a male character; it was female or nothing. I was on a roleplay realm, so I was often roleplaying women and then... Something changed.
I did. There must have been a switch in my mind that flicked, and instead of just roleplaying the characters, I roleplayed the player. She had a name, physical description, but her personality was very similar to mine except a few changes. I started having "mood swings" in-game, I was flirty, I wasn't as restrained as I am; it was strange. I knew I was doing it, but I couldn't stop. It felt right and natural, and as soon as I'd hit "log in" I was gone - She replaced me. At this point of my life, WoW had taken over my life. I was skipping classes, I was staying up longer than I should have, I'd become addicted.
I realized, maybe this time last year, that what was happening shouldn't be - I tried to escape her and so I switched realm. I made a fresh start for myself, but I still played female characters. I never lied about who I was "IRL", but she was still there - seated right at the back of my mind. After maybe a month, I'd switched back to my old realm and embraced my alter-ego fully. She actually has a Skype and X-Fire account, believe it or not.
Needless to say I failed sixth form and I had no job from June until about September. In September, I'd gotten a job on a weekend and I really enjoyed it. It was a fairly mindless job so I tended to think about things and a regular topic was this strange side to me. I imagined what it would like to be her, and it was an amazing feeling. It was like she'd conquered my head and wanted to become fully realized. As the weeks passed, my thoughts about her came and went, my non-working days were spent in the world of Azeroth as this woman who didn't exist. When December came around, I began to feel her slip. My interest in the game faded, I'd revealed the truth to my server (and got a lot of stick for it from some people, although my friends were understanding) and she wasn't there too often.
At first it was a good thing - No more confusion, no more lying... I wasn't happy. This one shining light in my life had gone and over the weeks I began to become confused again; was it a phase? Where did she go? I still can't answer those questions. From time to time she rears her head in my mind - On the BioWare Social Network I almost let her come back, but I couldn't let her. It's not fair on other people, and she's a burden only I should carry.
So, to the question. Did video games help me cope? Yes, they did. World of Warcraft served as the perfect way for her to exist, but I lost all control. And that's when they stopped helping me cope. I created one of my Dragon Age characters similar to how she'd look, and for now that's all I need. Whether she's real or false, we had a damn good ride and I'm honestly sad she's rarely around.
If this makes no sense to anyone, I apologize. I rarely talk about it, let alone explain what happened, and I wouldn't be surprised if pieces of the puzzle are missing.   read

3:41 PM on 03.20.2010

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening; A Review (Spoiler Alert!)

"Eh" would sum it up well. I'll try break it down to make it easier to read/review. This is for the PC version

Friendly Characters:
Anders - Awesome.
Sigrun - Awesome.
Nathaniel - Good
Justice - Got him too late to form a real opinion
Velanna - Got her before Justice but didn't give her much time.
Oghren - Didn't use him much.
But really, BioWare? Please stop using actors in Mass Effect and Dragon Age, it's really ruining immersion for me, or at least get them to do different voices. Even if they're great, I can't shake the fact that Varel = Zaeed Massani. And even though the VA is different, Alistair and Anders sound a little too similar, especially in combat.

Enemy Characters:
Utha - Eh, nothing was explained about her to those who haven't read "The Calling"; myself included. There should really have been a better explanation.
The Architect - Now, this one had me wondering, especially at the end. Was he good? Was he bad? Is he trying to trick me? I wasn't sure so I decided that the safest thing to do was, well, to kill him.
The Mother - Yawn. Yawn. Yawn. Creation goes wrong. Been there, done that, got the various novels/games. From her first appearance, it was quite clear that she was going to be a fight in the game, and I guessed (correctly) that she is a final fight option.

The Pre-Ending Story:
This is probably the weakest part of the game for me. Two factions of Darkspawn (effectively Father vs Daughter, in that the Mother = a creation of the Architect) are fighting each other and running riot in and under Amaranthine and just, basically, making a mess of things. So you're given a Keep to upgrade (Neverwinter Nights 2, maybe?) and troops to upgrade the gear of (Neverwinter Nights 2 again) whilst solving the issues of your people (Neverwinter Nights 2 again!). You find materials to upgrade their gear or your keep whilst solving these issues (I've got to say it again, Neverwinter Nights 2), and have to do a non-essential loyalty mission for your companions. Of course, there's different outcomes and “incomes” (as in things carried from Origins), so I can't say I've seen every single combination, but it just is a bit poorly done.
I'm supposed to be busy fighting Darkspawn and saving Ferelden yet again, so why am I the one running around finding resources? Why am I the one convincing traders to come? And why am I the one who has to go save some daughter of a poncy bloke? Well, I guess I have to thank the Darkspawn for their patience in these matters.
It's very similar structure to Origins, in my opinion. You start, get a few companions in the first place (Ostagar/Lothering is Vigil's Keep, where you get Oghren, Mhairi, Anders & Nathaniel, just as you got Alistair, Morrigan, Dog, Sten & Leliana from Ostagar/Lothering), you do three “companion” zones to gain them (Justice, Velanna and Sigrun) and you can visit Amaranthine whenever you want to do some side quests, just as you would visit Denerim to do the same.
It works, I guess, but felt a bit dry.

Same as Origins, really. But I have to commend BioWare on giving you your healer very near the start (Anders), because that was a bit of a problem, for me, with Origins. If you wanted Wynne, then you had to do the Circle Tower first, admittedly my least favourite bit of the game.
Sadly, the gameplay is bugged. A lot. Approvals depend more on timing than on conversations! With Velanna and Justice, at least, I got +100 approval for basically nothing. Velanna gave it once I recruited her, and Justice once I'd given him an item. I also found myself unable to get 100 approval with some companions due to the sheer lack of gifts and points from dialogue. BioWare should either have increased the gain from gifts, made the +100 bonus either non-existent or unconditional, and added extra gifts to allow you to keep it at 100 if you have no gifts left.
Sadly, there's a Fade section but it's much better than the Circle one, although it gives stat bonuses and I couldn't really work out why. They really weren't necessary. It flowed pretty well though, and was over shortly, although I couldn't say I found it too enjoyable.
As for stats/gear/drops? Ugh. My character felt ridiculously powerful by the end (especially with massacre), I had too many talent points, and constitution is still relatively useless. I came very close to dying once. My character's profile is reading that I have 99 strength, including bonuses! The gear is still strongly aimed towards melee, and warriors in particular. I got some nice staves and some nice robes, but overall I think it's still best for warriors. The character I imported was about level 9, so she got boosted to 18. I finished on 30 and I hadn't done every side/companion quest. Levelling is too quick in Awakening!
And gems. Gems... Yeah, was I meant to save them or not? I was swimming in gold and my chest was filled with gems and low-level runes. I was really puzzled by Shale drops (i.e. crystals) from time to time, sub-tier 8 gear and novice/journeyman runes. If you don't take runecraftingything then you're really stuck for runes, not that I found them necessary with the power of weapons/armor. At least Origins was very forgiving in terms of crafting, and I wish Awakening carried this on.
The addition of Stamina potions is amazing, though, and I'm really thankful BioWare added them. They're useful especially if you're a 2H warrior without a set bonus.

Performance & Bugs:
Generally it performed alright, but Blackmarsh/Dragonbone Wastes upto the Mother gave me some issues. It started to really, really stutter and jerk around and sometimes go smooth, but then back to stuttering. I've no idea what brought it on, but it annoyed me quite a bit. There were times when the map lagged and some really long loading going on, which I thought 1.03 was supposed to address.

Some quests don't trigger at all, and it's a pain. There's also a lot of ambiguity in the quest text and it can get a bit frustrating. BioWare really should have tested this better, because it's a shame that I couldn't do some personal quests. Sigrun and Velanna's quests didn't trigger for me, and Oghren's quest was very vague and I couldn't continue with it, and I assume it's because of my approval. I'd given him all his gifts, yet wasn't really past ~60 so I couldn't continue.

Boring. Most disappointing end ever. Kill the Mother (that was my ending, anyways), walk off, epilogue. The epilogue was alright but not overly interesting. Not to mention the completely non-obvious hint at a sequel/DLC/another expansion. To me, however, the ending didn't seem too correct for my character. She wouldn't “disappear” at all!

Good but not amazing. Close but no cigar. Playable not overly replayable. There's not a great enough number of choices to really get more than a few runs out of it before every choice has been done. If the quest bugs were fixed, I think I would enjoy this a lot more and get a lot more out of it. I love seeing my little dwarf run around in Sentinel armor and stab stuff with her sword (The Mother's Chosen), but I honestly think BioWare could have done much better with this. Awakening, in my opinion, should have been put back until May at least and they should have put the time into bug fixing and tweaking the game.
I'll recommend the expansion easily, but I would suggest to wait for a patch to fix the near-game breaking bugs I experienced, and the game-breaking ones others have.   read

3:20 PM on 03.02.2010

Something about sex: My Little Secret

(Hope I'm doing this right, first time!)
Well, sex. Sex, sex, sex. Sexity Sex Sex. The forbidden act, the greatest sin of all, the subject of the world's oldest profession and the premise of one of the biggest markets in the world. In a medium so young as gaming, sex is often seen as the final taboo. In the Western world, games are rated strictly for it, media shit storms occur when it's a component and only a few series can truly claim to be "sex games". It contrasts quite strongly with the hyper-sexualised Japanese game market - Their games often featuring large breasted, seemingly under-age girls in clothing that make Princess Amelie from King's Bounty: Armored Princess look well covered.

I believe one of the main problems is that games are often regarded as being for children, even after all these years and countless series such as "Resident Evil", "Fallout", "F.E.A.R." and "Leisure Suite Larry". It's not that sex is a new thing in gaming (See "Custer's Revenge"), it's just that adult-oriented games are easier to acquire now than they were 20 years ago. Parents will look at a game for Lil' Johnny and ignore the rating on it or just give it a quick glance - I wonder how many sub-18 year old kids have a copy of MW2 because of this? - and then have a fit when the game shows half a second of a nipple. It's not that the Western world is adverse to sex or sexualisation (just look at women's magazines, for example), it's just we have a new medium and it'll take time for it to get near the acceptance of violence or strong language.

I remember the media outrage at BioWare over Mass Effect 2-3 years ago, but I find it's often misquoted. What I felt was the true issue is that the woman making the claims had not experienced the game nor even seen the scene herself and not the fact that the game had sideboob and bare buttocks (which are not uncommon sights in fighting games involving females). That game, in the UK, had a 12 rating from the BBFC - In other words someone under that age could not purchase the game legally. To me it was the media making a mountain out of a molehill until the facts were determined and it died down very quickly after that.

But look at the "Eastern" side of it; at the Japanese and their culture. They're much more open to sex then we are, and it's quite startling. You can buy a "vagina-in-a-can", for example! And look at their adult games; rape simulators, dating simulators and so forth! If a company tried to bring out a rape simulator now for a western audience it would be banned in most countries, I'd suspect, or at least be very hard to get. I just did a little bit of research and a game named "Rapelay" seemed to garner a lot of controversy in the Western world, even though it's a Japanese game!

If sex is handled in an adult, or at least respectable, manner in a game (such as BioWare's romances in Mass Effect 1/2 and Dragon Age, and CD Projekt's The Witcher) then I think this should be encouraged. Sex is a very natural thing but it's often treated without maturity and descends to "lol bewbies" quite often, and this doesn't help the situation. Gamers are rarely asking for a full-on few minutes of digitised hardcore pr0n, we want a fulfilling experience that's believable. Although it's very natural, it should be used in games within context because with no context all it really is tends to be "lol bewbies".

My personal experience:
I am, truth be told, an ex-eRPer. Yes, I was the female Night Elf you saw in Stormwind docks in a Lovely Black Dress or the never-AFK-but-never-moving Draenei in Dalaran. I've gotten more out of eRP than I've ever gotten out of girlfriends, and due to my own hang-ups and other personal reasons, I don't feel I can commit to a relationship/anything physical. eRP was my escape from that, and judge me as you wish, but I'm thankful it exists. I don't think it's disgusting, nor is it any different in practice to reading an erotica novel or beating yourself to pr0n. The appeal, for me, was that I could imagine it and live it in my head and that's a much more attractive thing to me than a woman sat in my lap.   read

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