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2:15 PM on 11.19.2009

Do the Wrong Thing: These guys are total dicks!

Sounds simple enough.

I've played Fallout 3 since release, always happy to go back into the wastelands and hunt for more little corners I've left undiscovered and more wastelanders to talk to, trade with, and blast to kingdom come. The only place I have yet to explore is the Dark Side of the Karma meter. I've come close, keeping my Karma below saintly with snide remarks and rampant theft, but when the opportunity arrives for the first big act of evil, the detonation of a town of settlers, I always shy away, and in the end, save them from the bomb.

The first time or two I did it was because it seemed a more immediate way to gain XP and it kept more side quests open. You can't ask a pile of ash if she wants help writing a book about exploring the wasteland. Additionally, travel out to Tenpenny towers seemed daunting to my low level character and helping the Megaton townies could be done without leaving the neighborhood.

The third time though, I decided I'd give the Tenpenny offer full consideration and spent some time leveling with side quests before setting off on the slog to Alfred Tenpenny's fortified hotel. All the while I kept my dialog angry, making snide remarks to the townies that I would soon be slagging. (By the way, I never understood the complaint about not being allowed to kill children. Those two Megaton brats are pretty surely dead when their homes are floating motes of geiger-happy dust.) Anyway, I told Burke "maybe so" adding that he should give me extra money since I'm hot (Black Widow perk on a female character this time around) and then set out to see what my boss's boss was like.

See, if you save the town, they give you a rusty old sheet metal house to be your home base. Alfred Tenpenny however, offers you a luxury suite at his hotel once you've thrown in with his lot. I decided that if his tower was going to be my stomping grounds, I should find out what my neighbors were like. Security buzzed me in (I decided not to off that ghoul arguing on the doorstep, just in case he could be significant later) and I took the grand tour, riding up and down the building and chatting to all of the characters I found.

These guys are total dicks!

Seriously. Ever character in the Towers is a self congratulatory, arrogant pin-head. I thought Myra was getting on my nerves in Craterside Supply; at least she was irritating by accident of her being a few points short in the Common Sense stat. The towers' shopkeeper was asking for a smack from the moment she opened her mouth. Security were trigger happy and intolerant, random characters would only spout lines about how great it was to be them in snob voices. And Tenpenny . . . gawd. He was full of sinister villain dialog and his justification for the demolition of Megaton was to reclaim the real estate. Really? Is there some housing shortage that will be alleviated by urban renewal? I decided then and there that if these jerks were going to be my neighbors after I nuked Megaton, I'd rather be back there getting cheery greetings from Billy Creel.

It wasn't the call of justice and honor that swayed me from my evil ways. It was the fact that the company a villain has to keep are just such total dicks. So with a few snide remarks, I left and then sought out the ghouls who had been turned away from the gates to Tenpenny Tower. They had a bone to pick with Tenpenny and I was eager to make that self-righteous prick suffer.

Even after my elevation to savior from disarming the nuke, I've still kept on stealing and doing minor wrongs, but it doesn't seem to make a dent. Even helping the slavers of The Pitt didn't make me a horrible bastard. I don't really mind though because the Sheriff is always glad to see me, even after I've just picked his pocket.

I guess the only way to be a total dick myself is to go the Chaotic Evil route, and just shoot everyone whose path I cross. It would make the game harder but it would mean I don't have to cozy up to other evil types. But I think I'd be missing out on a lot of experience points if I blast Sierra Petrovita instead of going on a trek across the wastes looking for bottles of glowing soda to add to her collection. And with no one giving me a place to stay, there really is no rest for the wicked.   read

12:30 PM on 10.28.2009

The Other Button

This is gruesome. I'm going to talk about rape and the murder of children and innocents. I'm upsetting myself writing it, so please click away if you don't want to do this. Or use The Other Button.

You will also be faced with potential spoilers for MW2, Prey, Rule of Rose, [prototype], and Edmund as well as the films The Hills Have Eyes and Dead Girl. Almost all the images I could find were blatantly sexual. I think that's fitting in some horrible way, so I'll go with it.

There is a point in all people where they get squicked. A line, that when crossed spills over into tastelessness. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent strokes means this line is entirely subjective and is going to change throughout your entire life. I saw a good example of this on in the write up for the Alexdre Aja remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" uncut edition in which the reviewer, a writer for a gorehound website, describes the movie as having gone too far in a sequence in which a woman is raped while a gun is held to her infant child's head and another in which a teenage girl is raped and forced to watch her sister murdered. (I haven't seen this movie and I feel sick to my stomach just typing this.)

He got this one right. What the hell went wrong?

In the comments below a few other people agreed saying that they felt ill and one father pointed out that he couldn't help but imagine his own wife and child in that terrible situation and had to stop watching the movie though he is a fan of many current slasher flicks. Then a post from a young twentysomething (or maybe even younger?) accused everyone else of being wusses. Paraphrasing his statement, he said that he wanted to see as much sick stuff as possible before he got old and sentimental and hemmed in by having feelings for other people, and that was what was wrong with the reviewer and the commentors before him.

So. There are lines. There are squicks. My wife loves horror films but has to leave the room whenever anyone, victim or killer, is burned alive. She went to a Baptist school that reminded her everyday that there was an eternal pit of flame waiting for her because she did things like draw pictures of Catwoman. And the question is, should we challenge these feelings and take a step over the line occasionally, or will that be too much? Would it be better to stay comfortable?

I've got to relate this to videogames, obviously so let's talk about what prompted this writing. Here: is a spoilerriffic article about a level that apparently features the player firing on innocents in a terrorist assault on an airport. There are comments going back and forth about what a "brave choice" the developers have made or how they can't expect this to fly with the American videogaming audience. Context will certainly change opinions about what is actually happening in that scene but regardless, any interest I had in MW2 was killed right there. Even in some sort of simulation of an undercover guy forced to do terrible things, I don't think there is enough justification to make this okay for me. In my mind there is a very strong line between enemy combatant and innocent civilian. Guy with a gun screaming for your blood and woman fleeing in terror. And even that is wavering these days. I began to wonder how many marines had earned their evisceration while playing [prototype]. Maybe getting married and buying a house means I'm too old and sentimental.

It's okay. There're all unmarried orphans.

Besides, where are the families? Where are the screaming children tugging at the arms of their mother as she bleeds out through a bubbling wound in her stomach? Where are the old men crushed beneath the feet of a fleeing mob? What about the screams of people begging to be spared? How about the ones who didn't die right away? We see them crawling away from the player. Where are their blood trails and hands scrabbling to hold their insides together?

People are praising them for their gritty realism and their desire to push the envelope. Would these same people still say that it's a fascinating study in the maturity level of games when a flight attendant is trying to hide a lost infant under her ruined body before another terrorist calls to the player to "go over there and finish the job."?

Yes, I'm a horror fan. I'll watch things like that. The Texas Chainsaw films frighten and entertain me and the opening to most revenge films get my blood pumping to see the murders get their eye-for-an-eye treatment. But don't ever ask me to get involved. That's not safe and it's my squick.

Monster. Also, labia wall.

Prey threw me off. I may not remember this segment exactly because I refuse to rewatch it. While exploring the murder factory that is the alien space ship, two children on the other side of a glass-wall-force-field-thing are screaming and crying for help. A ghostly spirit rises out of the floor and separates them before flying into the body of one of the children and with a bloody splatter, the child becomes a monster. He then turns on his still crying cellmate and lifts him up and throws him across the room, impaling him on a spike. Squick.

At this point in the game I discovered The Other Button. It's not on the controller actually, most hardware devs keep it away from you so you won't use it too often. I leaned over to my computer and mashed the power button until I was looking at a blank screen.

I know one of the former Human Head writers who worked on that game (to clarify, he was working on dialog for that project, not story.) He's also written an excellent table-top RPG called "Little Fears." (A new edition has just been published.) In the game players are children who have found that all of their nightmares are real and that missing children are usually taken away by the Bogeyman or the other Dukes of Closetland to be devoured by one horror or another. It's a fantasy that presents the players with the very real problems of child abduction and abuse faced in a society that supposedly works to protect children while refusing to take them seriously. This is a great game. Thought provoking and frightening.

If you can handle it, play this game.Go on.

I don't know what went wrong with Prey. Up to that time, adults are being run through a slaughterhouse by the hundreds, screaming for help. It's a sequence designed to get you angry at your captors so that you will "give them what they deserve" with every weapon you can lay hands on. Already unsettling, but it got my revenge desire online. The children hit me too hard. I didn't want revenge anymore, I just didn't want to have to see that again.

Rape is a terrible crime. It is expected that MOST women are sexually assaulted at least once in their lives, though perhaps not to the point that a court would bother to step in. Especially when they are young. Several of my female friends have spoken openly about being coerced or even physically restrained to the point that they felt rape was imminent. It's still not alright even if no one was genitally violated.

The movie Dead Girl has been lauded for its challenging subject matter. A group of teen boys discover a beautiful girl strapped to a gurney in the basement of an old building. She is some sort of zombie, and naked. They proceed to use her as a sex toy. After they break her, they go and hunt down another girl, to zombify her and make a new one. Rue Morgue, another gorehound's publication, despised this film. They called it out for being senseless. What is the theme here? What are the creators trying to portray? That all teenage boys are so sex crazed that they will promptly turn to rape given the chance? That girls are confusing and a lifelike doll with orifices is really all that they want from a woman?

Seriously? Also, labia imagery.

The indie game Edmund is a crude rape simulator. Yeah. Not even in the manner of the perverse hentai games that are embarrassing Japan right now. This is simple brutality. The only option of the player is to beat and rape a woman and feel bad about it. Or are we? What about the person who doesn't feel bad about it? Is this a test to determine sociopaths living among us? Reviewers and players have said they felt they had to continue the game to it's end because there was no other option. There is always another option. The Other Button.

Why do we confuse the inclusion of rape and murder with maturity, or artistry? A mature handling of the subject of rape is a psychology textbook in criminal behavior. A mature treatment of murder is a history lesson or a panel of experts debating the death penalty. It is not depicting it in gruesome detail in a film or video game or painting. That is an attempt to elicit shock. Rob Zombie did not pretend to be exploring trigger behaviors in the minds of the mentally ill when he started off Michael Myer's killed spree as a supposed response to a female patient being raped by orderlies on his bed (director's cut version.) If a debate arises from that, that is when the maturity enters the equation, but that could be provoked by a lecture or shift in conversation just as easily, and without the graphic challenge. Should we be praising these depictions because this is what it takes to get people to think about the issues of violence?

Alright, so are games just incapable of hangling these issues seriously? Beyond the wacky cartoon antics of Saint's Row that dress it all up as mindless fun because it's just a game? Not at all. The problem is that it requires subtley that most designers, children raised on stories written by the graphics engineers on the backs of napkins and inspired by the trailer to some action flick, very rarely possess. I'm looking right at you, John Romero.

Nothing more dangerous than a tween who knows she's beautiful.

Rule of Rose is an amazing and horrifying game. A cast of orphan children who have formed a society of cruelty and abuse among themselves. Prepubescent sexuality, "puppy love," drives them to acts of desparation and eventual murder. Yet despite the clamoring of the EU ratings boards and their almighty ban on the game, these subjects are treated with a respect and subtlety that still entrance me.

The headmaster, all too eager to smooth Diana's hair while she cries crocodile tears when being accused of killing his pet fish; the doll shaped like Jennifer that Amanda beats with a stick while still offering Jennifer presents and compliments; the scene in which Margaret holds out a rose to Diana, who crushes Margaret's hands against the thorns before kissing away the blood; the "stray dog" Gregory who kills the girls (off camera) on the orders of Wendy, disguised as his dead son whom he misses too much to disobey. This is powerful, artistic stuff. This is a game that is still entirely clear about its themes without forcing barbaric images on the player. Without blatantly stepping over lines, this game made me think about the issues of what is happening through the veil of the character's stories.

So. These are my squicks and the ways that they can be veiled to communicate meaning while still staying within my boundaries. Your mileage may, and will, vary. You might play GTA4 to let off steam by mowing down a street full of faux New Yorkers. I played it as a sort of life simulator. Working the mob missions and cursing myself every time I clipped a pedestrian. Remember, Nico Bellic came here to get away from his life of killing. Not to become a more casual mass murderer. I got angry at Alex in [prototype] whether he's hero or villain. Once the story missions were over, and his character fully revealed, I jammed the Other Button and traded in the game. I had no desire to continue playing such a creature.

This became a ramble at some point but my hands are shaking now. So badly, I almost don't want to reread and edit. Suffice to say, I'm very upset at any developer that makes me use the Other Button.   read

12:12 PM on 10.07.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Quiet Down Kiddies.

Voice chat? Wiispeak? XBox headsets? All of that has to go. Maybe not for the entire world, maybe there are a select few who we can trust to use that dangerous technology, but giving out casual voice chat to any and all users of a console is just pandering to idiots. And I know they're idiots because I've been online with them. How could they be anything other than idiots? My entire interaction with my gaming brethren has been constant streams of profanity, racial epithets, and sexual bigotry. If this is the entirety of my interaction with you, if the only thing I will ever know about you is that you like to use m*thaf*kkinn*gguhf*g*ss as a punctuation mark, then that's it. You're a moron. I won't ever care to know about your sister's cancer operation or your silver medal in the high dive. I don't want to find out that you had a really hard time coming to terms with your parent's divorce or that you start laughing uncontrollably when there's a lightning storm outside. All I know is that you irritate me. You are subhuman and I want to never have anything to do with you.

This morning an SUV, horns blaring, cut me off getting on to the highway. When I looked over, swearing, I saw a gray-haired lady dressed for her job as a secretary at the church, or whatever, and was suddenly taken aback. Was it bad of me to be angry at someone's silver haired grandmother, a woman late for work driving dangerously to make up time? Someone who might have just heard some awful news and was trying to cope? Not at all; all I know is that some senile bitch in a too-big car almost got me in a wreck. That's all I will ever know of Mrs. SUV and I'm deluding myself if I attempt to develop some feeling or relationship on anything beyond that.

We all make snap decisions in our interactions with other people. We call them first impressions. Perhaps after years of episodes of GI Joe and Pokemon that taught us it's who's on the inside that counts, we figure that our initial impressions on other people aren't as important. They'll learn to like us once they get to know us right? Wrong. I won't get to know you. I'll cut you off at the knees right there. If your SUV clips the guard rail, then I'll feel my suspicions confirmed: You shouldn't be on the same road with me.

This sword cuts both ways and I have to be aware of what snap judgments are going to be made about me. The anonymity of the internet and online games is a fallacy thatís abused every day. With voice chat, I am even worse than anonymous; I am partially human. Rather than the blank slate of the truly anonymous, I have presented a part of myself that other people will fill around until they have developed an identity for me, usually cobbled together from stereotypes. If I apologize to my teammates, then I may become the bitch. If I complain, I'm the whiner. If I tell someone that they shouldn't say "n*ggac*cks*kkinb*tch" I'm overly sensitive. If I don't say it myself, I'm the pussy.

I've never heard a woman's voice on chat and I'm not surprised. There are studies that show some women do enjoy these testosterone baths we entertain ourselves with, but everyone is always asking "where all the women at?" Maybe she knows that if she says "Fragged ya!" aloud and exposes herself as female, she will be immediately made the target of every perverse sexual advance that her "playmates" can concoct. And those are the ones that "like" her. The guy who just got pwned is going to go consult his hentai anime collection until he can come back with some really explicit things to threaten her with.

(A shooting game developed by TANAKA U)

The Think B 4 U Speak campaign is a lovely idea. I want to see real change made in how people casually insult others before they learn what they are even saying. I still grimace when anyone says "retard" because I worked with disabled kids for years and saw how it's hard for them to just be themselves, let alone be accepted. It would be great to educate people to know how hurtful their words can be. But that requires education, and education takes time and money. Y'know what's cheap? Silence. It's cheaper than another headset and mic, cheaper than bandwidth and programming subroutines to carry the voice data across the country. Fast, cheap, efficient silence.

But how will we know who's got the flag? I dunno. How did you figure it out when you were playing Team Fortress or Unreal Tournament? How did you signal your team to breach the door in Rainbow Six? Or call everyone to stick together in CS? With key-bound sound clips, text messages, quick key responses, a dot on a mini-map. Did these interface items somehow become less efficient? When this was the only way to communicate, it had to be efficient. Like the telegraph, or txt spk today, the designers and users made the system work for them.

Story time: The first time I was playing UT2K3 with someone who had voice chat was the worst experience I ever had with the game. One guy had it, so he declared himself team captain because he could give us the best directions. What he offered was nothing but whining criticism when anyone else died or meaningless calls of "Over there! There! He's right there!" If I remember, that's the last time I played UT2K3 online. And it was probably the beginning of the end for me gaming with strangers. Unsurprising.

(T-Shirt from Zazzle)

It's just smack talk right? You're just trying to intimidate the other guy right? Bullshit. You didn't win because the other guy got mad. You won because he didn't play as well. What you are doing is providing a cheerleading squad for yourself. While you're at it, go steal that cardboard standee display for WET, sit it on the couch next to yourself, and when you score a head shot look over at the shiny cardboard eyes of Rubi and tell her "That's right. I'm the best there is." Then maybe you can pretend she answers in a sultry girl voice "Ooh honey. And it's because your dick is so big." Then you might as well forget about the war we're fighting over here on your television set and go make out on your living room floor with the mock-up picture of the imaginary woman . . . Anyway, the point is that we don't need smack talk. We were able to play games without it for years and talking like that in a real sporting event gets you an unsportsmanlike conduct warning. So what will you be missing if you have to shout "PWN3D yU!" to the empty air of your living room, rather than over the headset? Nothing apart from the ire of those who wish you would just STFU.

When I do play online now, I play only co-op games like L4D or Gears where all the humans are supposed to be working together. I play this way because it at least tempers the open hostility gamers feel toward one another and, needing to co-operate, I'll have to withhold judgment of the players who join up with me until I get a real sense of who they are. Even with that though, I insist on being able to play with at least one friend of mine rather than just a collection of strangers so I'll have a sane voice to listen too among the multitudes.

And yes, I will swear, and my brothers and friends will swear, but we've already taken the time to know that we're real people. I'd like to meet more real people because they're the ones I want to talk to when I'm gaming. They're the guys I want to pretend are sitting next to me on the couch after we finished collecting our paper route money and have the whole afternoon to kill before dinner time. I don't want screaming and swearing and first impressions. I want you to be real people too.

(Xbox Live)   read

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