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10:34 AM on 02.25.2010

Griefing in Afghanistan

Imagine getting shot by the guy talking horrendous trash. Or being able to call in artillery on him.

ABC News Ran this story about how Afghan soldiers and Taliban talk shit about each other using old-school two-way radios.

An excerpt:

"The Taliban will say things like why do you side with the Americans? Why do you sell out your country? You love Obama more than Afghanistan."

Being Mr. Angry Liberals on Xbox live, and with an avatar of Michelle Obama, I find that the Taliban are after my own heart.

Still, on Xbox Live the consequences are only as real as anybody lets their ego get bruised. Controlling irrational, abrupt impulses to send obnoxious nine year-old boys through a window is about as rough as it gets. But out there?

Hakmal said the standard response goes something like, "The Americans are here to help our country function again. They don't want to stay. They want to help, then leave. You should help, too."

Then the shooting starts.

I would totally break protocol if I were an Afghan soldier. And teabag.   read

12:41 PM on 02.24.2010

You should crawl like the snake you are

Does anybody else revel in crawling around on the ground, unseen?

I'm crawling around the bottom of the corporate ladder as I write this. But really, what I'm talking about is going unnoticed in natural settings. I love this stuff in games, and I love this stuff in real life.

I started thinking about this after I tried the co-op segment of the sniper level in Modern Warfare 2 a few weeks ago. I crawled around some, but, being impatient and not respecting the game's engine enough, I had a habit of coming up to my knees to draw fire and get the enemy's position the cheap way. The game punishes you for being so impatient, but if you've got a buddy to revive you the consequences aren't so steep.

There was a segment in that level with a stream, and I was brought back to my last duck and goose hunting trip in Canada. One day my old man and I were hunting a field in our usual style: goose decoys out, my dad hiding in the bushes holding back our spaz of a chocolate lab, and myself wearing 3D camouflage, laying out in the middle of the decoys, shotgun by my side with the muzzle resting on a green hat.

I can tell you that 3D camouflage, much like a ghillie suit, is amazing stuff. I've had geese land eight feet from me, first swooping so close to my face that the displaced air seemed as loud as an airplane. I could have grabbed the goose out of the air. When another goose landed just yards away from me, I came up to my knees, and the damn thing only honked at me. I think it was saying "What the hell?"

I shot that poor sucker. I kind of regret it. It was too easy. At the time I justified it by saying that's evolution and the dumbest goose of the flock got weeded out. In retrospect I wish I had been holding a goose call and could have honked back, "dumbass."

I'm digressing. Using that 3D camo with my old man last time, I watched a small flock of ducks swoop overhead and land somewhere on the field over a football field away. Assuming they would be wary, I crawled through the brush and the rocks and the thorny plants, enjoying the scent of Canadian farm field, rich with sweet decaying straw and ancient gumbo (clay-rich mud).

When I neared the birds I found them in a small pond of rainwater - hence the memory. I was again unobserved. Five teal, small ducks bearing the color of their namesake on their wings, were swimming around and shaking out their feathers, relaxed. At first I slowed my crawl to, well, a slow crawl. But I gradually noticed that none of the birds turned their heads toward me at all.

I closed to about fifteen feet and took aim. Then I asked myself a few questions. Should I try to group the shot pattern to hit multiple birds, or focus on just one? Where will the other birds fly toward after the opening shot? Are my shots going to alert a mark my old man is watching? Where will the birds drop if I hit them? Can I retrieve them there?

Were I playing Metal Gear Solid 3, my favorite game for crawling around and hunting and being real friendly with the soil and grasses, I would ask a similar set of questions. Will this shot alert the guard if I miss? Can he radio in for help? Will others see him drop if I succeed? Can I get to his fallen body and shake him down for items without being seen? Is he going to see me if he keeps approaching? Should I just get past him?

I had similar considerations playing paintball against my friends ten years ago. I crawled 200 feet along a drainage ditch to get around them without being seen. The limited vision you have when in grass six inches above your head is stifling. And really kind of exciting. You have to work so hard to see anything. You start to listen a lot more, and to create a picture of where everything is in your head, where you can see. I like when games reflect that phenomenon too.

I'm down for suggestions on other games that do a good job of this so I can get my crawl on.   read

1:47 PM on 02.23.2010

A response to Jesse Schell's future: Blech

Jesse Schell's vision of the future - a future where games consume everything and are an unavoidable, universal cheap trick to control behavior, and this somehow improves people, is rubbish.

Click to here to see the video, referenced in Podtoid 138.

To summarize the video, Schell has some merit. The first half of his presentation dissected marketing strategies so well that I passed it along to some of the higher ups at my job. I work at a student information system company and our CEO has passions for a similar future. Or at least one that will consequentially make him richer.

Schell initially speaks about authenticity driving sales toward the beginning of the lecture, yet strangely, by the end, he speaks of a future that is entirely contrived. Cereal boxes letting kids compete in eating the most cereal. Fifty points if you stuff your chubby face more than the kid down the street. A hundred points if you beat your autistic brother on the English test. A thousand points and a $10 tax break if your poo tests free of phthalates and the government can sell it to a farmer.

At the end, Schell postulates that playing these games, some of which would be based around important things like protecting the environment or not peeing in the aquifer, could make people value the important things more.

Yet the impact companies would create virtual rewards for activities with intrinsic value is about ends vs. means. Every task in our lives could become about points, a means to keep us addicted and unhappy and buy the mega-corporations' boardmembers new yachts. They disregard and trivialize those ends that make us happiness - time spent laughing with friends, hours learning to paint or speak another language, chores teaching us the value of being organized. Each of these is now a "Quest" that is compared on the leaderboards, and are worth...more quests.

Take Halo 3 on Xbox Live rankings. Players accumulate experience points to grant themselves higher ranks. It sounds legitimate. Until, that is, you learn that the majority of high-ranking players got there by "boosting," using a loophole in the scoring system to rapidly rise in the ranks. You can still even pay people to boost for you.

The results bastardize the ranking system. You have high-ranking players who quit as soon as the odds are any worse than 100,000:1 in their favor, and who aren't any better than the mid-level players. You have the naive boys in awe of them, wondering how they can possibly beat a general. And you have me, asking that high-ranked asshole not to quit if he's on my team or banking on it if he's on the opposite team.

What, then, is rank good for? Nothing. Character is worth everything. A teammate who will communicate enemy positions and share weapons is invaluable. He or she is also extraordinarily rare. How does this player come to be? He or she disregards points and silly rewards and cultivates character by valuing camaraderie and friendship. Good soldiers don't learn accurate shooting because they want a medal. They learn it to keep their friends alive.

Yet so many of the kids I encounter don't care about that. They will do whatever it takes to unlock the achievements and get the points, be it cheating, deceiving, or outright paying for 'em. They'll kill you for the sniper rifle on a non-slayer match and boast about all their useless kills. They don't understand that the points don't matter and won't make them happy. Why would a system that perpetuates that ignorance make people grow up?

So I disagree with Mr. Schell. Company CEOs like to spout about how they are working toward a brighter future, and helping things and creating change and rainbows and unicorns with cotton-candy asses. It happens at my job four times a year, when the CEO tells us how we're making kids smarter when in reality we're only making administrators faster on the taxpayer's dime. Maybe CEOs are trying to convince themselves they're as worthy as anybody else. I would prefer they did it without the delusions.

I don't want a future of points systems, and I sure as hell don't want cameras and computers everywhere I go. That authenticity Schell values would be completely nullified by an inundation of cheap substitutes for joy. And as much as he would want it to improve people's lives, it could only be an artless, worthless manifestation of the desire to make as much money as possible.   read

11:31 AM on 02.12.2010

Ecko Halo Stuff on Sale

Check out Ecko's sale for Halo stuff like this.

CHEAP! I just snagged the track jacket for a friend's birthday, $17 including shipping. I rather like that white tee, too...   read

10:08 AM on 02.10.2010

Failed post - not public

This post wouldn't appear public, so after contacting tech support I had to retry. No, I'm not a spammer.   read

10:17 AM on 01.08.2010

RE5: Actually happening?

Check out this story from Uganda.

"According to officials trying to tackle it, the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity - and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly."

Wow. This is more macabre than any transnational quasi-corporational terrorist plot for immortality featuring a matrix-ripoff villain. And I love RE5! Now who's up for doing steroids and searching for their old partner in Uganda? I call the Hydra.

Uganda's president is no stranger to battling some rather heinous causes, even if they don't involve malevolent parasites. Paul Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front during the Rwandan genocide. For a good read on that, check out the book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families. Although Phillip Gourevitch clearly idolizes Kagame, Gourevitch's account of Kagame's exploits is pretty cool. Basically they marched in with a ragtag army and radios and just captured ammo and supplies as they went around, killing or imprisoning people involved in genocide. It was like...a video game plot. A good video game plot.   read

11:48 AM on 12.16.2009

It's all in the chin: Final Fantasy Hero Consistency

Yeah, this has probably been done before.

Seems that just as the military prefers officers with big chins, Square prefers protagonists with small chins and some largely consistent other features. Like the nose. And the cheeks. And maybe even the eyes.

The observation is old hat and cliched, but it's gotten a little more absurd now that the face model was copy/pasted for Lightning, FFXIII's female protagonist. Kind of solidifies the androgyny that runs perpendicular to the American "Gears of War huge bodies holy shit tough guy" protagonists.

Is this deliberate? Is it some kind of artistic obsession with that face, or is it a clever company providing consumers with an element of familiarity that makes them feel comfortable with playing as that character? "Oh hey, I know that chin, that chin never let me down when I was low on HP."

I can't claim I have an answer. I love the FF games, but this is getting to be a bit much. Part of it is the apparent character fetishization. If you look at the promo art, it's all the characters. Not so much to do with settings, or themes, just "hot characters in J-Pop outfits. And there's a black guy!" Whoo hoo for diversity. Is he going to be as teenangstacized as the rest of the characters? Bring back Barrett and lets get our Mr. T on.

I fear XIII is going to be in love with itself, just as Metal Gear 4 was in love with itself. Things get big, inflate, and die. But the chins are still as small and effeminate as ever.   read

12:42 PM on 12.10.2009

My gun go off for 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand

Thanks to several positive mentions on Destructoid's review of 2009's best, I rented 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand for eight dollar and fifty-two cent yesterday. Yes, overpriced at Hollywood video without their Netflix-rival program, but worth it. This game's obscene protagonist and ludicrous plot are campy as hell, and I can't agree more that this game is worth a look if you enjoy shooters.

My sister once told me hip hop songs always have one of two themes: f***ing or killing. Now, before anybody starts screaming racist or posting that damn gif, let me state three things. First, this is indeed an overgeneralization that needs to be clarified: gangsta rap is always about f***ing or killing. Hip hop is usually about f***ing, although sometimes it branches out into deeper themes such as "mom's spaghetti on his sweater already" or "twenty inch blades on the Impala."

Second, hip-hop is a kind of music. Hip hop does not equal black people. Not all black people are hip hop, or like hip hop, or listen to hip hop. And those who do enjoy hip hop enjoy hip hop separately from their value as human beings. So if you're unable to make the distinction between my opinion of hip hop and my respect for humanity, stay in school. I'm half Polish, and though all the jokes are actually true, logically I have ask you to make the distinction between being Polish and enjoying Polka music, or Chopin piano concerts, or galumpkis.

Third, if this game were to have an expected target market, it would be this:

On to the game. Everything I find over-the-top violent and ridiculous about gangsta rap actually works wonders in this game. In a market where game designers try really, really hard to make their landscapes gritty and their characters hardcore and the situation dire, Blood on the Sand takes a music/culture that is naturally hard-edged and throws it in with hilariously obscene trash talk and a fundamentally amoral plot. You're running around slaughtering people because 50 wants his money and treasure back. "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine," he says.

I can't tell you the elation I feel when the game talks shit for me. When I throw a neatly-guided grenade into a swarm of enemies, 50 says things like "this should shut you the f*** up." "You f***ed up now!" They're not prize-winning one-liners, but they're fit to suit the mood.

The game's blatant chauvinism is also somehow amusing. Of course you end up at a strip club (with American looking strippers in a random middle-eastern city) talking about "hos" who are scantily clad and who never refrain from swaying and sprawling, not even on their way to the restroom. What proper gangsta rap game would be complete without this cliche?

In the tradition of the now absence of solo hip-hop tracks, you get to pick one of three ice-wearing G-Units to join you for the ride. Because the gameplay functions nearly identically to Gears of War, your buddy provides cover fire and helps with tasks like vaulting a wall or opening doors. In terms of hip hop, the best he does is add a little dialogue. He will also frequently declare "clear" when there are still enemies firing rockets at your position.

By the point I reached in the game last night there was no mention of selling illegal drugs on corners or running a train on anybody. Maybe they'll pleasantly surprise me. But it won't be necessary. Challenges earn you money to buy bigger and badder weapons, or new "counterkills," or new sets of trash talk. There is some clunky gameplay, and it badly needs local co-op. (Adding DMX would make the game reach perfection). But for a rental or a discount price I'd say go for it.

If there is one line from 50's soundtrack (only featuring himself, I should add - narcissism, anyone?) that epitomizes the whole game, it's this: "N**** my gun go off!" Hell yeah.   read

2:26 PM on 08.28.2009

Weekly Musing: Co-responsibility

The general weakness of internet communications is that they can be made without consequence. The internet is the Ring of Gyges. Even if your name is known, nothing else usually is, and you're certainly physically far enough to be spared from any form of physical or social consequence.

It wasn't until Rosemary Port had her identity revealed for her trollish behavior that this was officially violated. And that case will likely remain an exception.

With gamers, you've already got a population that seeks more control over its circumstances. That alone is not a flaw. What is a flaw is that in some people, powerlessness festers into insecurity, which leads to anger, which, for the Jedi, leads to a whole lotta shit blowing up, but for the rest of the dweebs, leads to them taking potshots at anything they disagree with or reminds them that they are insecure. And what better position to take potshots than when you cannot be seen?

Being here mostly on account of Halo (and because the community here already is 500 times better than anywhere else I've been, and I'm only lightly involved), I have a Halo analogy to explain my solution.

In Halo 3 there is a little God-weapon known as the laser. The worst nerds set their egg timers the moment they pick it up - that is, immediately after killing two or three teammates to secure it - so that they will know the exact moment it has respawned, and their five guaranteed kills will begin to multiply. The laser is a terrible idea. It's absurdly overpowered and becomes the jizz-idol for acne-faced wannabe bros everywhere. They get to play ultimate renegade and boast at their team about how they made all the kills on the team, particularly when the game type didn't require that they kill anything.

My proposed solution to a friend of mine was that the laser should require two pairs of eyes on the target to fire.

It sounds like a lot of work. It's not perfect either. But it would force the uber-nerds to interact with somebody else. It would force them to ask somebody for help. It would almost be like they had...a friend.

Is it impossible for trolls to team up? Of course not. In Halo you find groups of them in private chat. But something similar could work in online communities. I don't know precisely what, but it has to involve being responsible for one another, and being responsible to one another. Staying positive is good. Respect and compassion are good. They're easier when it feels like you have something at stake.   read

4:17 PM on 08.14.2009

Angering Nerds on Halo 3: The Name

Yes, if you've been on Halo 3, you may have played me. I have numerous personas, my favorite being the "Kid with Allergies who needs his mom to buy him sudafed, but who apologizes for having a 56k connection."

I love to make jerks on Halo 3 angry. Not just anyone. I appreciate the folks who communicate, who have compassion in their hearts, who enjoy teamwork and positivity. They make up about .0001% of the Xbox Live Population.

No, I love to enrage the idiots. The bros. The guys with southern accents who enjoy talking about "niggers" and love to call you "faggot" and "garbage." Am I generalizing them all? Play two matches online and tell me you didn't hear at least two of the three words.

On a side note: "Garbage" is frequently being replaced with "trash" now - the differences are apparently anything but semantic when you've got little buddies to impress.

Today I'm going to talk about how I get them started. I don't have to say anything at all. In fact, most times I don't. They see my name and they get angry. Some of them have even explicitly stated, "What does Liberal mean?" But their tone is angry. They don't know why they are angry.

Am I Angry and Liberal? I am neither. I'm a happy guy, and I'm definitely more toward "independent" and "moderate" than anything else. Political parties feel like red team and blue team to me. I could be wrong. But I know I'm not wrong that my name gets the dumbest guys going.

The name began in irony, not relevant to me, but to my disdain for the uptowners who were screaming about injustices they would never suffer in the safety of their coffee shops. Also, "Angry Liberals killed xxLEETPWNSxx" was a nice vision to entertain. I knew the name would touch a nerve, but I never knew it would touch so many.

About once a month somebody "gets" the name and laughs. Again, this falls into that .0001%. One guy told his team not to mess with me because I would get the ACLU on their case. So there are exceptions.

Sometimes I like to milk the name. "Healthcare reform!" I will shout into the mic. "Cash for clunkers!" And here the results are varied. I get laughter - perhaps mocking my apparently opposing point of view, perhaps coming to the realization that yes, the name is ironic on XBox Live, land of juvenile males. Most of the time I receive a higher concentration of belligerent utterances - "fag" and "homo" are common. And when there are groups of them, well, you can guess the unintelligence gets multiplied. But so does their anger and my enjoyment.

In any case, for being a troublemaker, I'm quite pleased to have chosen such an effective name. Next time I'll get into online personas, or the psyche of the Halo jerks, broken down by niche - the laser kid, the pawn, and more.   read

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