Social Issues in Games

I swore that I wasn’t going to get involved.

There has been a trend on Twitter, blogs and I’m sure other forms of social media, regarding commentary made by WoW developers, about the state of misogyny and inclusiveness in their game. More than one lengthy blog rant has been written, Twitter has been awash with commentary, and lines in the sand have been drawn. Some have crossed those lines. People are getting really pissed off at one another over things that they cannot change, and despite wanting change, these blog posts aren’t going to be the catalyst.

Sexism exists. Racism exists. Homophobia exists. Rather than focus on all of the change that’s occurred in the past 10+ years, people still want to focus on the things that haven’t changed. Those isms aren’t going to change over night. A hundred years ago women’s rights movements changed the world. Civil rights followed. Gay rights are the current hot button topic. Progress is happening, and yes it is probably slower than most would prefer.

My problem, is that social issues and games don’t mix. Fantasy is  imagination. It fulfills the psychological need to experience things that might not be legal or humanly possible. Playing a strange elf-like character, opening up rifts to fight demons from another plane of existence is a good time, but not realistic. As such, I’m not worried about my Elf character’s worldview, sexuality, or thoughts on the opposing gender. Yes, certain bits of the dialogue and storyline might reflect upon the creators of the game, but I don’t think any one company is setting out to sound misogynistic, homophobic or racist. I think many times people who are hyper-sensitive to those worldviews are reading too much into what goes on into a game, instead of appreciating it as-is — a work of art.

Going back in time, when people’s worldviews were different, the above isms weren’t really an issue. People wrote novels and plays and made artwork that went along with the state of the times. We still look back upon many of those works of art with fondness, and don’t question their motives, understanding that the world was different. Our culture is ever evolving, and people will eventually look back on these times and see that we were still changing, and accept works of art as they are. Of course, we could be Nazis and just burn everything that doesn’t have a utopian world-view. But how silly would that be?

Scree took a position of apathy in all of this. I applaud him for being able to state his position and stand by it, not worrying about the flames that would come his way. Others, like J3w3l are up in arms about the supposed wrongs that works of art have done her. When reading her post, I was inspired to comment, and I will relay that again here:

I’m going to go out on a limb here.

1. I realize that abuse/rape/etc does occur. I am not ignorant of misogyny. However, in my small group of people that I interact with, I have never heard of anything like this happening. Men that I know might get mad about not getting laid, but they don’t rape or belittle, nor do they physically harm women. I have never laid hands on a woman, and never will. I couldn’t bring myself to rape someone. In the cases where I have seen/heard about a woman being mistreated by a man, other men stepped in to help. In one case, a friend of mine slipped down the slope towards alcoholism, and as a result started showing patterns of abuse towards women. At one point a group of us put him in his place, and then we cut him out of our social circle.

2. I have been the victim of both verbal and physical abuse by the hand of a woman. It was only one, and I put up with it for years because I was “in love.” I’m not trying to make this about me, or take away from the negative experiences that women have had, but it goes both ways. Women can be manipulative, hurtful, downright evil towards men. The woman in my experience drove me to a point where I wanted to beat the shit out of her. I never did it. I fancy myself a good person, and one who wouldn’t use my size advantage against a woman. The point being, this outcry that women are the only ones having shitty things happen to them and that EVERY woman has a bad experience is a little bit tiresome. EVERYONE has bad experience with other humans. It’s part of life and how we deal with those things makes us who we are today.

3. It is true, most of us play video games because we are trying to escape from the bullshit that is life. We deal with social issues every day. We see terrible things on the news/internet. We are treated like shit by people who are supposed to provide a service, even if the only service is customer service. Our fellow man couldn’t be bothered by our well being. When I get home, I want to escape from reality into the worlds of fantasy. My fantasies include beautiful women, violence, progression, etc. Video games provide a means of being able to do the things that you can’t do in real life, without some sort of consequence. There have been many examples of strong female lead/sub characters. There is gay representation in games. It’s a psychological fact that people are attracted to attractive people. This is why women and men in games are portrayed with perfect bodies, while the people playing those games are actually fat and ugly.

4. If you don’t like a flavor of ice cream, you don’t buy it right? So why do you buy a game knowing beforehand that you don’t like the flavor? If you thought you might like the flavor and it turns out you don’t, wouldn’t you just go buy another flavor and throw away the one you didn’t like? You wouldn’t write the company making the flavor, or go on an all-out crusade about how the flavor is wrong and that company should go out of business would you? Don’t you think all of the people who DO like the flavor would instantly disagree with you, or write off your crusade immediately? When put into a metaphor like this, it sounds pretty silly doesn’t it?

I think this is why many people don’t get up in arms about these types of social issues. I’m all for women’s rights and gay rights, and hell even animal rights. But I’m not going to go on a crusade to make sure things get done for them. I’m a straight white male and that’s stereotypically the group with the most rights/easiest life, but I’ve been shit on my whole life, and no one is out there clamoring to give me more stuff. Sure, I’m not suffering, but I also don’t have life handed to me on a silver platter. When I see things I like I buy them, if I don’t like something I don’t. When a company starts taking advantage of my wallet, I take my wallet elsewhere. Instead of bitching about a company not following your individual mantra, especially when they have openly said they don’t give a shit about you, perhaps it’s time to move on to something else. It’s likely the people who don’t care or don’t see eye to eye with you won’t follow though, and in the end your crusade has gotten you nowhere.

There have been many other posts and discussions on the topic, but I’m not going to go and track them all down. Many of you have probably already had your fill of the topic, so I’ll just leave this here and hope that I haven’t alienated anyone. Really, I think we need to just get back to gaming and try to get along.

It’s Okay to be Different

Over the course of the last couple of weeks (maybe slightly more) since the beginning of 2014’s NBI, I have been visiting and reading more blogs than I have in the past. Not only has the initiative opened up the doors to a larger part of the community, it has provided its members opportunities to game together, and more importantly, has created dialogue among gamers.

The most recent topic that has cropped up revolves around the subject of PvP, and it has been going around. People’s opinions have been stated, and a great conversation has evolved across many blogs. But PvP isn’t the only topic being discussed, as we all have differing ideas about what to share with the group and our individual audiences. The NBI’s aim has been to create topics for bloggers to discuss, but each blogger already has their own way of providing content. Some choose to write, others to podcast, others still steam and vlog. These differing avenues add variety, context, and allow us to garner insights into our fellow blogger’s minds.

Having been exposed to many of these avenues via the NBI’s members, I have found different facets that I enjoy. I’ve been listening to podcasts, and up until recently I had never done so. I’ve been watching streams which I had done in the past, but these have been provided by people I “know,” so my interest has been more focused. In many cases, despite having games we play in common (or at the very least, being fellow gamers), I have found that I have very different viewpoints from many of the members of the community.

I’m not going to mention names or point directly to posts/podcasts, but I have been making mental notes of having a difference of opinion with many people. In some cases the differences are so minor and unimportant that it’s not really worth making a whole post devoted to the topic. In other cases however, I have found that my opinion differs so greatly that I am either slightly offended or want to make commentary on the subject.

That brings me to my point. It is okay to be different. Being different is what makes us great. Being different is what creates dialogue and allows us to express our opinions, compare them, and be constructive with that discussion. My expression of my being offended comes with its own separate point as well.

Being offended is the right of anyone. We have our own sets of backgrounds, experiences and emotions that lead us to believe that our opinion is worthy of consideration. Where one must draw the line is taking that offense to the extreme, and further compounding a volatile situation. What I mean is, that when you feel like someone else’s opinion or viewpoint is “wrong,” that you should take the time to cool down and write a constructive response, rather than letting your emotions/opinions get the best of you, and write something that you might regret later. Don’t be hasty.

I am guilty of having written spiteful posts in the past, when I felt like someone was an idiot and I needed to point that out. That most definitely doesn’t add to constructive criticism or dialogue. Trust me, there are points where I want to express myself in a negative fashion, but I don’t let that make it to the published front page of my blog. Being different and having disagreements is natural, but how we handle our entries into the blogosphere are entirely up to us.

I love being different and expressing myself differently than others. It makes me unique and attracts a like minded audience. The NBI has expanded our readerbases, and some of those additions might not have necessarily been attracted naturally, but having them with us now allows for a larger subject base of opinions from the gaming community. Standing out is great, but standing out for being an asshole shouldn’t be anyone’s goal.

This rant was powered by a near-sleep brainstorm. I hope that I made sense of it for my audience. /rant

#opinion #rant #nbi2014 #community #newbiebloggerinitiative

Beta Time: Wildstar

For those living under a rock, the Wildstar Open Beta began today. I haven’t been following the game all that closely, though I have read a few impressions posts and seen a bunch of screenshots. The immediate reaction is that it looks like WoW in space. I’m not the first person to make that correlation, nor will I be the last. The trouble with that statement is that it isn’t entirely true. On the surface, yes, Wildstar does share a similar graphical style. It’s interface is only slightly similar, with action bars at the bottom, a mini-map in the upper right hand corner, and some of the hotkeys match up. Otherwise, the targeting fields and other bells and whistles are similar to other games moreso than WoW. Really, if I had to choose an already established game that Wildstar seems to copy more than any, it would be TERA. I haven’t played TERA, and it was actually my Dad who told me that the two seemed very similar, and upon further investigation, he’s right. Wildstar isn’t “WoW in Space,” rather it’s “TERA in Space.”

Character creation was rather straight forward, and like most MMOs that are just starting out, what faction you choose determines your race choices, and your race choices affect your class choices. Looking at the available options, the choices for me were obvious. I have an affinity for short, non-humanoid races, and the Chua met those parameters perfectly. From my days of playing as a Dwarf (D&D, EQ2), Froglok (EQ), and Ratonga (EQ2), the tradition carries on (if there was something comparable on the “evil” side in Rift, I’d be there too). Among the class choices for the Chua, Engineer sounded pretty cool, and I chose the Scientist path. Behold, another version of Izlain:

He’s a cute little fella, but he bites.

The starter area in this game is one of the worst I’ve experienced. There’s a jumble of doo-dads everywhere, an overflow of flashing this and shiny that, and overall it was not an engaging experience. I clicked through quest dialog without reading it, and I really didn’t feel that I was missing anything. The hand holding is extreme: the quest tracker points you to where you need to go every step of the way, and constant tutorials explain everything that you should already know if you’ve ever even glanced at an RPG. My trouble with this beginning zone is that it’s too busy, and despite the dev’s efforts to immerse you in the lore of their newly created world, I simply didn’t care. I’m sure there’s a lot to be read/examined/explored here, but nothing made me want to learn more. The only part of this game that I was even remotely interested in was the combat, which is supposed to have an emphasis on action. Preview videos lead me to believe that skillshots and the like were present. Really, the only skill involved is pointing the highlighted area that shows where your area of effect will take place, at the enemy, and watching stuff happen. With the engineer, I was equipped with a heavy gun, and sure, it seemed cool enough to blast my enemies, and theoretically avoid their attacks. The problem here is that at least at the beginning, you only have so many abilities, so you’re basically spamming your basic attack and trying to avoid the enemy. However, enemies chase very closely and you are still constantly bombarded with their attacks, until they charge up a “special” ability. At that point they stand still and you would have to be pretty stupid to stand in the area of effect.

I would hope that eventually once you get more abilities that the combat becomes more dynamic. I would also hope that enemies are more difficult and unpredictable at higher levels, because the early mobs are just dumb. I realize that the newbie experience is meant to ease players into the mechanics of the game, but outside of combat, there is nothing new here. We have all seen it before, and the themepark grind is rather dull. Yes, there are other games that I am currently playing that are following the same themepark path, really there aren’t too many MMOs out there that aren’t, but the ones I have been playing have still been more engaging. Of course, I haven’t gotten all that far, and there is still over a week to go in the open beta, so I will attempt to get farther along and see if my opinion changes. I have a feeling it will not.

There was an article a while back written by Scree about how game reviews and reviewers were a dying breed. That article had to do with the fact that the early access periods given by games these days eliminate the need for a post-release review due to the fact that those who were truly interested in the game to begin with would have already tried it. Those that have not tried it would most likely go to community blogs to get their information, so by the time a magazine or website reviews the game it’s already old news. It is also known that most game reviewers don’t play the games for more than a couple of hours, just to get a basic grasp on the game’s story, mechanics, and overall gameplay. Unfortunately, I’m doing just that: giving my impressions after only playing the game for a couple of hours. This is part of the reason why I said I would report back after playing for a while longer to see if my opinions change. However, I tend to know within a few minutes if a game is worth my time or not. The reason for this is that I know what I want out of a gaming experience. Going into this beta, I already knew that the most interesting facet of Wildstar was it’s combat. Having experienced that in a limited form, I wasn’t impressed, and that being the only drawing factor I can conclude that Wildstar isn’t a game worth buying, in my opinion.

From my experience of playing many different MMOs, I know that there are games that I have played and was instantly addicted. I was drawn to the lore, the world, the combat, or any combination of those facets. They just clicked, and as a result I knew that I wanted to play them long term. Others suffered from “three-month-er” status, or even less. Many of the MMOs I played over the years were uninstalled from my computer by the time the free 30-days included in the box price expired. Wildstar isn’t worth the box price, nor the subscription fee. I had a feeling that I would feel that way, but I wanted to give it a shot  just to make sure. I wish I would have had the opportunity with ESO as well, but I missed that window. I think I’d be more drawn to it because I enjoy the established lore, and I was a huge fan of Skyrim, despite so many people believing it was inferior to some of its predecessors.

In conclusion, I believe that Wildstar will do well enough, because there has already been so much hype surrounding it, and it has a similar formula for success that other themeparks have employed. I won’t go so far as to say it’s only a three-month-er; I don’t think it will be a complete flop. Will it maintain a subscription price for very long? It’s not very likely, because it’s an outdated model. Will I play it again later when it goes free to play? I don’t think that’s very likely either, but time will tell. Overall, I’d say that you should make sure to try it during beta and make up your mind, because paying for a box and sub will be disappointing if you don’t enjoy the game.

#wildstar #openbeta #impressions #opinion

Party-Based Systems and You

There are several types of games with a party-based system. Most of these fall under the role playing game umbrella, which would include several sub-genres. However, there are other genres that also utilize similar systems, all of which lead to certain levels of customization. This can also lead to min-maxing, which in itself can be a benefit and a detriment. Min-maxing is defined as:

…the practice of playing a role-playing game, wargame or video game with the intent of creating the “best” character by means of minimizing undesired or unimportant traits and maximizing desired ones. This is usually accomplished by improving one specific trait or ability by sacrificing ability in all other fields.

Generally speaking, there is always a way to make your party the best it can be, regardless of if you are the only character controlling the party (single-player RPG), or you are playing a single character in party filled with other players (MMORPG). What kinds of single player games come to mind when you think of party-based systems?

First to my mind are old school JRPGs (Final Fantasy series among others)  and Tactical RPGs (Shining Force, FFTactics)  which typically use predetermined characters to form your party, all with set skills and abilities. Your customization comes in when it comes to what gear you equip on the characters, and sometimes what skills/spells you may advance. Some newer games that fit this mold are the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, along with the game I’ve been playing, Might & Magic X. The characters are relatively set in their ways, though you can affect gear and skill choices. Min-maxing only occurs via gear/skills and party composition, which you cannot always control depending on happenings with the storyline.

On the flip side, if you’re playing a Massively Multiplayer Game, you can customize the hell out of your character, min-maxing every stat-line, but you cannot control the effectiveness and efficiency of your party-members. This of course, is why pickup groups are detested. Still, within the game’s parameters there is a “optimal” way to configure a party, and finding players in agreement with this view are easily found.

Other genres suffer from similar issues. Play a game of League of Legends, and try to mess up the games established “meta” in a ranked game. You will be reported. There is an established meta for a reason, and that is because the meta “works”. If you want to experiment with different group compositions, you had best do that on your own time, or at least that’s what the community expects of you (whether or not this is the best attitude for the community to possess is a whole other topic).

These types of attitudes are prevalent in every game I’ve played that has a multiplayer cooperative component. It doesn’t matter if you are cooperating against AI opponents or other players, you are expected to contribute to the best of your ability as if this is your second job.

It is human nature to want to be the best at something. To excel beyond the threshold which our peers have reached. Game designers have simply taken that desire and translated it into a facet of our lives, a place where we can all go and “be somebody”. This is why in games like Skyrim you are the perennial hero of the story, and you don’t need a party (though you can grab a follower who is more a storage container than anything). Stat lines give people something to brag about. Gear scores give people something to achieve, but also gives other people a reason to keep you out of their optimized group.

What inspired this post in the first place was M&MX. I posted my first foray into the game recently, and I found myself the very next day going back through the same exact portion of the game because I found out more about the mechanics, and thought that I had found a better overall party composition. So I re-rolled and played through the same content, and it turned out that this party didn’t do any better, actually a little bit worse through the first dungeon. This experience had me thinking about how customization via stats and classes is the wrong way of creating progression.

I’ve been guilty of enjoying and “voting with my wallet” for this type of progression since I was a child (although I was voting with someone else’s wallet back then). I played Shining Force and other JRPGs so many times with optimal set ups and then went back and played with sub-optimal groupings just to see if I could do it. I was all for gear+stat progression (or optimal party selection) through the Baldur’s Gates and Diablos and my first MMOs. It has come to a point where I think games like Ultima Online and Skyrim have the right idea in skill based progression, where skills level as you use them, and gear doesn’t have stats attached (outside of protection values or types of damage attached). Simplfy things to where the adventure matters, where your companions matter to you not for their gear or skills/class, but for their company and willingness to have your back.

We need a community of gamers who work together to solve mysteries or group together to survive. I like some of the ideas coming out of MMOs in development that have a more sandbox style. The concept of games like DayZ, Rust, and H1Z1 fascinate me, where people actually have to work together to survive and figure out if it’s a better idea to set up shop somewhere or wander around for a safer locale, with the threat of Zombies, the wild or other players who could potentially kill them, keeping them together. The original Everquest felt like this, but it was still rooted in a party-based system, where the optimal trinity was the standard.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always love a story-driven RPG like the classics have offered, where classes and gear and all that matter. But from a social aspect, I would prefer we got away from games like this that have a multiplayer component. I don’t see why there should have to be balance between classes. Why there should be classes at all? Why not start out with nothing, and as you do things you gain experience (literally, rather than a nominal amount) in that activity. Some people would naturally want to gather and build. Let them. People who prefer to hunt/fight can take up arms and protect the gatherers and builders. Leaders would naturally arise. Next thing you know cities are cropping up and wars are breaking out, all because everyone wants to be the king. Stay in a city and deal with the politics, or start a farm on the outskirts where you can raise a smaller group? You decide.

The technology is there. We are coming to a point where our social lives are on the internet. We are living our lives attached to keyboards/mice/gamepads. When we aren’t at home, our mobile devices. Most of our Facebook friends we never talk to, and our Twitter friends we’ve never met in person. So why not make our game worlds what we want them to be? Why not get this message out and continue to communicate with the developers via Twitter, Reddit, etc, so we can share our vision and they can create the worlds which we crave? Why not make a game that is one big social experiement? I think these issues are what gamers are trying to tackle, along with other social stigmas which others are much better at articulating than myself. This is why blogging and Tweeting and making your voice heard is so important.

Now I’ve gone and rattled on beyond my original point, but a storm is brewing. People are getting more and more involved in creating media. We ARE the media, and we are growing stronger by the day. Our voices are being heard, and we need to keep up the work! We might not win any world-peace medals, but in our own small way we are shaping the society of the future. Let’s keep it up.

#Community #Gamedesign #Gamingculture

The State of the Game is no more

This week was a little short on game time. I spent most of Friday-Sunday being busy. Friday I was doing some spring cleaning in my house/garage/yard. Saturday we had a rather large party that was a success, but also a pain in the ass. Sunday I spent the day recovering, and since then have had to also clean up the house all over again. I did do some gaming in between all of that, and before and after, but it was limited, so I didn’t make much progress in any one thing. I mostly bounced around between session based games and tried out a few free to play titles.

The majority of my time, as usual, was spent in Awesomenauts and Hearthstone. I don’t know what it is exactly about those two games, but I want to play them every day. Not only do I enjoy the challenge of besting other players, but the game play itself is very appealing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed MOBA style games for a few years now, and CCGs have also had a place in my heart since childhood. Being better than someone has it’s thrill, but being bested by someone allows you something more valuable — to learn from your mistakes and to improve.

I’ve been debating changing the format of this column, or getting rid of it altogether, because there are other bits I’d like to talk about (such as things that I’m watching/reading/listening to) that could be part of this column. I also sometimes write about the games I’m playing during the week, so when Tuesday comes I am either giving paraphrased experiences or rehashing bits I’ve already written about. I originally started this column with the idea that I didn’t really post regularly and this would at least guarantee that I posted once a week. I’ve been doing pretty good during the 23 weeks that this column has been running, by posting more than once a week, so perhaps this column has served its purpose and can be laid to rest.

In coming weeks the Newbie Blogger Initiative will be running its annual events, and though I have known about the NBI for a couple of years I have never participated, but I am starting to form ties in the community and aim to be more involved this year, and in years to come. With that said, I will most likely have plenty of writing to do, and it’s not as though I’m going to stop blogging on Tuesdays or other days of the week just because I no longer call this “the state of the game.” I may continue to use that moniker for my weekly round up of things that I didn’t already post about, but I’m also planning to expand upon things I’m watching via Netflix or DVR or whatever platform, and to continue to notate other bits of my life. These shared experiences aim to increase conversation among ourselves and to share in our growth together.

With all of that said, if any of you happened to stumble upon this blog and are not part of the above community, but would like to get involved, feel free to contact me. If you are new to blogging and would like to ask questions or be “mentored” I am also available. If you’re one of “the old guard” like myself, and would like to get involved in building this community, you can contact me or you can join up at the above linked website. You can also submit your blog on the Gaming Blog Nexus to become a member. But don’t think that we are limited to just gaming, most members are open to other nerdy/geeky topics as well.

Happy Writing.