Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GTA IV is out today

Sometimes I hate the English language and being white. We frequently need to come up with new terms so we can classify and categorize, rather than experience.

Take Grand Theft Auto IV. It's out today, and, like certain other big titles from last year and this year that end in a "4" or "IV", I'm not particularly interested in playing it. However, it seems that each year there are one or two dozen games that are "must-plays" for the year. In order to have kept up with the times and the industry, you need to have played these games. Haven't seen "Juno"? Even if you didn't want to see it, to not have seen it somehow induces a guilt-trip for practicing cultural anarchy. "Oh, didn't see Juno, huh?" (What, you don't like movies? Do you sit in your room and play video games and write all day or something?)

Such is GTA IV. The open-world thing isn't new to me, nor is the concept of awesome graphics or voice acting, but it's a cultural phenomenon. I can afford to not play much Smash Bros. Brawl. It's an update. It's just a game. I can pretend I've played just by having played Melee on the Gamecube. But every so often come the Commander Shepherds, the Desmond Miles', the Gordon Freeman's, the GLaDOS' of the world. GTA IV's protagonist is Niko Bellic. Games with real characters.

Like Halo 3, this is a game I'm not excited about, but if I own one an XBox 360 and I don't play it, I'll be left out and have my "gamer" card taken from me.

So let's see, the game I'm reviewing now will get me 25 bucks in credit...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kids! I Don't Know What's Wrong With These Kids Today

A couple of weeks ago I did something I don't normally do: I played WoW during the daytime. Usually I play when my Muschie is home, everyone else is online, and cell phone minutes are free: evenings and weekends.

I have a friend I've known since I was 9 years old who still lives in town. He is getting married soon, and introduced his wife to WoW. She is not nearly as into it as he is, but she was willing to play if we would get on an Alliance server that some other friends from her hometown are playing on. Me, my friend, and Muschie have been raised Horde tough. Muschie was gracious enough to be willing to go Alliance for this girl (hmm...sounds hot).

My friend already had a level-36 character when we started. I was 8 levels behind Muschie. The only reason I can think of that I played was to catch up a little so we could do some instances together.

After playing for half an hour, someone I don't know asked me if I wanted go to RFK. Strange request, but why not? Over an hour later, the group is about to start, and one of the people in my party says he's eleven years old. I am not too excited about this news, but decide to be chill about it since the kid's not given me any problems. Aware of the irony (I'm 26, unemployed, and playing WoW in the daytime), I say "Why aren't you in school?" Spring break, I find out. Oh, and guess what?! Two of the other kids are on spring break too! In fact, it seems that all four kids in my party are in elementary school, two of them being eleven years old.

I couldn't believe it. "You're kidding me, right?" I asked. "You're not really 11 years old, are you?" I'm asking this because they're unbelievably mature and polite and their spelling isn't actually that bad. Not even a "2" for a "to" or a "u" for a "you" emerged on screen. I remained silent. "I'm the third most popular kid in my class," one soon explained. "I would be second, but I let my friend be second." I smiled. "How do you figure that out?" I said. "Do you all take a poll?"

Refreshingly, he laughed and said he didn't know. Other miracle is that even though I'm specced as a balance druid at level 30, no complained thatI can't heal (I can--the restoration or healing spec actually doesn't help with healing at this point), which has happened more than once when I've tried to go to Gnomeregan, and everyone followed proper rules of etiquette for marking enemies, distributing loot, and handling mistakes and bosses.

The run was a breeze. We were a little bit high-powered for the instance, but much could have gone wrong. I gained a lot of experience. I tried to figure out what was so strange about it; kids who were polite! On the Internet! Guarantee a kid that he'll get away with something and he'll almost always do it, right?

Maybe, since they were all 11 and had WoW accounts, it's because of a higher socioeconomic situation with a stay-at-home mom and good parenting. While encouraging, I think it may have been for another reason. I've worked with kids before and I have studied human development, and I remembered something: kids between 8-11 or 12 can often be easier to work with than teenagers who are 13-19.

And that knowledge makes this experience my crowning anecdote for a case against the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory: maybe it's not a matter of the Internet causing people to become ruder. Maybe the normalcy of the Internet has made life online just an extension of our real lives. And people who are scam artists and jerks aren't that way because of anonymity, but because that's how they are anyway, and the Internet and anonymity is just an opportunity to act in a sphere with no consequences. After all, stick a teenager in the middle of a party complete with drugs, alcohol, and a lot of strangers, and you'll get a similar result--a whirlwind of obscenities, attention-whoring, and destruction.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Eliminate the word "gamer" from your vocabulary

"Gamer" gets 51 and a half million Google hits, which is more than John McCain and Hillary Clinton combined.

The most common discussion involving the word involves the following:
  • What is a gamer? (Usually becomes an argument about who deserves to be called one, as if it's an honor)
  • What kinds of gamers are there or how should we classify them? (Usually gets weak grunts of approval and humorous anecdotes about furries)
  • Does such and such a category really apply? (More interesting, usually ends with a call for extinguishing or redefining the category)
The two common answers to the first question are either "someone who plays games", which comes from a prescriptive dictionary, or "someone who prefers to use free time playing video games more than anything else", adopted from popular usage within and without gaming circles. Well, this doesn't give us much to work with. It doesn't actually define much of anything.

I'm a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) and I can identify with the next step that was taken: adoption of the word "gamer" as an almost holy moniker of sorts. For those not in the know, Mormonism's largest denomination, the one with the missionaries with the little black name tags and that have control of Utah, etc., is the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The word "Mormon" comes from the Book of Mormon, a book they believe is additional scripture to the Bible, which makes them vastly different from other Christian denominations. "Mormon" became an epithet, an insult against people of that religion. The days where it became a slur are long gone and it is simply the name that has gone throughout the world. And we don't mind too much: you're not being insulting, and the word literally means "more good", anyway. So, throughout the common masses, what you hear from Mormons is: "Well, we call ourselves Latter-day Saints, but no, Mormon's not offensive."

Gamers did the same. "Gamer" was probably an insult that rose from gaming's prepubescent beginnings and the rather primitive need to classify our classmates. Even if it was a gamer who invented it and it wasn't originally an insult, it soon became one. There is no doubt that the word gamer had acquired a certain negative stigma (first link NSFW or your ears).

But like Mormons, gamers adopted the name as a sort of official title, one that is automatically supposed to mean something when there's nothing to see. I've looked, and I've gamed over 20 years, and I've been committed to more than one kind of gaming scene, and there is nothing that is guaranteed to make a gamer have something in common with another gamer besides the fact they both play games. It's almost like meeting someone from Tanzania and saying "oh, that guy's from Nigeria, don't you have something in common with them?" (I've seen that happen, and the answer was "no".)

So I propose we eliminate the word gamer. If you're not convinced, please follow me a little more. If you play games seriously, you likely want general recognition that games can be art, that games are going to be the 4th great storytelling tradition (oral, written, and film being the preceding three), and that there is nothing wrong or weird about playing games. But by using the term "gamer" so religiously, you are saying there is something special or unique about it, and it won't work. Not only is it unaccurate and elitist, it's harmful and will tell everyone who doesn't play that we are separating ourselves from them, which is not what we want.

Do people who primarily like TV, film, or books have such a designation? Moviegoer? That's only used once, and for a purpose that's entirely different. TV watcher? Yeah, but they have no common ground. A reader? I've never heard that used before, ever. Even if it were, what would it mean? Someone may read a lot, but one person may read mostly historical nonfiction while another reads romance novels. Remember the argument about grandpa playing Yahoo Bridge and Hearts not being a gamer? The real reason we say this is to make a statement about games themselves. Literally, though, he is still a gamer. Someone may call romance novels trash, but the person is still reading. "It's not literature," your professor or Barnes and Noble cashier will say. But they won't say she's not a reader or that it's not a book, will they?

And of course Hearts and Bridge don't represent anything great in gaming, either. But by now the discussion has already moved on. We're discussing the merits of the games themselves now and what they mean. If we want people to respect gaming, keep the discussion on the games, not the people playing them. Because gaming isn't usually done in public, the only people non-gamers can think of are the awkward teenagers and recluses that are an embarrassment to all they associate with. Again, not what we want.

It's time to move on. Drop the word gamer. Don't say "I'm a gamer." Say something else, like "I game."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

XBox Flash mails unexciting mailers--yay

Anyone who owns a 360 and Live account that's associated with an email address he actually uses will have received an email linking to this about 5 minutes ago.

Looks like they're coming out with yet another board game on Live (whoopie), a new peripheral, and an obviously lame new XBox console, the "Recon." It's like the Halo one--new skin, same sin. Will it have a falcon in it, you ask? Who knows and who cares?