Thursday, May 29, 2008

First table scraps

I've sold my first, yet unpublished article to Gamasutra; emboldened by that, I decided to pitch a column I'd been thinking about for months to one of Gamasutra's sister sites, Gamesetwatch.

I love the dialog and content there and I'm honored to be one of its columnists. Right now, "alternative" video game discussion seems centered around three things: games journalism and the relationship amongst consumers, journalists, and game devs/publishers; the content and making of the games themselves; and the relationship between video games and other institutions and media.

The phrase "we play" usually means the same thing as "we read", something we go into rooms and do alone and then talk about later, like a book club, only with an atypical, non-Oprah-watching demographic. Then we go home, play some more, and come back to the water cooler to talk about it again. The "interaction" part isn't the only unique part of video games. There's another part that makes it different from all the rest, though, and that's the fact that some parts can only be done with others. The "interaction" is sometimes people, not just product.

The Game Anthropologist will still be about games, but ultimately, it will be about the people who play them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

World of Warcraft and Sex

Today I got something humorous from my wife. It reads:

"I love you.

What are you doing today? Writing a book? Looking for a job? Doing laundry? Washing the counters, stove, refrigerator, and floor? Playing video games (not [World of Warcraft])? Reading a book? Writing articles? Blogging?"

The first funny thing is the not-unjustified insinuation that I could be expected to be doing any of these things while she's at work. Second is the fact that I couldn't be playing WoW without her. Third is the fact that I am indeed allowed to do any of those things while she's at work, including playing video games, as long as it isn't World of Warcraft.

I thought for a brief moment about it, though I hadn't until this email: yes. Yes, I am looking forward to her getting home so we can play together. Then I realized how riotously funny that must seem.

Baby, I promise that WoW is only about you and me. It's just, uh, I do need another 70 or so pieces of rugged leather. And we already spent 2 hours on that damned yeti quest in Winterspring. And it's a gold a piece on the Auction house. Maybe I could...?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bad at Graphic Design, and Like, Graphics and Spying

I'm a big fan of Team Fortress 2. I've written a piece on it for Gamasutra and want to write more on it in the future for a column I'm hoping to join. Also, I've become acutely aware of the lack of graphics on my blog.

One of the most telling things about a TF 2 player is his collection of screenshots. While in the throes of death, the game throws bits of life which, as far as I know, represent the first and only masculine scrapbooking system, each scrapbook a thumb print that represents unconscious, primal, even Freudian perspectives in the scrapbook-maker's soul.

My own large library of photos is a bookshelf I am truly familiar with, tomes that don't represent what I want you to think of me but what I really think about. So what do I think about? For one thing, I just want some regular, "OMG kickass" type shots to prove my scrapbooking is worth looking at. The first thing we can learn from these shots about Etelmik is that he is starved for attention.

Speaking of your attention...

This is one of my favorite standard up-close-and-personal shots.

This is obviously from a server with the melee overtime feature. I think when that happens, strategizing is stupid and you should just enjoy it for the brawl that it is. Of course, we can see here what happens if your team doesn't enjoy that philosophy and the other does.

I've long been of the opinion that pyro is the second-hardest class. This guy makes it look easy.

Snipers have done this to me more times than I want to think about.

This pic represents my spy failure too, but man, what a view.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

New attempt to "fight" PC piracy

PC piracy is blamed for a lot of things, especially poor sales on games. Including bad ones.

However, a game we know that won't be bad, Mass Effect, is going to go to the next level in anti-piracy: periodic CD Key checks.

So uh, how about those of us who may want to play it when it's not online? I guess if your computer can run Mass Effect you likely have a persistent connection or can get one soon, nyet?
Comparisons to Starforce are inevitable. I'm glad I got my kicks on the 360, where I could resell it. And not have to worry about offline play.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Levels of game morality

Instead of simply how realistic a game is, and what kinds of events happen to occur in it, we could analyze and even rate them by their morality systems. As a casual understudy of human development, I must remind all interested in games and their censorship that development isn't simply a matter of intelligence or spatial abilities and contact with reality--it's the development and expansion of our moral capabilities.

In order to simplify, I'll couch it in term of protagonists, their objectives, and how they meet those objectives.

1. Non-character games. Puzzlers, Geometry Wars, non-personal games in which moral issues are basically non-existent.
2. Good guys doing good things. Same as above, only doing things that aren't questionable. Diner Dash, puzzlers with characters, Professor Layton, etc.
3. Good guys beating bad guys with good things. Again, puzzlers. Also, good vs. evil only with non-violent resolutions, or resolutions not involving death. Old Nintendo Franchises.
4. Good guys beating bad guys with bad things. Action-movie material. Old Nintendo Franchises. World of Warcraft.
5. Neutral/bad guys who have the choice to do good or bad things, but the morality of the choices are obvious. Mass Effect, Bioshock.
6. Neutral/bad guys who have to do bad things or are tempted to do bad things. Morality is not clear cut and must be deduced; the game will not make the morality clear for you. Army of Two, tangents in certain RPGs, Grand Theft Auto Series.
6. Bad people who do obviously bad things. The game only progresses if you do something obviously morally wrong. Super Columbine Massacre RPG is the only meaningful one I can think of.

The problem is that people put GTA in category 6, not 5. The problem is also that none of these are inherently bad, but that we often need to hear from players and reviewers before we know about these systems. Also, those ignorant of video games are unaware of these systems and thus must agonize over the games when it's obvious that they shouldn't have to.

If we must make solid, governing ratings, we should do more from the morality systems inherent in the game world and the potential and inevitable actions of the characters, not simply by what material exists.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Why Americans Hate Video Games

The Escapist recently published an article about the "media myth", which is really an article that says "So many people hate video games, and it's fascinating," followed by "we can't blame the media for it, it's really due to culture", followed by "this is what some video game industry people think."

The salient quotes express what's surely been said before: everyone fears what they don't understand, older generations always frown upon that confounded immoral rock'n'roll racket, etc.

We've not really hit upon the point though. It's still highly frowned upon by many who are younger than 30, by left and right, and by many men, for example. The hate is not a young vs. old, left vs. right, or even a women vs. men thing.

The cultural belief is broader than this, and we can see it illustrated clearly in a Guitar Hero or Rock Band contest. Imagine (or remember, more likely), if you will, a "Rock Band" playing in the mall or Best Buy. What do we commonly see? Most likely a kinda-long-haired, t-shirt-sporting young man and his cohorts, with liveliness distracting the other shoppers. An incompetent drummer, perhaps. People acting like they're playing music when they're not. The most common criticism of people who spend any amount of time on Rock Band or Guitar Hero is (chant it with me now) "learn to play a real instrument" or, if someone already knows "I can play a real instrument." Anyone who plays is supposed to take it as wisdom and counsel about how to live the true American way and always be producers of content or producers of something in the economic world and other another fun American maxim that gives us our awesome maximum of 2 weeks vacation a year: in the land of freedom, you're free to have fun, but really you should only have fun if you earned your right to first.

Americans don't like it when people play, pretend, relax, or goof off or have fun. It's not allowed. And video games are the exact opposite of those principles. It's why the haters can't articulate a good reason for it. When a good reason is lacking, personal feelings are involved, and in this case, the feelings are the subscription to those American values. Some people have realized that this sacred American ethic is not unchallengable, and is not without flaws. So, they continue to play video games. And amazingly, many of them still produce content and work hard. And marry, and make babies, pay taxes, vote, and other amazing, American-endorsed concepts that aren't supposed to work with video game playing.

It's the American ideals of work and play that lead to a heavy lack of vindication of the medium. Moral issues aren't meant to be explored--the world was already explored, and when they did, they found America--so we're here now, entertain us, but don't do it with video games, because they, more than any other medium or activity, lead to passive, anti-American terrorist non-producers.

Got it? Video games = laziness = non-American. And here you thought America had run out of things to agree about.