Why I Play Videogames

Usually when I write one of these things I have an outline in my head of where its going to go.  Upfront, this is going to be thinking while typing, a true blog entry if you will.  Sure ME3 plays into this but I’ll steer clear of spoilers.  I’m more interested in motivation and the mind at the moment.  The endings of ME3 was really just the motivator.

See I’m a fan of Darren Aronofsky.  Requiem for a Dream isn’t a movie I would probably watch again.  The Fountain is a movie I have repeatedly watched but was more attracted to when I was single.  I think when I was single I must have thought that a tragic romance where someone died in the end would be the best.  Now that I’m not single the idea and fabric there of is abhorrent.  This has caused me to think of anyone not “in love” probably craves that deep emotional movie romance.

Feeling really is the definition of art.  And we as people want to feel.  Maybe when we’re miserable or going through hardship we need that outlet.  People who are more angry about society and where its at tend to listen to things like metal and gangster rap.  I truly don’t know.  Does a sad ending make something bad?  Not at all.  Do I want to play a game with a sad ending if I can help it?  I do not.

Its a bit of a crazy thing.  I can think of my top 10 movies of the moment and it would go something like Casshern (live action), Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fountain, you know, depressing stuff.  But there’s something about the fantasy of playing a game.

Sure there’s the work argument.  People don’t like RPG’s or more specifically JRPG’s because they’re more “work”.  The thing is one person’s work is another person’s play ground.  I love math.  I love formulas.  And I love figuring out the mathematical puzzle of a character sheet to do some awesome stuff.  But its something I do after work for fun and enjoyment.  I’m not looking to be depressed for 40 hours after work.  I’ve worked a long time on my mind to be as happy as I am.  Happiness is a choice and anger is a tool if not abused.  Being happy does not make you a slave.  A situation is what it is and you can choose what to make out of it.  If the time and effort is worth it to you to change that situation then go for it.

Are games fantasies?  This should be a simple question.  The answer should be yes.  But my fantasies don’t end in tragedy.  My daydreams do a lot of the time.  Fantasies?  Not so much.  Mass Effect for me was the fantasy of choice.  Choose Your Own Adventure books are brought up frequently when this series is brought up but guys, I had like 50 of those books and most of them only have 1 path.  But in Mass Effect your choices mattered.  How many of your choices in your life affect the world outside your home?  Probably not too many unless you’re some type of manager or government official.  For most of us, our decisions for the outside world involve voting.  And with the electoral college in place and not all States making it illegal for the electoral college to not vote for who the majority of their district voted for, choice that severely affects a videogame world is very meaningful.

Are games a fantasy about empowerment?  I don’t know.  Mass Effect definitely made me feel empowered but other games certainly do not.  Demon’s Souls for instance is the antithesis of empowerment the majority of time although beating a difficult boss or area does get you high.

Anyway, I’ll stop typing your eyes off.

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Another Take On Art

Whether Videogames are art or not is an old argument and one that saddles a truckload of opinions.  Mass Effect 3 is involved in this somehow but there are a lot of aspects to consider.  The issue is whether a DLC that gives a decent ending (doesn’t have to be “happy”, just has to be good).

As a musician who has sold a few tracks, I give you a different perspective.  If I write an album of what I want to write, I’m not changing a song for anybody or anything.  If I write a song for someone else, then I’ll change anything they ask me for.  When a band sells their CD in the store, the vast majority of music seekers will already know if they will enjoy the album or not.  Most people only really listen to maybe 3 tracks off of the average album.  The bad tracks don’t matter.  If its a really good album, eventually all the tracks will get some form of radio play.  There is no question of how it ends because unless their is a personal speech devoting the artist’s love to Hitler, the customer is going to be happy just to get that track they like.

Looking at movies or books, these are mediums that an ending can make or break.  A movie is typically a short commitment, not requiring more than a couple hours to complete.  A book is a longer more involved commitment.  A book series is sometimes corrupted by the end.  According to Ebert, not every movie is art.  But the money involved in making a fictional book versus a fictional movie is completely different.  If the people involved in a movie want to have a job afterwards, they need the money to make money.

Looking at TV and anime series, endings can have an effect either way.  Sometimes it matters but if a show runs on long enough then to not have wasted our time sometimes we have to live with simply enjoying the journey.

So where the hell do videogames fit in?  Videogames are made by Bioware.  Bioware is comprised of lots of people which mean the result isn’t any one individual’s vision.  A game is given a green light by a giant company when the company thinks they can spend money to make a whole lot more money.  Its not all about money but money is part of a developer’s balancing act.  Its easy to look at the mechanical aspects of a game call them good or bad and sometimes a developer will take the time to fix it.  But fixing a story in a game is unheard of.

Although funny story, Bioware is fixing a story in a book.  

Can you fix art?  If you make art for money is it still art?

Atten: Gaming Press RE: ME3 Ending (Yes Spoilers)

After seeing my twitter feed get hammered by all the game journalists I follow bash on fans for not liking the ending to Mass Effect 3, I felt a need to wrote more on the subject.  Elaborate if you will.  The issue isn’t that the game ends on a downer.  The issue is the ending isn’t representative of the game.  The game, by and large, is the product of story and mechanics.  In Mass Effect 3’s place, the mechanic IS the story.  What characters live and die, what races make peace and war is largely up to the player.  To have the game end not being dependent on a butterfly effect of the player’s actions and choices is one large place where the ending fails.  While the “galactic readiness” stats could be argued to be this very thing, its hypocritical.  The meter doesn’t care if the Quarians and Geth have made peace.  Why would you make peace with the Geth and Quarians only to eliminate them with the Reapers?  There’s a conversation between Garrus and Shepard.  Garrus mentions that (to paraphrase) “you have to sacrifice 20 billion over  here to save 10 billion over here”.  Shepard answers by advising Garrus to not let it go down to statistics because then they’re not better than the Reapers.  The game ending is done entirely by a statistic that doesn’t care what you’ve done, only that you’ve gotten numbers!

Another issue with the ending is the sudden change to Joker flying the Normandy trying to escape whatever decision Shepard made.  How is this even possible?  Wouldn’t the Normandy be caught in the explosion of the mass effect relay?  Those proved to destroy entire solar systems in the DLC Arrival.  Not to mention how did the Normandy even know to start fleeing in the first place?  And how did the party members that were on the ground with Shepard make it onto the ship?  And if you got the secret ending showing the N7 armor, how the hell did Shepard survive an exploding Citadel and drop through atmosphere?

The game asks the player if AI’s and organics can get along.  The player has the option of how to answer this in the game.  In my game, my answer was a resounding, sure.  The geth and Quarians made peace and hooked up.  EDI started dating Joker and gained emotions.  Yet at the end the god-child pretty much says, AI’s and organics cannot coexist as the AI’s will always eventually start hunting them down.  I just spend 35 hours not buying that solution, what makes you think I’m going to start buying it now?

And again (referencing my last entry), anyone with half a science degree knows how much BS the idea of a magic space beam making everyone an organic synthetic hybrid is.  Human beings are already driven by a degree of pressure provided by blood and electrons.  Electrons make up electricity.  Electricity runs computers.  In our real world, universities have studied and tested organic computers!  Computers that run on DNA!  The human body is already a machine, what makes you think the human race isn’t going to learn to upgrade it one of these days?  The only question is if the human race can last long enough in a state that will accommodate the research to accomplish this.

And after spending so much of the game bonding with your teammates, why wouldn’t you include a small epilogue or where are they now based on your decisions?  What happened to your significant other?  Did any of the alien races survive other than your crew?

Believe me the fans voices are only going to get louder.  I’m an anime fan and absolutely love media and art that involves critical thinking and challenges social, political, religious, or moral thinking.  But for a machine to work, all those pieces have to fit together.

And lastly, while I enjoy sad endings, art does not require a sad ending.  I’m alright with Mass Effect 3 having a sad ending.  I’m not alright with people making these claims that all the great works of art have sad endings.  That’s closed minded and absurd and a stereotype.  But if you think the majority of the world prefers sad endings, then maybe its time you went out a little more.  No one is a lesser person for disliking sad endings.  We have very little time to our lives, I cannot blame someone for wanting to spend that time happily with their loved ones.  There is always going to be misery and pain in the world and if we’re lucky we’ll get a chance to do something about it.  This doesn’t mean we should all live in emotional misery for it.  While this last paragraph is entirely opinion, I feel its important to include it anyway.  Don’t close your mind.

PS – The proposed fan ending is shit.  Please don’t think I’m in support of that petition.  While I would love a piece of paid DLC to address my concerns with all the above, that fan ending is pretty terrible.  Plus I would rather the persons who worked on it get their own chance to correct it.

Gaming Semantics

So I read this crazy thought provoking article the other day and then participated in and read all the comments.  Its a bit of a lesson in miscommunication.  The article itself seems to primarily be about saying “fuck you” in a very intelligible way to quick time events.  But the author also seems to be against focusing on story in games which is an interesting stance.  I’ll leave it to you to form your own ideas about what is presented there as basically everything on that entry, comments and all, are a good read (even if it is simply a read in miscommunication).  But it raises several ideas in my head.

A game can be mechanics only, but if a game is story only it ceases to be a game and becomes a movie, tv show, animationm etc.  A puzzle game that is mechanics only, like Tetris, can imaginably increase a person’s hand eye coordination along with recognizing a limited range of patterns.  Of course learning guitar will also accomplish this.    Should all games focus on developing a person’s problem solving skills or knowledge?  No way.

While it would be great to constantly have the fortitude to improve yourself with every second of the day, its just not realistic.  The whole idea takes a very narrow view of life.  Jobs typically involve a bit of problem solving which is going to increase a person’s problem solving stat for that arena.  And most people do more in their spare time than drink and play video games.  Maybe they don’t talk about those things as much, but they still happen.  Maybe it involves reading whether it be fiction or non.  Maybe it involves playing a musical instrument.  Maybe it involves building things like props or household furniture.  Most people are not so one dimensional as to only game.

Yahtzee made a fascinating entry a while back on how we don’t refer to ourselves as movie goers as often as we refer to ourselves as gamers.  Top that thought off with the fact that almost everyone plays some form of videogame present day and what’s the term in even keeping the word gamer, a term that denotes segregation.  This isn’t the 80’s anymore people.  The nerds and jocks are friends if not the same person.  Sure there will always be exceptions, but some people don’t watch TV or movies.

The issue isn’t story in gaming, its how the story is presented.  Deus ex machina is so often presented as a quick time event when the simple fact is it would be more fun and more consequential to the story for the player to remain with their limited control of their in game avatar.  There’s a moment near the end in Mass Effect 2 where your entire roster is shooting through a door at the Collectors.  This moment, while not a QTE, could have had even more impact if it wasn’t a cut scene.  There was actually no reason for the scene to be a cut scene unless there were some technological limitation of how many characters could be active on the screen at once.  And as far as Deus Ex Human Revolution goes, virtually none of the cutscenes were actually necessary.  Sure cut scenes can achieve more flash and Mass Effect 2 makes excellent use of them at many points, but they ultimately aren’t necessary most of the time as Valve has proved time and time again.

Concerning the first article I linked to, it was a bit mind blowing to be introduced to this entire sect of developer elitism.  The very idea of programmers wishing for games entirely about the mechanics was earth shattering for me but not far fetched at all.  As a musician I am prone to like quite a bit more styles of music than your average listener.  I’m also prone to bouts of music elitism (just try to put Kanye on around me and hope I don’t have a knife).  In the programmers case it has to be not seeing the forest because all they’re seeing are the trees.  Games are this wonderful interactive art media amalgamation that brings the best of all worlds together.  People have a tendency to bash on the story in games yet praise a 2 hour movie for showing character development that in real life takes years to occur.  While books, songs, and plays may be the best medium to observe the best in technicality, games are a melting pot that creates an entirely new medium.  Sure all you need is a mechanic to have a game, but everything else makes it so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Devil’s Advocate on EA’s Origin

I realize there’s a pretty large upheaval against EA’s Origin service.  As much as Steam has supported the PC gaming community in a lot of extremely cool ways over the years, they finally have someone who can provide ample competition in the mix.  Sure there’s Impulse and Good Old Games but Good Old Games doesn’t directly compete on most titles and Impulse….  Well I mean really, what does Impulse have going for it?  I guess Gamestop now but its hardly a threat at this point (4′, one sided PC shelf).

 

Part of the issue is a person’s need to be number 1 because number 2 is poo.  And number 3…  Oh man, don’t even bring that up, I mean gosh Sony must be going out of business being number 3 in the console biz for so long, right?  So sarcasm aside, that top spot is incredibly important to people.  I’m guessing its a sports thing which is problematic for me since I don’t care about sports.  Dominance in some arena must be assumed to be life affirming since so many people desire it.

 

Is Origin Spyware?  Well no.  And really you should just ead this individual’s post on Giantbomb which links several of EA’s Eula’s.  Its really not the 1984-esque situation sensationalism has painted it out to be.

 

My hope is that the competition between Steam and Origin drive the marketplace to new, high levels.  Newel has said on numerous occasions that (paraphrasing) the industry is heading towards a distribution model.  If Origin actually starts making deals that are good enough to compete with Steam, then this whole distribution bit could get here a lot faster.  When I use the word distribution, picture things like OnLive.  A foreseeable future for Steam for example could be to pay a monthly fee and be able to play all the games.

 

The reason Steam fans are so incised by Origin is because at the end of the day, EA is the company that has the largest chance to compete with Steam.  Maybe someday Gamestop will make Impulse into something popular and maybe someday OnLive will come preinstalled with every TV.  Valve’s pretty smart and its going to take more than EA throwing money at developers to run Origin to compete with them.  But is buying a game or two that’s Origin enabled going to hurt Steam?  Not at all. Because right now that is the only way EA can get you to use Origin.

2012 Games I’m Most Excited For

Mass Effect 3

This one’s a given.  The Mass Effect series has shown us just how amazing story in video games can be without sacrificing gameplay.  While the third entry will probably play fairly similarly to the second, I still have to imagine the same quality seen in the previous entries will be present in this one.

 

Anarchy Reigns / Metal Gear Rising Revengeance

Platinum games have proved themselves time and time again with entries including the absolutely fantastic Vanquish and Bayonetta.  The first time I played through Vanquish I was constantly reminded of Metal Gear Solid in story tone, cut scenes, and humor.  I could not be happier that Platinum have taken the reigns of Metal Gear Rising.  While I don’t know what to think of a multiplayer brawler, Platinum gets a pass in my book until they do me wrong.

 

Journey – PSN

ThatGameCompany is pretty awesome giving us titles like Flower and Flow.  Selling either of those titles in the vernacular is nearly impossible and a true testament to just how unique and amazing their games are.  For instance, in Flower you’re like this petal on the wind that goes around saving other petals and they all make music.  See even I want to yell SHUT UP HIPPY at myself.  Journey looks to be equally indescribable other than its name sake and I can’t wait.

 

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – PS3

Truth be told, I’ve heard some pretty average things about the gameplay and story for Ni No Kuni.  But here’s the thing: Studio Ghibli is doing the grahics.  Studio Ghibli who did the artwork for movies like Princess Monokee, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, and need I go on?  For me, this isn’t a game so much as it is something amazing I’ll get to watch and occasionally press buttons on.  Its an animator trying its hand at something it hasn’t done a whole ton of so they get a pass this time.

 

Sure there are a lot of other games to be excited for like Borderlands 2, The Last Guardian, Bioshock Infinite, Zone of Enders HD, and so much more but these are the only ones I feel like writing about.