Category Archives: video games

#Gamergate: Something I Found a Little Funny

Above is an image that over the course of the past few days has been posted to multiple subreddits, along with 19 others, all under the title “Have you heard about how social justice activists/warriors are planning to kill gaming? Well, it turns out that’s wrong. They’re not planning. They’ve already been working at it for years.” This photoset has caused monumental drama in reddit’s gaming communities, with some lauding it and some criticizing it.

The image above shows a promotional screenshot from Bioshock: Infinite, where a character, Elizabeth, is shown wearing a rather low cut outfit by the standards of 1912, the game’s setting. Below that are screencaps of two articles discussing the outfit and a tweet from controversial game critic Anita Sarkeesian criticizing Irrational Games’ choice in Elizabeth’s dress. The bottom portion of the image shows another screenshot from Infinite, showing Elizabeth now wearing a white blouse with all of the buttons done up.

Worst dad and hot Jesus.

The implication is supposed to be that Irrational caved to the demands of critics and changed Elizabeth’s outfit to something much more conservative, supposedly proving something or other about the continuing dastardly plot to destroy video games because… for shits and giggles I suppose.

The funny reality is that anybody who has actually played Bioshock: Infinite will know that both outfits are present in the game and [spoiler alert!] Elizabeth changes from the more conservative one into the low cut corset about halfway through the game and both outfits get just about equal screen time in the game. Not to mention that the second outfit is the one featured on most of the Infinite merchandise. Take the poster on my wall, for instance.

For someone supposedly extremely passionate about the state of the video game industry, and considering Infinite’s popularity and the time it spent in the headlines, this seems like a rather bizarre mistake to make. Rather ironic, really, considering how many of the rebuttals leveraged at people who critique video games for their diversity insist that they do not care at all about the industry, but instead are only interested in pushing some sort of agenda. Absolutely fascinating.

And for the kicker, it is worth noting that Irrational did, in fact, change the model for Elizabeth’s second dress at some point during development. It is unknown whether or not they did so in response to the controversy about how low cut it was for the era, or if it was just one of the many small changes that get made during the development and design process.

oldCapture

Both of these models are present in the game’s files and the one used in the game is on the right. Although the colouring in the first picture more accurately matches that of the used model, the neckline of the dress and shape of Elizabeth’s waist resemble that the old model much, much more. As you can see the corset of the dress in the newer model is much less sexualized than the (mostly) unused model, with a more natural looking waist, a higher neckline of the corset and less noticeable cleavage. There is also a  lace trim at the top of the corset that is not present in neither the unused model nor the one in the screenshot at the top of this article.

This change was exactly what the creator of the graphic was looking for to complain about, yet somehow neglected to mention at all. Perhaps because making a neckline ever so marginally higher and adding a lace trim to a character design is not nearly as sensational as implying a complete redesign.

The conclusion? They did change Elizabeth’s outfit, just not to the one that the person behind this infographic claims, and not nearly by as much as would constitute an actual change to the character’s design.

And even then, would the entire gaming industry really be dismantled by the absence of a single pair of breasts?

Twitch Plays Pokemon: an Allegory for Scale?

GIF from Twitch PLays Pokemon

GIF from Twitch Plays Pokemon

Last week, during a discussion in the Internet CourseMatt Arnold brought up the game Twitch Plays Pokemon while we were talking about consumption and creation on the web. He noted that currently thousands of people were playing a Pokemon game online together. What’s more, millions of people (more than 32 million as of today) have watched the stream since this social experiment started just over two weeks ago.

This experiment came up again in the DTLT offices yesterday when Ryan and Tim were talking about it in the bullpen. This time I actually spent some time on the webpage watching the game unfold. I have to agree with others folks that its hard to look away, kind of like an ongoing, glitching game that is at the same time hypnotic. Last night I was telling Ryan how on first impression Twitch strikes me as the opposite of Wikipedia. Whereas the open encyclopedia was a model of the new read, write web providing a demonstration of struggle but ultimately effective knowledge creation. Twitch reminds me more of a paralyzed attempt to lumber through a real-time, cooperative web. Something that can be accomplished realtively quickly by one person takes forever for hundreds of thousands. The dark side of scale? :)

That said, folks are trying to collaborrate and strategize to counteract trolls, but it still seems overwhelmingly difficult given how many people are sending commands. I’m interested to see if there can be a massive, distributed community that’s able to play this game together smoothly and intelligently. Or maybe that’s not the goal of this social experiemnt? The game’s creator has little hope the game can ever be completed. Either way, it’s wild that a massive social experiment resulting in a stream of “big data” involving millions of people is not only possible on the web, but a source of entertainment for millions more. We live in strange times.

Good Sportsmanship in Gaming: Why the “gg” is Important

I remember PE class in primary school very clearly. We didn’t have any PE uniforms. In the winter we wore our winter uniforms, ties and all, and in summer we wore our summer uniforms, even if that was a dress. We only ever played four or five games; football, rounders, cricket and sometimes stingball (dodgeball, but played with tennis balls) and at the end of the lesson both teams would line up opposite each other and the PE teacher would force us to go to every member of the other team, shake hands with them and say “good game”.

This had an effect on us as kids. Even at the end of morning break, when there was no PE teacher to make sure we did, as soon as Miss came out into the playground and started ringing the bell we all lined up, shook hands and said “good game”. It was ingrained in us. It probably leaked out of a lot of us as we got older but for some reason it never did with me.

I’m follow this up with a World of Warcraft anecdote. I don’t really PvP on my Priest. I love my Priest, I main my Priest, but I hate PvP on Priests. Over the course of MoP I tried to start PvPing on my Priest a few time, but it just never happened. One of these times brought me to running the Isle of Thunder PvP dailies every day. Now usually when I do this alone and I come across an enemy player, we spend quite a while trading blows where they didn’t die because my Disc self barely does any damage and I didn’t die because my Disc self also doesn’t take any damage. Eventually someone dies and whoever survived goes and carries on their life and if we do meet and fight again the person who lost the fight at least gets a little time to get their health and buffs back up and re-orient themselves, etc.

One time it did not play out this way. One day while doing my IoT PvP dailies I ran into a Rogue. We traded blows for about fifteen minutes. It was pretty fun and I ended up dying and thought that was the end of it. I ran back, rezzed at my corpse and Mr. Rogue almost immediately popped back out of stealth and it didn’t take more than a few minutes for him to kill me again. And again. And again. I was being camped. So I did what people who get camped do; I logged off. I went to play another toon for about an hour. And when I logged back in and re-rezzed? Mr. Rogue pops out of stealth once more. The guy had been sticking around for an entire hour, over my toon’s corpse waiting for me to log back in for what must have been minimal honor per hour spent playing. Well, a Hunter friend of mine on the sever happened to be doing the same dailies at the same time that this was happening and she ended up chasing the guy off after killing him only once.

Oh well, right? I lost an hour, but shit happens, right? And if I wasn’t prepared for this particular brand of shit to happen I would have never have flagged, right? However, a little while after I’d finished up with my dailies I get several particularly nasty whispers from a level 1 with the name Dontcrynow. It was Mr. Rogue again, apparently taking out all of his misplaced adolescent anger at the healer that he had camped for two hours. The whispers each came in very quick succession, like he had written them out beforehand, and before I could reply the toon had been logged off of and most likely deleted. I took a screenshot of my chat window and sent it to my Hunter friend and we both had a good laugh at it, but then I got to thinking about this dude.

There’s not a whole lot of honor to be gained from camping the same person for two hours, especially when half of that time is spent completely rez free. It’s like ganking low levels: there’s no real reward to it other than your own enjoyment, if you’re into that sort of thing. So this dude finds it fun to fight people who don’t really have the full ability to fight back and when someone actually beats him he gets so offended that he feels the need to go out of his way to send nasty messages, not to the person who killed them, but to the person they were camping? And then logging off in order to avoid being responded to? 

I think our friend Mr. Rogue exemplifies a huge problem in the gaming community, be it in WoW or LoL or Dota or TF2. And that is that a good fight can never be respectful.

You see, the gaming community is toxic. It’s not just a problem with gaming though; anything competitive has the ability to create highly toxic people that muddy up the experience for the rest of us. Take my primary school example above, for instance. Sure, we really got into the habit of telling each other “good game” no matter whether we won or lost, but there was always one or two kids who didn’t get into that habit, who played aggressively because it wasn’t about the game, it was about the win, and when they didn’t get that win or a play didn’t go their way they a fight would probably start.

And I use the word toxic because this is toxicity. There’s a very important part of my primary school PE comparison that might not make it as applicable and that is that the people involved in this anecdote are children. And as children they act as such. Grown ass adults or even teenagers who are playing games online should no better than to throw tantrums at the first sign of losing.

In the average game of League, either Blue wins, or Purple wins. In randoms 50% of the time Blue will lose, and 50% of the time Purple will lose. I don’t care if you just like playing the game or you only like winning, acting like children when you do eventually lose creates a toxic environment for all involved including you, your team members and your opponents. Throwing a tantrum isn’t going to erase that loss and it’s not going to make your next win any more likely.

If you do something for fun, have fun. Your enjoyment of a hobby shouldn’t be conditional and your feelings towards your hobby shouldn’t lie on the two extremes of the spectrum. Going out of your way to send someone nasty messages after your loss doesn’t make you enjoy the game any more, and honestly, we’ve all become so desensitized to how toxic these communities are that it doesn’t make the person you’re sending them to enjoy the game any less.

We all want gaming to be taken more seriously as a hobby, an art form and a legitimate form of competition, because right now video games are still seen as a thing for children. And we’re never going to change that view if we act like children while we’re playing.

Even if that just means saying “gg” a bit more often, even if you lose.

If you’ve been watching the Sochi Olympics, or have ever watched any Olympics at all, you might notice that, after the event, athletes from different countries shake hands or hug at the end of their events, even if they don’t speak the same language. Those are professional competitionists. The kid that starts a fight with the person who called the off side? He’s not.

That isn’t to say that you can’t get away with a reasonable amount of angry shouting, because even I, the one preaching this nonsense have been known to be very creative with the applications of the word ‘fuck’ when on the mic with only the people on my team. ;]

Bad Day on the Midway

GIF Credit: "Meet the Residents" Tumblr

GIF Credit: “Meet the Residents” Tumblr

After exploring Will Crowther’s early Interactive Fiction game from 1976, I somehow found myself thinking about The Residents’s interactive CD-Rom from 1995 Bad Day on the Midway. This was a crazy game, and it is one of the multi-media experiments from that era that has stuck with me. It’s somewhere between a game, art, and insanity. The interactive animation by the late Jim Ludtke is inspired. In fact, the game was optioned by Ron Howard for a proposed  series that would have been directed by David Lynch. It fell apart, but that’s one of those pop culture alternative history scenarios one could get lost in. The aesthetic of this game reminds me a lot of Bioshock, and I really wish someone would update this game so it could be palyed as a seaamless world—it is so beautiful.

Bad Day at the Midway She Knows All

In 2001 The Residents’ released a ten-minute video of the game as part of their Icky Flix DVD. The following video, which i think is from that DVD (am I wrong here?), gives you a sense of how compellingly expressionistic the world they created was, as well as how amazing an update could be :)

The Hardcore Gaming 101 review does a great job describing the scenario and talking  a bit about the game play:

You begin the game as Timmy, a young boy visiting a crumbling amusement park known as Midway. But Timmy doesn’t see a pathetic locale where everything is falling apart, but rather a world of wonder, with his thoughts appearing in written form at the bottom of the screen. He loves talking to the mechanical fortune teller, killing communists at the shooting gallery, and riding on the Marvels of Mayhem merry-go-round.
……
You are welcome to play out the game as Timmy, but where the story gets really interesting is when you begin jumping from person to person and seeing the game through their eyes. When you encounter another character, an eyeball cursor appears and allows you to switch your viewpoint. There are other video games where you possess characters, like Messiah and Geist, but in this game you aren’t simply riding the characters’ bodies; you actually become them, seeing a different set of thoughts and having very different experiences.

Jumping from character to character and playing the game as someone besides Timmy seemed pretty wild at the time. It underscored there was no particular goal to reach or treasure to acquire, but rather it was far more concerned with the experience of being there.  It focused on interaction and observation of the world around you, inhabiting other subjectivities, which was later accompanied by a certain amount of discomfort given you could “become” a serial killer or a nazi sympathizer. It was  an experience that pushed the interactive, immersive games of the mid-1990s into some trippy territory, kinda like the dark, b-side of Myst. In fact, like the Myst Reader books back in the mid to late 1990s, Bad Day at the Midway was turned into a novel only year or two ago. How bizarre is that? Updating CD-ROMS to novels is all the rage!

I’ve been using the expression “bad day on the midway” ever since I first played this game to suggest when an activity has gone terribly wrong. I’m not sure if the title is an allusion to something else, but it’s become part of my very linguistic being. Anyway, I’m gonna see if I can get my hands on this game and play around with it again. I miss little Timmy’s adventures on the Midway!

Early Computer Gaming and the Open Net

Into the Mouth of Cave Madness

Into the Mouth of Cave Madness

One bit from Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon’s Where Wizards Stay Up Late I found particularly interesting was a section of the chapter on E-Mail titled “Adventure and Quasar: The Open Net and Free Speech.” It featured Will Crowther, who was one of my favorite characters from this history of the internet. Earlier in the book he’s described as a brilliant computer programmer who had some eccentric working habits:

Crowther was quiet, easy to work with, and when it came to writing code, he was downright inspiring. He was also [Severio] Ornstein’s good friend and rock-climbing companion. Crowther seemed to concentrate best while hanging from door frames by his fingertips, doing chin-ups. And he was known for his mathematical doodling. While others passed the time at lengthy meetings by drawing squiggles and curlicues, Crowther filled his page with a thicket of differential equations. (98)*

And once he was done “hanging” around the office focusing his ideas, he would sit down and code for intensive intervals What’s not to love about Crowther? His code was described as “the leanest anyone who had worked with him had ever seen.” He worked alongside Dave Walden programming the packet processing for ARPANET. In 150 lines of code they had figured out the kernel that would launch the internet (100). I love this stuff, so already Crowther seemed pretty awesome to me. But when you marry that to the fact that in 1975/76, while going through a divorce, he used his recent passion for Dungeons and Dragons to program an interactive fiction game called “Colossal Cave Adventure” to connect with his young kids sublimates him to another level ;)

Crowther was an ardent cave explorere, and his wife Pat had achieved renown among cavers for having been part of a small group that discovered the first known link beteen the Mommoth and Flint Ridge caves in Kentucky….Crowther was the cartographer for the Cave Research Foundation. he used his off-hours to plot intricate subterranean maps on a BBN computer. In early 1976 Will and Pat divorced. Looking for something he could do with his two small children , he hit upon an idea that united Will the Programmer with Willie the imaginary theif: a simplified, computer version of Dungeons and Dragons called Adventure. (206)

Goblin Caverns

A Cave Map from Dungeons and Dragons

This story seems like the convergence point of modern nerd culture in so many ways. Programming, Dungeons and Dragons, and spelunking. According to Crowther he wrote the game over the course of a few weekends, played it a bit with his kids and colleagues and then left it paritally finished as his spirit was increasingly tapped by the divorce. Nonetheless, others found it and distibuted it and the game started filtering through the networked community. Crowther was approached by Don Woods, a Stanford graduate student in Articial Intelligence, and asked if he could refine the game to which Crowther was more than happy agree.

When Woods had finished his contributions to Adventure, “he created a guest account on the computer at the Stanford AI Lab to let people play, and swarms of people logged in. Adventuture spread like hula hoops, as people sent the program to one another over the network” (207). What I liked about this whole story was how the authors tie the passion people had for this game, which inspired a whole generation of games like the Atari 2600 Adventure as well as the interactive fiction game Zork, to the features of an open network . The open collaboration and free distribution of Adventure captured an ethos that helped this game flourish, and it was made possible because of the open network that was the internet:

Adventure demonstrated the appeal of an open networking culture. And the emphasis on openness grew with time. There were few closed doors on the network, and a free-spirit prevailed in people’s attitudes about who could come and go through them, and for what purposes….ARPANET was official federal government property, but network mail was being used for all manner of daily conversation. (208)

It’s not surprising that E-Mail was the killer app of the early interet because it provided a sense of community in early network culture. It’s also not surprising that the passion driving some of the best demonstrations of open sharing in the early network came in the form of a computer game—an immersive experience based on a port of a popular role playing game that people were pasionate about. It’s funny how much this history paralles so much of how internet culture still operates.

For a more detailed look the cultural history of Adventure take a look at Dennis Jerz’s article in the Digital Humanities Quarterly “Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original ‘Adventure’ in Code and in Kentucky.” I think this topic would make an interesting investigation for a group of students in The Internet Course. I can see it now, “the cultural history  off network gaming!” I’m just full of ideas on the bava this weekend for all the work the students could do :)

* All citations are from the 1996 hardback Where Wizards Stay Up Late printed by Simon & Schuster.