The Rage Quit: Not Just For Kids

This is going to be a crazy short post, because I just have one quick thing to say.

Behold! The Rage Quit:

"Childish" doesn't quite cover it.

“Childish” doesn’t quite cover it.

A StarCraft-loving colleague of mine sent me this when I got into the office today, and we shared a giggle over how utterly hilarious it is when players rage-quit in the middle of a session. We’ve all been there: some twelve-year old from England starts calling you a wanker and says terrible things about your mum, and then you get the sidebar notification that “EatDeezNutz” has left the game. These days though, it’s grown men and sometimes women that toss out the worst insults and then leave a game, forfeiting the XP they could have gained and basically wasting a space in a match that could have gone to someone who actually saw it through. Even more embarrassing are the adults who quit in the middle of a team match, leaving their teammates at a disadvantage for the remainder of the session.

I was with a friend once, hanging out, and we visited his brother’s place to pick something up. The brother was playing Halo multiplayer with his thirteen-year old son, and their other two teammates were clearly beginners. When I end up on a team with players who aren’t the greatest, I don’t think about ditching them but instead, why not try to help ’em out and step your game up? This dude decided no, he’s gonna rage-quit, basically mouthing off into his headset that they were all “a bunch of fags and should stick to Pokemon games.” So, he and his son left the game. What message does that send to your kid though? Let’s see:

1. All that matters is that YOU play well. Teamwork is not a thing.

2. Name-calling is a perfect way to express your displeasure with your teammates.

3. You don’t have to finish anything you start if you’re not getting ahead from the very beginning.

Look, I know it’s frustrating to be on a team where players act like they’ve never touched a controller before. But much like professional athletes joining a new team or starting a new job, there is a period of time where you’re all out of sync and you can’t quite play with one another. I had a team slayer match once where the same four players kept getting thrown together, and in the first two games, it was frustrating. No communication, bickering over the sniper rifle, etc. However, we slipped into this groove by the third session and then it was on like Donkey Kong. We still had weak players, but working together, we beat some pretty serious competition for a few sessions beyond that. Teamwork. It’s a thing.

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a strong proponent of the power of gaming in teaching concepts such as teamwork, sticking to what you’ve started, and respecting others. People tend to laugh at that and say I take gaming too seriously. But if we’re to sell the concept of e-sports as an actual sport, then it’s time to start incorporating the ideals that make physical sports such as basketball, baseball, football, rugby, American football etc so attractive to both sponsors and fans alike. What better example do you have for the promotion of teamwork than four players who have never met having to work together to achieve a common goal (a win), much like basketball? LeBron James can’t just walk off the court if he feels as though his team isn’t playing right.

So stop the damn rage-quitting. Especially if you’re playing with your kids. You’re not preparing them for the shock of real life, where you can’t rage-quit just because you think you’re entitled to better colleagues.

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Creativity: Attack of the Sequels

The Examiner earlier this month posted up an article where David Cage, head honcho of Quantic Dream, the makers of Heavy Rain and Beyond (aka the only reason I am buying a PS3 this year), suggested that the plethora of sequels circulating today and planned for the future only serve to kill off creativity in the gaming industry. His comments are supported by additional statements made last year by Capcom’s former Head of R&D, Keiji Inafune, who spoke critically about the lack of originality in the games that were highlighted at the 2012 Tokyo Game Show. The author of the article then states that it seems as though the industry has too many developers who hold onto new titles until the next console generation, sort of like a freeze to free-thinking until something to make it even prettier comes along. To some extent, I agree with the idea that the time between current consoles and the next cycle has been heavily populated with I, II, III, and IV, as well as varying titles in between, talking about Brotherhood and Black Ops or whatever.

 

Guess which one this is!

Guess which one this is!

 

The Examiner itself highlights the not-as-yet confirmed Assassin’s Creed 4 and Modern Warfare 4 as pieces of proof that this trend of withholding new IP until the new console is a thing. The decline in sales related to Call of Duty: Black Ops II (along with the success of The Walking Dead from TellTale) is also an indicator that maybe the gamers themselves are exhausted with the constant flood of Michael Bay-esque sequels that Activision in particular is guilty of perpetuating. I personally have not purchased a Call of Duty title since MW3, because: why bother? My sister wrote a paper on how interchangeable FPS titles in particular have become. But I take issue with Assassin’s Creed being tossed into the mix. And this goes back to a previous post I made about storytelling versus the status quo…because there’s a difference between the ‘story’ of Call of Duty games and the story behind Assassin’s Creed. I think the Modern Warfare storyline was told very well, but in between we had World at War and Black Ops, which in my opinion detracted attention from what could have been an awesome tale of betrayal in the MW world. The rushed sensation behind MW3’s campaign is testament to how attention wavered with WaW and BLOPs. Disappointed does not begin to cover it and it’s fine, because Activision is about its bottom line, as most profitable companies should be. This, unfortunately, doesn’t make them very good storytellers but it doesn’t mean they’re any less important to the industry than any other developer.

See, I believe you need the glut of mediocre games and their sequels in order to give brilliant developers a chance to focus on and produce titles that do what I love every art form to do: make us think and tell us a story all at the same time. I don’t mind wading through the numerous calls to duty on the battlefield if it means I get a title like Dishonored every now and then. They serve to remind us just how great this industry can be, something we all tend to forget when stuff starts exploding two minutes into a new game with little to no explanation of why you’re the good guy and then HOLY CRAP all of a sudden you’re turning someone into a glass eater.

 

This guy does it by choice!

This guy does it by choice!

 

When you look at the time Quantic Dream is taking with Beyond: Two Souls (which I about fell off my chair for at E3 2012), you can appreciate this contrast view of the gaming industry.  It’s much the same with every art form, this fractured fan base that keeps Activision afloat by consuming Call of Duty titles like Apple fanboys consume ‘new and improved’ iPhones. For every Michael Bay, there is a Steven Spielberg, and so forth. Why should we expect anything more or less from the gaming industry? It does seem that our opportunities to consume truly great titles are far and in between (for every 5 Call of Duty games, there’s one Dishonored), but given the amount of time necessary to put together amazing IP, I think it’s an acceptable ratio. As additional avenues of distribution continue to grow (XBox Live Arcade for one), I think the rise of storytelling developers is just going to garner more steam. That’s a great thing, for all of us.

Replay Values: Age of Empires 3

I know right? Surprise! A PC game. How random is that?

I run most of my PC games on a company laptop that limps along much like an injured gazelle on the African plains. It’s no wonder that I thus have to take my time and enjoy one in its entirety before having to uninstall and try out another. One day, I swear to Zeus, that gaming desktop will be mine!

 

Preciouss.....

Preciouss…..

 

This weekend was pretty relaxed so I set aside some time to indulge in one of my favourite PC games to date, Age of Empires 3. I remember receiving a copy of the first game not long after its launch from a friend who knew that I was into games, regardless of genre, and thought I’d get a kick out of it. As a history lover, I enjoyed Rise of Rome’s blend of historical fact and fictional storyline, tied into ancient Roman and Greek missions, and appreciated the strategic thinking necessary to make sure you could actually maintain a heavy fleet of triremes. For its time, the graphics weren’t that bad and good enough job was done on the score and other musical accompaniments. Granted there were no female villagers and even my young mind wondered just how other villagers were created, but I assume I wasn’t the only one going “Huh?” since AoE II had female villagers.

 

Before I moved to The Netherlands, I did actually have an awesome desktop that allowed me to put Age of Empires through its paces, so I’m well aware of just how detailed the that game was. Funnily enough, unlike with my previous Replay Values title, Assassin’s Creed, I didn’t find myself lamenting the fact that my characters sometimes had no faces or that a unit got stuck in a really inconvenient spot. I actually appreciate AoE (and AoE II) more than I do AoE III. Interestingly enough, the reason for this ties into an issue that many critics have stated exists with Assassin’s Creed 3. Can you tell that I’m still digesting that game, because I don’t really believe in rushing a play-through just to throw a review up. I thoroughly enjoy my games, like a great steak paired with an awesome wine. Much like the main storyline in AC3 is overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of what was happening in the fledgling USA at that time, AoE III suffers from the fact that the main story doesn’t quite attract me as much as the potential for engaging in other nation-building activities. The home-city aspect was nice, but there was no real motivation to obtain new cards because there was no interaction with whatever you purchased. The lack of additional campaign stories, beyond the structured one involving the Black Family, made it kind of linear. There were other civilizations available, but to what end?

 

AoE II had a few paths you could take regarding a campaign (William Wallace, anyone?), and it would have been pretty awesome to see AoE III go the same way. The Black Family campaign was at times repetitive and boring, so exploring another civilization’s development would have been a welcome addition. Maybe the majority of the budget went to the pretty naval vessels?  It goes to show you that sometimes, a new game doesn’t always mean a better game, in terms of its engagement potential for old and new players.  This is something to keep in mind for both developers and gamers alike, because lately there’s been a lot of hemming and hawing about new installments, new consoles, etc. Sometimes you can’t rush or gloss up the creative process too much…you might end up with a product that is less than your previous iterations.

Assassin’s Creed 3: Ubisoft Grows Up

I’ve not yet finished AC 3, and I have seen glimpses of reviews regarding the ending. Some players were unsatisfied, some indifferent and others think it rocked. This post, obviously, won’t reveal anything about the ending but for those who haven’t yet played the game, it might contain some bits about the story that some would consider spoilers. So, reader beware and all that good stuff.

Just kidding!

Just kidding!

So with that out of the way, can I just say that I am impressed with Assassin’s Creed 3? I’m aware that some elements of the game are reminiscent of other titles (Red Dead Redemption‘s hunting metagame, for one) but in this day and age, there’s always something borrowed, like weird marriages between different mediums (games and movies). I’m not here to rehash all of that, because it’s already been done by the Big Dogs, aka IGN, Machinima etc. I’m more impressed with Ubisoft’s handling of two incredibly sensitive historical topics that have not often been touched on by developers, for the simple fact that getting it wrong would set off a frenzy of bad publicity.

The depiction of Native Americans and the African slave trade in video games has never really gone well, which is due to a combination of factors, not least of which is an overall lack of respect for the portrayal of minorities in interactive entertainment (women and LGBT people included). Haven’t we always been the white male protagonist, gunning down the Islamic extremists, African warlords and Native American troublemakers (Red Dead Redemption)? I’d read other blog posts regarding the character you play in AC3 prior to it’s release, and most authors regarded it with a sort of careful optimism. After all, just saying it was going to be an awesome game wouldn’t suffice; since its first installment, Assassin’s Creed has probed deep into underlying societal issues that have mostly been associated with religion. From Al Mualim’s misguided zealotry in AC1 to the final boss in AC2, Ubisoft’s never been afraid to make you ask the question “Who exactly was the bad guy in this historical sequence?” It’s no secret that organised religion has had a helping hand in some of history’s worst periods of war, among other atrocities. But that’s a discussion for another blog.

Questionable guy.

Questionable guy.

AC3 goes off the beaten path a bit in the sense that Connor’s not really doing battle for any particular organised religious right, but it sails into all-new territory just by having Connor as its main character and by touching briefly on the African slave trade. There’s no sense of either the rebels or the British being the clear good or bad guy, since after all, we know how this story turns out. We can’t change history, but games that pull from specific periods tickle your brain into looking at a situation from a different angle, provided it’s done right of course. AC3 gets it so right, particularly when you start the mission with your Templar father, Haytham, discovering a missive from George Washington to his troops, ordering the destruction of Connor’s village…his second one thus far, considering his first was razed to the ground. Up until this point in the game, you (as Connor) have been helping Washington and the other rebels to further their cause, believing in your heart of hearts that the Templars are backing the British. It’s incredibly hard to convey the true physical reaction involved with the discovery of a betrayal, but Ubisoft manages to make Connor look both tortured and near-homicidal all at once. On his way to foil the delivery of this order, Connor discovers that his village has also gone crazy and is preparing a stealth-attack of their own. His conflicted emotions are evident when he’s forced to end his friend and fellow villager.

Did Washington himself order the destruction of Native American villages? Ubisoft wants to bring you to the point where you say “It doesn’t matter who gave the order, just that the order was given.” That’s why these games are brilliant. You’re forced to admit to the idea that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. The sheer boatload of information that the game overloads you with helps you ask the question of “what way do you turn and which devil do you trust when your back is against the wall and nothing makes sense anymore?” And then you’re left to answer it, knowing that irregardless of your actions in this historically-inspired work of fiction, it’s all already happened. The beauty of it is that now, you can ask questions you never had before. To me, that’s when a work of art has done its job.

So well done, Ubisoft. Well done.

Porta-Gaming: NVIDIA Pushes Some Buttons

Good morning folks!

It’s another Monday, another week, and it’s fifty shades of grey here in Amsterdam today. On to brighter news!

NVIDIA busted this baby out at CES last night, and I’m glad to be awake to read about it:

 

My precious....

My precious….

 

Ah, portable gaming.

2012 saw a lot of chatter referring to the death of the console gaming experience, with countless gaming journalists focusing their attention on the rise of mobile gaming, giving particular accolades to the smartphone/tablet/phablet gaming arena. Personally, if the extent of your gaming experience is Angry Birds or Temple Run, I know a couple people who would take issue with you referring to yourself as a gamer. But with EA dropping FIFA 13 onto tablets, as well as earlier releases for Call of Duty, the lines have gotten relatively blurry. I haven’t been one for portable gaming devices since the Nintendo DS first popped onto the scene. I’d owned every Nintendo handheld before that, and I’d tinkered around with a friend’s PSP not too long after it launched. I didn’t buy one, nor did I expand my DS collection to the 3DS, the DS-XL and so forth because for a minute there Nintendo started to look like Apple, with new DS iterations popping out faster than iPhones. The PlayStation Vita looked cool enough, but the severely short list of games available upon release for the bloody device just made it unappealing (the price didn’t help matters).

That gorgeous beauty above might pique my interest, though. That’s NVIDIA’s Project Shield, which the company pimp-slapped the gaming industry with late yesterday evening. It’s a portable gaming device that boasts NVIDIA’s Tegra-4 processor, a 5-inch retinal multi-touch display, and wifi connectivity, all powered by Android Jelly Bean. Jigga what? I have to admit, I’m pretty excited to see what it can do. Console-level controls on a handheld? Yes, please. The fact that it runs with the Tegra-4 processor is enticing enough. NVIDIA previewed it at last night’s press conference with several console and Android-specific games, including Arma Tactics and of course, the hot topic of the month, Assassin’s Creed 3. A free-running Connor and naval battles, all in the palms of my hands? Yes, please. They also showed off the device’s ability to port directly to your TV, via the HDMI jack, located right next to the micro-SD card slot.

What’s awesome about SHIELD is that it has literally surprised everyone in both the console and mobile gaming industry. Did no one see this coming? Between the Wii-U and Microsoft SmartGlass, the idea of interacting with your TV via a secondary device, gaming or otherwise, isn’t something so far-fetched that we couldn’t have anticipated the rest of the pack getting behind. I know, I know…I suppose the surprise is in the fact that it’s coming from NVIDIA. It’s refreshing that we anticipated just another slew of improvements to existing products and instead get sucker-punched by this bit of what I’m sure people will soon be branding disruptive tech (and rightfully so). Look out XBox! It’s on like Donkey Kong now, my friend. Remember the plethora of “we need a new console” articles that flooded the Internet after E3? They’re about to be dusted off and rehashed.

 

For the good of the Earth.

For the good of the Earth.

 

NVIDIA plans to release their Jelly Bean-run project in the second quarter of 2013, which just makes the fact that they released all those pretty specs without an actual price indication all the more intriguing. For now, the super-curious can sign up for news alerts via the company’s promotional website, which you can handily find here.

Until next time.

 

 

 

Newtown, CT: Knee-Jerk Reactions Begin, Personal Accountability Fails

Before you continue, please take a gander at the worst possible knee-jerk reaction to a tragedy right here, by Southington, CT, a town about 30 miles away from Newtown.

I, like the rest of the world, looked on at the chaos of the Sandy Hook shooting with horror and disgust. Any taking of human life, regardless of the motivation behind it, is a foul tragedy. When it’s young children, it is even more gut-wrenching, and people end up questioning everything around them, trying to make sense of the nonsensical. Losing oneself in thought like this sometimes leads to impulse responses, the so-called knee-jerk reactions of calling for change, demanding justice and more often than not, pointing fingers and assigning blame where it should not be placed. If there was a gun involved though, you can bet that sooner or later, the finger-pointing stops at Call of Duty and the blame lies on Grand Theft Auto. I posted yesterday about the ESRB and children’s curiosity, and how at the end of the day, no amount of regulation can really substitute for watchful parents. Perhaps I should have expanded on what I meant by ‘watchful’ though. That failure lies with me, so apologies and let’s get going.

Watchful means not just shuttling your kids to and from school and having no extra part of their lives. It means being aware of who their friends are, what they’re watching/playing/listening to, and DOING. Nobody does that anymore for fear of being accused of controlling behaviour or invading their kids’ privacy. Their what? When US TV shows began showing up in the 90s with teenagers demanding privacy from their parents, my mother stared at me and said “Don’t get any ideas.” My parents knew all my friends personally, as well as their parents, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, they also checked out what I watched/played. You know what else? They accounted for the outside world. They knew it was impossible to keep me from discovering the violent video games and movies, because not everyone parented as they did. And they mitigated for that risk. Even if I didn’t yet own Mortal Kombat, they knew it existed and explained the difference between it and reality.

The article quotes the group, SouthingtonSOS, as saying that they’re trying to do just that: create a dialogue between parents and their children. But you don’t do that by collecting them in a wheelbarrow and lighting them up like a 4th of July bonfire. By doing that, you’re already telling the parents the following:

“There is NO OTHER SOLUTION than to destroy these games, because they are BAD. They are evil and they will consume your child’s mind and one day he/she too will go off the deep end and walk into a building and mow people down with assault weaponry. Just like Call of Duty.”

Why would I have a productive conversation with my son about the difference between a game and reality if you’ve already collected them all and destroyed them? Setting something on fire usually means it’s bad, impure and thus must be cleansed. It’s what kept people reading in the dark for fear the ignorant among them discovered them and reported them to the church. Witch hunts, anyone? Parents, particularly in the aftermath of something so horrifying, grasp onto the most accessible scapegoat that they’re told is the cause of the tragedy (whether it’s by the media, their politicians, or ‘experts). They think to themselves, “my son plays that Grand Theft Auto…will he steal a car one day and mow down 40 pedestrians?” Most of the time, they don’t even know what the game is about. I had a parent tell me once that they don’t let their son play Mass Effect because they don’t want him to become violent. I spent an hour introducing them to the awesomeness that is Commander Shepard and that in essence you are the good guy, fighting to save the galaxy. They had no idea that that was the entire premise of the game. See? Hillary Clinton goes on a tangent about GTA San Andreas’ Hot Coffee easter egg and suddenly EVERY game is GTA for parents (no disrespect Mrs. Clinton, feel better soon!).

Personal Accountability. Speak to your children. Highlight the differences between the games and the movies for them, and keep speaking to them. If you’re unsure what a game’s all about, get on over to IGN/G4TV/this blog right here/other blogs to read about their contents before they’re released and before your kids come to you asking for it as a stocking stuffer. Don’t assume that taking their games to a trade-in for a gift certificate and then never speaking of it again is going to solve the problem, because that’s not parenting, that’s policing and there is an actual difference. That’s when the actual change starts to come in, people.

I wish the parents of the Sandy Hook tragedy all the strength in the world, because there’s really no getting over this. There’s only living with it and tolerating the constant ache, and many of them may never find out how to do that.

There is no individual person alive to bring to justice for this crime, and that makes it all the more painful to bear. But to those in Southington and other places considering a movement like this:

Truth.

Truth.

Till next time.

ESRB vs Curiousity: How We All Win

Google+ and XBox Live are a haven for awesome post-generating content.

Today’s discussion: should a 13-year-old play Saints Row 3?

Everyone was semi-stumped, because they had eight year olds who played Call of Duty.

Someone then asked me when the gaming world became such a scary place that we had to start policing what the younger generation plays. I remember playing Mortal Kombat as a 10 year old, at a time when you weren’t considered an actual person unless you’d seen Scorpion’s Fatality. My sister remembers watching me play Tomb Raider and as a matter of fact, she was my guide on those tougher puzzles. I didn’t really have a good answer for this person as to when the anti-gaming violence craze kicked off because truth be told, I vaguely recall the rush of anger towards Mortal Kombat and Doom and then it’s all a blur since then. Enter the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB.

The ESRB is the US version of PEGI and CERO, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m considering ESRB and PEGI on the same level. CERO just cannot be compared, as Japan is just more liberable with regards to game violence than the rest of the world. The agency rates interactive entertainment according to a scale much like that used by the Motion Picture Association (E is for Everyone, MA is for Mature audiences only). It operates on the notion that parents have absolutely no clue what a video game is about before purchasing it for their children, and thus offers a handy system with which to gauge potential purchases. This isn’t to say that the ESRB ratings work particularly well though, since at the end of the day it relies on watchful parents to NOT purchase mature-rated games for their under-17 brood just because it was requested/demanded.

Does not stand for 'Minors Approved.'

Does not stand for ‘Minors Approved.’

Of course, the answer to the question “when did it all become a pot of crazy sauce?” could be considered slightly obvious but if you ask ten people the same question, you’ll get ten different responses. Games just aren’t as cute and cuddly as they used to be, are they? Those days of playing Golden Eye with Big Head mode activated are long gone. Pixelated blood has come a long way, my friends. The answer to Lancer assassinations, Grand Theft Auto and Agent 47 has been to try and limit the exposure and influence that that pixelated blood possesses on the younger generation by relying on the ESRB/PEGI boards to tell parents what to buy. But that’s near to impossible because guess what, parents/teachers/regulatory boards/etc? Kids are curious creatures. The age-old management system for this curiosity? Talk to them. Don’t just buy them a game and let them load it up and then turn around shocked if foul language suddenly dominates their vocabulary. I do believe that what we listen to, watch and play influences us, particularly at young and impressionable ages. But I don’t believe that it all has to be negative, even if the actual game content is predominantly violent.

For example, a story:

When GTA: Vice City popped onto the scene, my cousin was about 10 years old. He had always loved to watch me play games and so I upgraded him to a PS2. The one request his mother had was that I not play GTA or any similarly violent games around him. Nor was I allowed to buy them for him as a gift. I agreed but I also discussed with her the way in which my father handled my introduction to the genre of violence. He sat me down and spoke to me about it. Differentiated the fantasy from the reality, and made sure that I remembered it. He even played a few games with me, something which, if you know my father, is an occurrence as rare as a quiet night at home for Lindsay Lohan. I wasn’t allowed to have every game with a gun though; it was more like, once every other title. But that was back when kids said “I want” and their parents said “I’ll think about it.” The issue is that in many cases, we’ve become a “Yes, dear” society with regards to our youth. When I see 13 year old kids with iPhones, I wonder what fresh Hell they unleashed on their parents to get it. That’s a discomforting thought, but it stems from a personal experience of seeing the rudest kid of life practically kicking his father in the shins so he could get a copy of Modern Warfare. He got his copy because his father wanted to shut him up and end the embarrassment.

The end-result is that when tragedies occur, people begin discussing the perpetrator’s habits like this:

“Oh he constantly played Call of Duty, Manhunt, Gears of War, Halo. A real serious gamer, always kept to himself.”

The knee-jerk reaction by those in charge is this:

“We need tighter ratings on games! Slap some warning labels on there! Slap some! SLAP!”

Look, people: If warning labels, ratings and regulations had any true and measurable impact, the tobacco industry would be non-existent. The ESRB can’t do it all, just like a government can’t do it all, and so forth. It truly does take a village, and we’re the village. As a parent, you can determine the way these games influence your sons and daughters with a combination of the word “No” and an ongoing conversation about the fantasy of gaming contrasted against real life situations.

Be the kind of parent whose son is aware of the fact that women should not be treated as they are in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row.

Be the parent whose daughter is aware that women do not look like those in Dead or Alive, that she is more than her appearance and that that is not what defines her.

Be the parent whose kids know that male Commander Shepard romancing Esteban in Mass Effect 3 is perfectly normal.

And that’s how we all win.