Nintendo: Tale As Old As Time, Song As Old As Zelda

Since January 17, 2014, several articles have been published on sites varying from IGN to Bloomberg, lamenting the death of Nintendo after the company reported a shocking loss. This, as opposed to their earlier projections of a hefty net profit, has only contributed to the near-rabid hyperventilation that occurs when analysts begin spouting out the words “iOS and Android” in the same sentence as Donkey Kong. Anyone who can do basic math can see that this isn’t just a minor hit to the pocket that Nintendo is bracing for when their fiscal year ends in March. To project net profits of US$530 million and then sheepishly have to admit that in reality, you’re girding your loins for a loss of US$335 million instead is perhaps the biggest chunk of humble pie that any corporation’s been forced to choke down in recent memory. It is thus no surprise that people are saying that the writing’s on the wall, the nine have left Minas Morgul, the enemy is within, or basically: Nintendo’s world is crashing down around its ears. How did we get here? Who’s running this rodeo? Alas, this is a tale as old as time, one of boardroom betrayal and the business foresight to adapt to the unstoppable force that is change.

Picture this: somewhere in Japan. The 90s are raging all around us, and over some sake and sashimi (I’m just speculating here), the head honchos at Sony and Nintendo are working on their CD-ROM expansion concept for the Super Nintendo. It’s a beautiful day outside and there are smiles throughout the room.

It's all downhill from here on out.

It’s all downhill from here on out.

At some point during their negotiations, the President of Nintendo reaches over with chopsticks for the last piece of sashimi, just as the President of Sony extends his own chopsticks for the same piece. Perish the thought. Convinced that he has rights to the sashimi (I mean, it is HIS office building), Nintendo’s prez goes right ahead and eats it! Sony balks; how selfish! Anyway. Enough of that. The bottom line is that a dispute over contract details derailed the evolution of Nintendo’s hardware offering. Sony said “It’s not me; it’s you,” and in 1994 the PlayStation burst onto the scene as Sony decided to enter the gaming industry all by its lonesome. It was grey; it was slightly sleek; it sported CD-ROM technology, which garnered Sony serious third-party backing and some kick-ass triple A titles. Nintendo, banking on its position as industry leader and wizened veteran of the gaming streets, released the N64 two years later, opting to keep its game cartridge format, a decision that lost it much third-party support that it had held in the past. But Nintendo still had Smash Bros, the fabulous Golden Eye and Mario Kart, all of which capitalized on the 4 built-in controller ports on the N64, providing hours of game-play and destroyed friendships.

Curses!

Curses!

At the same time though, they couldn’t possibly keep it together against the likes of Solid Snake, Lara Croft and a game series you might have heard of called Final Fantasy. Developers saw the future; the future was CD-ROM.

It took the House of Mario until the launch of the GameCube in 2001 to abandon the game cartridge. Today, I find myself filled with “shoulda, coulda, woulda” scenarios as it pertains to Nintendo. What if they had followed through on that Sony partnership? Would we even now have an XBox One vs PS4 ‘war,’ or would it be a brutal brawl between three strong competitors on the battlefield? Personally, I don’t think so…because Nintendo made a second strategic decision around the time the Wii launched that I believe began a sort of domino effect that’s led up to this month’s “holy freaking hell, we’re bleeding money” panic attack.

Any good marketing professional will tell you that target markets, as they relate to certain industries, are not static. They change, and while it may not be frequent, it is inevitable. With the success of the Wii (released in 2006), Nintendo decided that they would stick to family-oriented games and maintain their Pikachu-cute image across all marketing campaigns which, admirable though it may be, was in complete contrast with the gamer population’s mind-set at the time. Their entire brand image remained tied to the legacy characters of Mario, Princess Peach and Link, and unfortunately, 2007 brought with it a little game called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I know; Modern Warfare was available on the Wii. I’m not talking about availability, though. I’m talking about image, and how the associations formed in your consumer’s mind are often more important than how you see your company. See, Nintendo reminds me of a grandparent or other older person who refuses to admit that the world has changed and bread will never again cost 10 cents at the corner store. The 12 year olds on XBox Live (who have all done unspeakable things to my mom, bless her) don’t concern themselves with the kind of nostalgic image Nintendo is adamantly holding onto. They are not us, as we were at 12, fascinated by the ‘blood’ in Golden Eye. Call of Duty and Halo are what they know and love, and their parents (who were Nintendo’s ‘original gamers’) have also matured. I hear more stories of fathers playing Halo with their sons and daughters than I do of them playing Smash Bros. So what did that ‘strategic decision’ mean? It meant that Nintendo made a conscious choice to flat-out ignore changing attitudes and appetites with regards to their branding. Couple that with a complex platform and their exclusion of third-party devs in the development stages of the Wii-U (a name I still hate to say) and you’ve got a recipe for the cluster in which the House of Mario is currently drowning.

Despite last week’s loss warning, CEO Iwata says he has no plans to resign. I find this an interesting decision, mostly because I think he shot Nintendo in the foot by expecting their handheld segment to shoulder the burden brought on by the Wii-U’s production costs, heavy losses and low sales. In the same breath, he also says that he’s not too keen on having Nintendo titles (such as legacy Mario and the still-popular Pokemon) released for other platforms. This is the third time that Nintendo is faced with a deep chasm before them and the bridge across is guarded by a troll who asks the question “Will you change?” Is it too late to make the turn-around? Do I think Iwata is right for staying on as CEO and resisting the calls for his company to develop games for other platforms? There is no right answer to that question. He is an executive decision-maker faced with perhaps the most significant challenge in Nintendo’s history. It would sting to see classic favourites cavorting about on platforms other than those carrying the Nintendo brand, a brand that feels like an old friend no matter how much time has passed since you last played a Mario game. It might be their undoing; the research alone that would have to go into such a solution would be daunting. Iwata has to carefully write the next chapter of this tale or face an abrupt, Sopranos-like ending. I just hope he doesn’t resist change, whatever form it may take, because as much as I’ve never wanted to own a Wii-U, to quote a friend…I don’t want to live in a world without Nintendo. Until next time…

Good luck, old buddy.

Good luck, old buddy.

E3 2013: “Do you not have games?!” – The Microsoft Press Con

I went into the Microsoft press conference live stream hoping against hope that they would stick to their word and make it rain games like Lil Wayne at a Vegas strip club. After the communications disaster that has been Microsoft in the wake of their April XBox One Reveal Event, everybody from Don Mattrick to Steven Ballmer’s driver scrambled to drive home the point that yes, E3 would be all about the games. Now that I’ve had an hour or two to digest the entire press conference, let the E3 excitement ease off somewhat and go over my notes and tweets, it’s time to take an objective look at what Microsoft did and did not say at their E3 2013 press conference.

Metal Gear Solid Comes To XBox One

True to their official press statements leading up to E3, Microsoft started and continued their press con with games. What I mean by that simple statement is that they kicked down the door, threw in a couple flashbangs, fired off some shots and when the smoke cleared, we had the reveal trailer for Metal Gear Solid 5. For the XBox One. Meaning, Metal Gear Solid 5 is coming to the XBox One. The game itself boasted the new open world feel, as well as real-time weather, numerous modes of transportation and more. Don Mattrick trotted onto the stage with Hideo Kojima, who beamed while saying that the graphic power of XBox One would make MGS shine. A bold statement, Kojima-san. A bold statement.

OMG It’s An All-New XBox…360?

Completely out of place in the middle of this press conference was the announcement/reveal of a new XBox 360 console, a “smaller, sleeker and quieter version” than the previous slim unit. There will be a 4GB non-Kinect-inclusive edition priced at US$199, and a 250GB model at US$299. The thing is…I don’t think we needed another 360 console. This is my biggest issue with Microsoft lately: the muddled communications message they’ve been putting out. What does a new 360 have to do with communications? Let me explain by using a statement from the late Steve Jobs regarding his thoughts on Google and what they were doing wrong. He told Larry Page that Google needed to focus and not be like Microsoft, i.e., all over the place with their products. As much I am not a fan of Apple, their products or Jobs for that matter, I cannot deny that sometimes, stringent focus is a good thing.

The carefree attitude of companies like Google, such as launching one product and then murdering it off like a character named Stark in a George R.R. Martin novel, does not work for every organisation. I personally think that Microsoft should have focused all the energy in their Interactive Entertainment Division on the XBox One and making it the console that gamers would not hesitate to purchase. This convoluted communications strategy of “Next-gen! Mobile! TV! Social!” and the distracting departure to a “new” current-gen console makes me believe that Microsoft is caught in a serious concentration rut. Don’t come at me with next-gen promises and then randomly toss a “new” 360 in there; it’s unnecessary, and you could have reallocated the cash spent to develop this slimmer slim model into the XBox One design and features in which you don’t actually screw gamers out of ownership. I’m just saying.

It’s Raining Titles

At certain points in the press conference (read: right after the MGS reveal), the event took on a hurried pace, veritably sprinting from one title reveal to another, some for current-gen, some for next-gen. Each received maybe two minutes of screen time before the presenters were bundled off-stage before the next set were brought on. Don Mattrick’s face was one of “Here! Have all the games!” Let’s just have a quick run-through of what was previewed/revealed, and general reactions:

  1. World of Tanks: I viewed gameplay of World of Tanks at last year’s First Look Event in Utrecht. While not 100% impressed, I can see the appeal of the game, but not so much that I would want it on a console. Still though, it will be free to download and play this summer on the 360.
  2. Max – The Curse of Brotherhood: Also for the 360, this is a pretty cute title  from Press Play in Denmark, about a boy who wishes that his brother would disappear. When it happens, he has to face platforms and puzzles (pluzzles?) to rescue him.
  3. Dark Souls II: The first medieval slash and stab of the event. I didn’t really enjoy the first one; maybe the sequel will be better at pulling me in. This title is also coming to the 360.
  4. Ryse – Son of Rome: At this point, all the games are for the next-gen XBox One. We start with Ryse: Son of Rome, which started off with a sleek intro and voiceover about a shining city on seven hills. Then, good gracious gameplay, featuring gratuitous historical violence, including the player issuing commands to their squad. There are QTEs galore in the combat mechanics, which are actually fine with me, but others mind them…a lot. I like the look of the game and I am a sucker for Roman history, so I’m willing to set aside the disdain for QTEs. The phalanx commands add something to the gameplay beyond the usual thrust and parry, bringing every character, both player and AI, into a neat mix.
  5. Killer Instinct: In a literal blitz of a reveal, we discover that Killer Instinct is coming to the XBox One and guess what? It will be ULTRAAAAA EXCLUSIVVVEEEEEE.
  6. Sunset Overdrive: Insomniac (a historically Sony-focused developer, I have to add), introduced this game for XBox One. It made me think of Mirror’s Edge but then, with lots of tie-dye thrown into the spin cycle.
  7. Forza Motorsport 5: A shiny and undeniable sexy McClaren P1 joins the announcer on stage for this title, boasting their new “Drivatar” feature, which learns from other players’ drive techniques, and even races against them when you aren’t actually playing. This took the Creep factor of next-gen social gaming to DEFCON 3, but I can see how true Forza fans will dig it.
  8. Minecraft: Phil Harrison announces the XBox One edition of Minecraft, featuring bigger worlds and multiplayer, as well as grander possibilities. I think I played Minecraft for a total of an hour once on my Galaxy S3 and I didn’t actually enjoy it. I plan to check out the console version soon, so I’m declining to actually comment on this game, as that would not be fair.
  9. Quantum Break: The title previewed by Remedy at the XBox One reveal event is given some more screen time, with  the aim of blurring the lines between gaming and television. Your gameplay creates a personalised version of the TV show…or, Defiance. In any event, it looks beautiful and the ability to freeze, unfreeze and stutter time is interesting enough to make me follow this game’s progress.
  10. D4: Next up, from Hidetaka “Swery65” Suehiro, is D4, a cell-shaded beauty of a game that takes on the episodic style of Telltale fame. The reaction from the Internet varied from “Awww yeah” to “Damn you for making this XBox One exclusive!”
  11. Project Spark: While not exactly a game, Project Spark was what would happen if Kinect and Little Big Planet had a baby and named Smart Glass as godmother. It lets you create, develop and edit your own gameworld (and thus, your own game) that can then be shared with others. You may have read my previous post about Sploder, and what it was doing to foster curiousity and interest in game design. It may not seem like much, but little tidbits such as that, and now Project Spark, are steering us in the right direction with regards to industry growth. I thought it was a cool offering and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.
  12. Crimson Dragon: Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the sound was absent for this demo. However, I can report that it looked pretty freaking cool.
  13. Dead Rising 3: Having never played the first two iterations of Dead Rising, I went into this preview pretty blind. However, I may just have to consider picking it up. Capcom promises no load times for this persistent world and what looks like Dawn of the Dead-esque zombie counts. And really…can you ever have enough zombies?
  14. The Witcher 3: Promising 100 hours of play-time, new combat and a non-linear story. The Must Have game of next-gen? Possibly.
  15. Battlefield 4: What was up with the sound? It was absent at the start of this demo as well, but then they got it back up and running so we could properly enjoy Angry Sea. As pretty as it is, it’s still another military shooter. Hearkens back to warnings about lack of originality. They do promise the first BF4 map pack on XBox One before anywhere else (read: PS4).
  16. What Lies Below: Holy Hannah Montana, an indie game! A creepy but excellently done trailer highlights this multiplayer dungeon game by Capy.
  17. Black Tusk: It’s not the title of a game but the name of a studio, just one of five that Microsoft has churning out titles for the XBox One. They preview it, but with no title.
  18. Halo 5: While not the official title, this started off looking like another trailer for Destiny, but then they mentioned “exclusive” and I realized they were talking about Master Chief. He will be back in 2014 on the XBox One, an all-new Halo enhanced by “cloud computing” and running at 60 FPS. The fan girl in me went “Eeeee!”
  19. Titan Fall: The last XBox One exclusive comes to us from Respawn Entertainment. Basically: Call of Duty meets Mass Effect meets Halo meets Michael Bay. The usual space marine adventure shoot ’em up. Next.

Architecture Digest: The Moment For Clarity Flies Away

Marc Whitten, who so enthusiastically presented the XBox One’s architectural assets at the reveal event, takes the stage to discuss improvements to XBox Live, including but not limited to:

  • SmartGlass connectivity, which provides a timeline, stat comparisons to your friends, video highlights, hints on what to tackle next, and more. In other words, they took almost the entire user interface and experience of Raptr and put it on Smartglass.
  • Smart Match, which enables the player to hunt for a multiplayer match in one game while actually playing another. I’m not too sure of the benefit of such a feature; when I’m deep in, let’s say, a BioShock: We’re Not Done Yet session, I don’t know how likely I am to just duck out of it because I’m a good match for someone in Call of Duty 25: Ninjas. But maybe that’s just me.
  • Upload Studio, which is by far the coolest feature thus far, especially for those who want to be YouTube famous and show off their victories and gameplay. You can edit, record commentary and put your own personal touches on your footage prior to upload.
  • XBox Broadcast, which highlights the partnership between XBox and Twitch TV and the new ability to share directly through a player’s Twitch channel.
  • You get all the friends, so no more Live friend list limits at 100. Additionally: your Microsoft Points will no longer exist. Instead, you will use real money, which is great…I just hope they sort out the various payment methods available to non-North American consumers (such as iDEAL for the Netherlands).
  • XBox Live Gold membership and features can be shared across your household.

Despite all that, Microsoft missed their big chance to finally address (and hopefully, correct) some of the worrying things we’ve been reading about XBox One’s online requirements, privacy concerns over the Kinect, and the catastrophe that is the policy on used/pre-owned games. This bounces us back to my earlier point about the communications message and its confusing delivery. On the one hand, you claim to have produced a console built by gamers, for gamers. On the other, you tout features that were clearly developed by corporations, for corporations. I understand that piracy and other copyright concerns are the priority now, but surely there are other ways to go about protecting yourself than destroying the secondary games market, as I so desperately hoped they wouldn’t. The rest of the world isn’t North America; heck, some parts of North America aren’t Redmond, WA or Silicon Valley. One must keep this in mind when making a machine that wants to claim ‘for gamers, by gamers.’

The End of the Road

The final bit of information was revealed close to the end and it’s the one we were all waiting for: the price. You can get your own XBox One sometime in November 2013 for US$499 or EUR 499 or 429 pounds. Can I just say that I was right and I should really start betting money on these things? Additionally…I am really getting tired of the lazy pricing methodology of just changing the currency symbol for European consumers. EUR 499 is NOT US$499. This isn’t the Cayman Islands; we don’t match 1:1 because we can. In reality, if I were to buy the XBox One at launch, I would be shelling out the US$ equivalent of $660, and that’s before they add the 21% BTW (VAT) onto my bill. Add to this that the rumor is that games will cost US$80 (the same in EUR, so about…US$100?) and you have a recipe for disaster and also, PIRACY. Not by me. But I do know some who are already itching to take a crack at a hack. Stings a bit harder for us, Microsoft.

All in all, I was impressed with the line-up and delivery of the titles we can expect for 360 and XBox One. While still not enough to make me consider a launch-time purchase, it was much more gamer-focused than the reveal event yet still leaves us with some lingering questions and concerns. I’m not staying up for the Sony press con, but will have that review for you tomorrow when I see the replay.

XBox One Announced, Rejoice!

My people…the next generation XBox has come forth, and tomorrow shall dawn a brighter day, for it is grand and it is…black! Behold: XBox One.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

For anyone raising an eyebrow at the enthusiastic announcement of the pretty basic name, the logic behind the simplistic moniker became glaringly clear as the fast-paced presentation went on. And fast-paced it was. We literally blitzed through this event, which had a significantly more upbeat tempo than Sony’s early-2013 event announcing the PlayStation 4. XBox One is aiming to be just that: your one-stop shop for gaming, social connectivity, and audio-visual entertainment. I could hardly live-tweet as fast as they kept throwing stuff at us, and I know that this is due to the fact that Microsoft is holding back the bulk of its “OMG WOW” factors for E3. And since that’s going to be a tweetin’ bloggin’ extravaganza, I’ll try to keep this post short, focusing on the points that both excited and depressed me:

THRILLS

The Future Is Now: Voice Control

When Yusef Mehdi, Senior VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business line, said “XBox On” and the screen behind him came to life, I could but utter one word: Finally. Sometimes I stare at my Kinect in disgust because I can’t just turn on my XBox with a simple voice command. I know it’s not Kinect’s fault, but I have issues with misplaced frustration. XBox One aims to alleviate the stress I direct at Kinect by making it possible to turn the console on with just an utterance of “XBox On.” Laziness Level: Expert.

Fifteen Exclusives, Eight New IPs

I don’t even have to go into how great this is, especially with the promise of eight new franchises delivered for XBox One. I’m particularly excited about Remedy’s preview of Quantum Break. Fresh new content is the injection the industry needs, and after the usual suspects being rolled out at Sony’s press-con, I’m happy XBox has locked up some original product for their next-gen offering.

A scene from Remedy's Quantum Break.

A scene from Remedy’s Quantum Break.

Live-Action Halo Series With Steven Spielberg

The only two words that matter in that headline are Steven and Spielberg. I was kind of confused as to Nancy Tellum’s presence, but started to piece it together when she introduced 343 Industries’ Bonnie Ross. Anyone who followed the Halo 4 hype juggernaut watched at least one episode of the web series ‘Forward Unto Dawn.’ I appreciated the way that the story of FUD wove into the actual Halo 4 plot, and so I thought they might be announcing another web series to prep us for an upcoming Halo title. I did not even contemplate the possibility of a live-action series, much less think about the involvement of someone like Steven Spielberg. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what they can create. Forward Unto Dawn was really the best marketing tool I’d seen a game employ in a long time, and the Halo universe stretches beyond just the games, as Ross correctly stated at the beginning of her presentation. Now if only BioWare and EA would take note for Mass Effect…

EA: FIFA, NBA, Madden and…UFC

Far be it for me to say that UFC has no place among the likes of FIFA, Madden and the NBA, but I say, bravo to EA for diversifying their offering. To even be marketed alongside those three heavy-hitters is an accomplishment, and I’m looking forward to seeing the real star of those games, the new EA Sports Ignite engine, shine through on the new XBox One hardware.

Better Hardware, Better Kinect…Better You

One of my gripes, and that of many others, regarding Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement was the complete and utter lack of hardware present. The only tangible item available was the controller, which was nicely innovative in its own right, but not enough to really sate the blood-thirsty masses. Then yesterday, Sony does what any good marketing department would do, and “blindsides” Microsoft’s event today with a sneak peek of their console…which really just amounted to a strobe-light effect while various bits of it flashed across the screen. I put blindsides in quotation marks because it seemed as though Microsoft (and anyone with a brain, really) had anticipated Sony’s sucker punch, as all through their event today, every presenter seemed to walk with an added spring in their step, as if to say “We got this, ya’ll.”

The XBox One is sleek and, for lack of  a better word, sexy. I really hate using that word and I dislike when marketing professionals use it, but there really is no other word I could use to describe the console, the new controller and the new Kinect unit. The improvements made to the Kinect, which were necessary considering the level of multitasking the XBox One boasts, are a blessing. Also: Skype group calling. Thank you.

CHILLS

Live TV, ESPN Sports connectivity

Of course, any launch event has one or two moments where you cringe a bit and shake your head, as if to say “why would you wear that to a cocktail reception?” I only had two of these moments with the XBox One launch; this is one of them. The industry had already speculated that this console, much like Sony’s PS4, would focus on the entertainment factor as being more integral to the device’s abilities than the gaming factor. I wasn’t surprised to see Microsoft bust out the live TV functionality, and the ESPN Sports connectivity possibilities. The integration of fantasy play had my US friends chomping at the bit.

But for myself, and those gamers who do not live in North America, all that you heard from us was a collective groan. While my brother-from-another-mother in Brooklyn is enjoying switching between a Skype call with me and a live NFL match on his XBox One, I’ll be once again lamenting the fact that European XBox Live subscribers pay the same amount of money as North American subscribers for maybe 30% of the functionality that our American and Canadian counterparts receive. I understand completely the reasoning behind the lack of TV content, and truthfully, Pathe Thuis (movie-streaming service from the theater chain here) is now available on XBox 360, but there is still plenty that we do not have access to, while still paying the same price.

No Price Point

Okay, so I’m nitpicking. But I was really hoping to have a ballpark figure around which to build my plan to give up food, social interaction and possibly electricity. Twitter blew up when they didn’t mention a release date and I really have to say, this argument is getting old. We should all know by now how “the game” is played. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a release date before E3, unless of course your name is Nintendo. So let’s stop that little bit of nitpicking. A price point, however, is something I think you should be able to hint at…simply to give everyone a chance to prepare their wallets for the Special Victims Unit case its about to become.

THE BOTTOM LINE

XBox One’s spec-sheet reads like this:

– an 8-core CPU.

– 8 GB of RAM.

– 500 GB hard drive.

– USB 3.0.

– Blu-ray drive (Finally! Am I right?).

– Integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi (also finally).

– Thousands more servers to handle online play, and dedicated DVR capabilities for game-capture.

– A new 1080p Kinect camera that detects the slightest movement of your wrist, as well as your heartbeat. Hopefully if you overdo it on Nike Training With Kinect, it will also call 911 for you.

– After the event, Microsoft confirmed that XBox One was NOT going to feature always-online DRM, and everywhere, gamers and retailers sighed in collective relief.

Throughout the entire event, a die-hard PlayStation fan friend of mine kept freaking out as they threw out feature after feature. We followed it live with other gamer friends on Facebook; my notifications are now broken. People didn’t even care that the only games really shown were Forza Motorsport, Quantum Break and the world premiere of Call of Duty: Ghosts. The sheer power of the machine outshone whatever actual gameplay may have debuted. It’s safe to say that this event succeeded where Sony’s faltered: the previously non-XBox fans are frothing at the mouth.

E3 is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting this year, my friends.

Reflections: On Anita Sarkeesian’s gaming-centric “Tropes vs. Women”

If you’re a gamer, chances are you’ve heard of Anita Sarkeesian, particularly since about May 2012. That’s around the time when Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign for her on-going video project launched, entitled ‘Tropes vs. Women, this time with a focus on the gaming industry. The goal behind this project is to highlight the rampant misogyny that is prevalent in many of the today’s popular titles (she seems to have a particular grudge against Dead or Alive). Almost instantly, Sarkeesian was treated to the kind of backlash that could only be made possible by the comforting anonymity that the Internet provides. She faced verbal and visual abuse at the hands of angry male gamers, including an image of her being sexually violated by Super Mario and a web-based game where you could beat up her likeness. Mature, right?

Sarkeesian has her fans and her detractors. There are some who say she is too radical and that her publications lack serious insight and rely on simply stating the obvious: that yes, there are many instances of where women are objectified in popular media, sometimes being reduced to nothing more than the whimpering damsel in distress. To be honest, she didn’t really register on my radar (or anyone else’s, it seems) until she took on an industry that is historically male-dominated and can often be the home of countless ignorant and raging imbeciles who have nothing better to do than tell you just how many ways they had your mother over the weekend…despite the fact that they live on the other side of the world. But anyway, as a gamer and a woman, I decided to run through and devour all that I could tolerate about Sarkeesian and her vision. And really…I’ve never seen someone who for all intents and purposes despises mainstream media and still feels totally comfortable letting said mainstream media wrap her up and snuggle her like that bear from the detergent commercial (sidenote: I hated that damn bear).

Jerk.

Jerk.

Let me preempt the backlash:

1. Despite not identifying as a feminist, I am a woman. This means that I can recognize when women are getting the short end of the stick.

2. I do recognize that mainstream media (from movies, books, TV and games) has a long and often painful history of portraying women as a variety of characters that still all manage to be the same.

3. I can recognize when someone is just generalizing and has no interest in a constructive debate about their views and the views of others…much like the other women who do not appreciate Sarkeesian’s postings. Unfortunately for Sarkeesian, this dilutes her message and ends up slowing down the actual change she aims to bring about to the gaming industry and the rest of the entertainment industry. There are a few trends that Sarkeesian has fallen victim to that, to me at least, seem to be the basis for the backlash against her. I’d like to say that I in no way, shape or form condone the personal attacks made against her, because personal attacks in any discussion just show that you have no properly structured argument on hand and so must resort to banality. And now, trends:

The Cinderella Complex

One of my pet peeves are when people complain about the unfairness of a system and still seek solace within said system when things don’t quite work out. You cannot be both victim and vigilante here, not when you’re making such broad-stroke judgments against an entire industry and, to be quite frank, every man in the world. Sarkeesian climbs on top of her soapbox and proclaims to be doing what she does for the sake of protecting women everywhere…but really…how anti-woman is that mentality? On the one hand, she hates that we’re cast as damsel-in-distress in most mainstream movies (that may or may not feature Baybooms). On the other, she willingly blankets herself in that damsel-in-distress cloak when someone challenges her “findings,” regardless of whether it comes from a male or female commentator. She denounces them with one of two statements, dependent on gender:

1. You are a man, thus by default a sexist pig and so I refuse to acknowledge your differing opinon.

2. You are a woman who has been brainwashed by the mainstream media’s depiction of you and thus, I will ignore your challenging opinion because you are sad and must be saved.

For me, this was the my biggest issue with regards to Sarkeesian and her message, which is basically this: that it’s awesome to be a strong and opinionated woman who accepts her own conclusions, until of course someone approaches with a different conclusion, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to hide behind your gender and say that they all hate you because you’re a girl (never mind that some of those differing opinions come from other women). She does not account for the fact that many women are able to be confident, strong, successful AND sexual, and this is where the disconnect seems to occur with much of her message.

Cry Wolf

You know how sometimes, there’s just that one person who no matter what can find something bad in any and everything in this world. That’s how I felt reading many of her interviews and watching her YouTube videos. Chris Carter over at Destructoid gave what was one of the best counter-arguments to Sarkeesian’s interview with the same website, where he deconstructs several of her comments made about specific games during the interview. I honestly cracked up at reading how utterly distressed she was while playing Rayman Origins and having to save the ‘busty’ Nymphs. Someone clearly hasn’t read up on their mythology. He points out that, more often than we would like, she grasps at straws when it comes to highlighting sexist portrayals of women in games. She  has even blatantly ignored the redemptive qualities and characteristics a female character may possess within a game, instead choosing to make the argument all about the appearances, the box art, the romance possibilities and butt-shots of Miranda Lawson.

That last bit works on my last nerve, because again, it highlights the complete lack of organized resistance within the ‘feminist movement’ or whatever you wish to call it. Are there gratuitous shots of Miranda Lawson’s butt in Mass Effect 2 and 3? Yes. Does this define Miranda as a character? No. Miranda Lawson represents, in my opinion anyway, the kind of character that Sarkeesian appears to want, but still manages to hate. On first glance, Lawson looks like the stereotypical sex-pot goddess:

Indeed.

Indeed.

Oh but wait! Am I being sexist by saying that? Am I wrong for, as a gay woman, saying that I quite appreciated Miranda Lawson’s physical attributes, as well as her intellectual capabilities? Dammit. Anyway. Lawson proves to be more than just luxurious dark hair and one heck of a body. She’s a brilliant mind, having led the Lazarus Project to rebuild Shepard, and a powerful ally on the battlefield. She kind of represents the phrase of “having it all”: beauty, brains and a bit of brawn (in terms of her biotics). So why does Anita Sarkeesian (and a fair share of her supporters) judge her existence in the Mass Effect universe based solely on her appearances and her clothing? Isn’t that what being a feminist is actually supposed to be about? Creating a world where women can be themselves and do as they want and not have to apologize for being intelligent and sexually attractive all at the same time?

I guess not.

The Face of a Generation

This links back to what I said about Sarkeesian not acknowledging or flat-out rejecting criticisms brought against her by other women (and self-proclaimed feminists). She’s basically appointed herself as the face of this campaign, to persuade  the gaming industry (and to some extent, gamers) that they are wrong for indulging in a fantasy world (heh) and to pressure them to change, in no particular order: the way female gamers are treated in online forums and matches, the way female characters are drawn in video games, and the way they market their games on a whole. The problem is that she’s not the face I want representing what she perceives as my plight in life as a female gamer. This is mainly because I hate that term; I am a gamer, my gender has nothing to do with that. But mostly, it’s because when one individual self-appoints as the face of a cause, it doesn’t always mean green pastures ahead, particularly if they are guilty of the above.

I haven’t even touched Sarkeesian’s rants about TV, movie and book tropes against women, but that’s because this is a gaming blog and I believe in focus. But even there, she maintains the notion that women need to be saved. From bad marketing, their sexuality, Michael Bay…everywhere you look, there’s something a female character being negatively portrayed. The problem with that is that it’s a sexist idea, that women need saving, whether they need to be saved by a man or by a crusading feminist who seems to have an issue with female characters displaying any sense of sexual awareness and sometimes comes across as just wanting female characters to be non-sexual period.

To me, that is somewhat worse than the Miranda Lawson butt-shots.

The PlayStation 4 (Controller) Launch Press Con: Questions, Questions, Everywhere…

Let me start off by saying that I live tweeted the event from its start until about an hour and 45 minutes in, which was quite a feat considering I had to be at work early in the morning. Time differences are not kind. Now that a colleague has talked me off the ledge of breaking my almost year-long coffee ban, let me see if I can recall what I did see and piece together the bits I missed (like the Watch Dogs preview; so pissed I fell asleep before that). There were two buzz words dominating last night’s sometimes shaky experience (for example, nobody applauding after the Killzone Shadowfall demo) and each trendy term applies to different parties: mobile is for PS4 and familiarity is for me.

Mark Cerny, the most enthusiastic speaker there.

Mark Cerny, the most enthusiastic speaker there.

Anyone who stayed up to watch the press conference knows that they didn’t actually show you the console itself, but that’s to be expected. E3 is still a few months away and it wouldn’t be a console war if Sony didn’t do this dog and pony show now to one-up Microsoft. This does not mean that I like it or approve of it, but we’ll get to that eventually. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t surprised at the lack of actual hardware display. Nor was I actually surprised at the early discussion of the PlayStation Vita; as I tweeted, Sony really had no other choice but to offer you Wii-U functionality of porting your game to your Vita in order to make that platform even a tad more appealing. A PS3 fan friend of mine furiously WhatsApped me the same text but with more profanity, which gave me a laugh. But yes…Sony revealed that you can port your in-progress game to your PS Vita in the event your kids or grandmother take over the TV, enabling you to resume play while they watch Yo Gabba Gabba or Price Is Right. What’s more, Sony spent a major chunk of the start of the press conference stressing that yes, gaming has moved beyond the living room and that to enhance the gamer’s experience, they will be supporting connectivity with iOS and Android devices with a second-screen app. Strange…I felt like I was looking at a combination of the Wii-U and the XBox SmartGlass presentation. I honestly believe that the focus on mobile connectivity and the constant emphasis of connecting with your friends via Facebook and UStream, and even giving a friend the possibility to access your game if you’re ‘having a hard time with a particular level’ muddled the presentation a bit and was just meant to pacify the rabid gaming journalists who spent all of 2012 screaming MOBILE at the console developers. I don’t care about being able to use Facebook on my console; I have a phone and a PC for that. Sony doesn’t think that’s enough though, so they put a dedicated Share button on the controller to allow you to record and share game-play videos instantly. That’s about the only cool bit I thought about the whole social connectivity stress point; game-play videos from my friends are always enjoyable.

After showing us the snazzy new dashboard interface (*cough*XBOX*cough*), they then moved on to show off some launch titles, including Killzone: Shadow Fall and Drive Club. The latter looked pretty engaging; the former looked, unfortunately, like more of the same. The one title that caught my eye was Infamous: Second Son, and this is an IP I’ve always meant to play but never got the opportunity. I had an inkling that Bungie would display Destiny at this press conference but yes, I was fast asleep before that came around, so I had to catch up on that via GamesIndustry et al this morning. After Killzone, Drive Club and Infamous, Sony gave the stage to David Cage of Quantic Dream and Media Molecule, respectively. This led to a pretty funny contrast wherein Cage made some e-love to the polygon and MM went on to declare war on said polygon in their presentation. Media Molecule then trotted out the PlayStation Move and displayed some creative activities that the Move now suddenly possesses, thanks to PlayStation 4. I’m just gonna let Regina George respond to that.

Stop trying to make the Move happen. It's not going to happen!

Stop trying to make the Move happen. It’s not going to happen!

I signed off around this time, not thoroughly impressed enough to stay up beyond 2 AM. Let’s just get through a round-up of what we were told:

1. Bungie promised that the PlayStation 4 would receive exclusive Destiny content, which kind of ticked me off but then, it’s not as if XBox doesn’t have these moments as well.

2. The PlayStation 4 will come with 8 GB of unified on-board memory, so, hurrah for that.

3. The controller features, as mentioned before, the Share button (for the gamer who Facebooks while gaming) and a touchpad.

4. Launch titles will follow the usual pattern of FPS/Racing/Puzzle…I’m waiting for the RPG/fantasy adventure game to pop out.

5. Blizzard has come down to mingle with the commoners, with Diablo 3 confirmed for both the PS3 and the PS4.

6. Because they’re probably having issues selling them now, Sony has woven the Vita and the Move into the fabric of the PlayStation 4 (making you have to buy a whole new platform to get Wii-U functionality), kind of like that annoying pocket on polo shirts. Seriously…pockets on polo shirts? But I digress…

7. The controller will interact with what is called the PlayStation Eye (aka the XBox Kinect).

8. It’s going to revolutionize the way we do gaming…haha no just kidding, I just really wanted to use that line. Fans of the late series Better Off Ted will know what I’m talking about. Instead of using that awesome line, Sony stressed that the PS4 was going to be epic. EPIC.

And now…the ugly truth of it…

Have you ever had a moment at work when your boss asks you for a presentation or a report, but they don’t exactly state what they want in it? There’s no information provided as to the parameters of the research, the timeline for delivery, the desired content or even the platform they’d prefer for presentation. Isn’t that frustrating? That must have been how the poor marketers behind this press conference must have felt. I can see it now:

Sony Exec, sinisterly twirling his mustache: We’ve got to announce the PS4 months ahead of E3 so we can beat Microsoft to the punch! I need you to draw up enough presentations to stuff between the developers’ speeches.

Sony Marketer: Hey, that’s  great! We’ll get on it right away. All we need are some stock photos of the platform-

Sony Exec, now sipping on some brandy: You can’t have those.

Sony Marketer: Um…okay. Well, we can at least start out with the new logo and maybe the release date flashed underneath at the end of the video. The initial price point can come later, maybe the Group CEO can close off the conference with it!

Sony Exec, back to the mustache: No. You can’t have that either.

Sony Marketer: I…well…okay. What do we have to work with here?

Sony Exec, leaving the room: Not much, actually. Just this controller here. *thunk* And the new logo. It’ll be great, I can feel it! Great work!

Sony Marketer: …..

Yeah, that conversation that totally took place in my head quite succinctly sums up what we didn’t learn at the press conference. And as I said before, I understand why: the ongoing console war between Microsoft and Sony. I leave Nintendo out of that statement because I think they don’t spend half as much time trying to one-up their competitors. There’s also an argument for marketing tactics; if you tease a little bit between now and E3, you remain relevant and that’s the key to success, right? Only it’s gotten boring and frankly, insulting to our intelligence as gamers. As Eric states in his well-written and much more technically insightful post about the press conference, which you can read here, we’re a much more informed and critical market and can clearly recognize when we’re having the marketing wool pulled over our eyes. It’s almost as if Sony has been doing business under a rock and doesn’t realize that teasers don’t have the same effect as they once did. The information is out there and waiting to be consumed…by consumers! The disappointing thing is that it’s usually Sony pulling this stunt. Does it really make sense to continue this ridiculous trend of announcing before Microsoft and wasting a ton of cash on a lukewarm press event to just state the name of the product and show us…a controller? And the Move? The Vita? What now?

This would be more of a war (and less insulting to us) if you just waited for E3 and announced right alongside Microsoft, because that would mean you’d actually have to show us something of substance and give us some actual information. “Leaks” are all well and fine for generating the buzz, so I’m not sure why any company would insist on hosting underwhelming press events scattered between here and E3 to truly make an impression on their target market. This press con played out like an extended leak. It’s not endearing and I’d prefer to see a no-holds-barred slug fest on the E3 stage than be fed tiny morsels that are not filling and beg the question of “Please Sony, may we have some more?”

Sony Marketer: Maybe just the release date…please?

Sony Exec: Yeahhhhh…no.

Sony Marketer: *sigh*

First Look: Bungie’s ‘Destiny’

On Monday, XBox Live’s dashboard fed us a link to a vidoc about Bungie’s  new project, Destiny. The originators of the Halo universe have long been silent about what’s been brewing in their creative cauldrons, so I was excited to learn what Destiny was all about.

What, no PC?

What, no PC?

Destiny journeys forth from the pre-established reality that humanity has colonized other planets besides Mother Earth, enjoying a sort of second ‘Golden Age’ where the civilization’s progress is suddenly halted by an unknown force. Another mysterious entity, “The Traveler,” is the only reason any humans continue to breathe. Spherical in shape, the Traveler hovers over a struggling human city on Earth, apparently dead after having given itself to save us. Once the space program gets set up again, humanity attempts to check out the situation on their off-world colonies and find that other races have moved in and claimed space…and they’re not keen on sharing. There are guns, aliens, strategic decision-making and of course, the social tie-in with your friends. The vidoc discusses Bungie’s challenge to developing a universe where the player would want to play with his or her friends, preferably for 50+ hours at a time. Bungie has partnered with Activision for Destiny and heralds it as a ‘bold new action game set in a living world’ that will probably redefine the way we play games. There were nice shots of the Bungie office and the orchestra scoring the game, as well as some brief glimpses of gameplay, which seems to progress from an FPS point of view. At the end of the vidoc, an employee says that they never thought Halo was going to be as big as it was,and so now they’ve had to ask themselves ‘What could be bigger than Halo?’ Amazingly, this minute glace at game-play and graphics seems to be enough reason for Bungie to urge you to pre-order Destiny for the XBox 360 or PlayStation 3, with a footnote that it will be coming to next-gen platforms…just not in 2013. So you’d be pre-ordering now and getting it by maybe Spring 2014? Sounds legit…I guess?

Anyway, right as the vidoc started, I had a moment like “that music sounds like Halo, but I’ll bite and see what’s up.” And I won’t lie to you…my first thoughts about the story and first images were “This looks like what the Mass Effect universe would look like, post-Reaper war.” There’s even a piece of concept art available for gawking entitled “Citadel,” which pictures enemies and the human heroes (named Guardians) duking it out on the ground while a large structure hovers above them, its infrastructure obviously compromised.  I lol’ed hard at that.

Lol.

Lol.

And really, doesn’t it sound like a slightly AU Mass Effect? Check it out: Humanity lands among the stars and colonizes other worlds with little to no interference until alien races notice their advancement and administer the proverbial pimp slap, thus sending humanity tumbling down the ladder…once the surviving few claw their way out of the rubble and PTSD, they learn more about these races, one of which, the time-traveling robotic Vex, looks suspiciously like the Prometheans of Halo 4, just minus the orange cybernetic-like glow emanating from their bodies. No? Just me? Okay. You’ve got the ability to customize your Guardian character based on class (Titans, Warlocks, and Hunters) and you’re also able to harness the Traveler’s mysterious power as you take the fight right to the enemy, and do your duty to protect Earth and humanity. Anyway, once I got over that initial feeling of “I’ve played this before” and focused on the remaining bits of the vidoc, I found that I was cautiously optimistic about this title after all.

The concept art is pretty, and it too generates that same familiar feeling in me, with an image of what looks like a female Hunter class Guardian smacking of the Mass Effect Quarian design. You can see IGN’s complete run-through of the concept art for the visual, and also Forbes’ piece on the announcement. You will be able to play with your friends, coordinating with them via a companion app on the iOS platform about in-game activities such as content drops and new missions, which begs the question of whether or not Android users are also allowed to coordinate with friends (no, really…I’m not buying an iPhone  just to experience this game at its full social potential). Destiny, as Bungie has said, is not to be considered an MMO; rather, they’d prefer you use their newly coined terminology of “shared world shooter,” which I have to admit sounds pretty cool.  I mean, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s an MMO but whatever, it’s their project so they can call it what they wish. Bungie’s stated that they will aim to implement distributed servers to help with all that global player traffic; you know, so events don’t unfold a la the Halo: Reach multiplayer experience, which will be a welcome fix for everyone. Bungie’s goal is that players add to the story as Destiny unfolds, teaming up with buddies to reclaim humanity’s lost worlds and uncover the mystery of the Traveler and just why the other races hate us so much. They’ve promised a high level of customization, for both armor and weapons, all of which can be done at The Last City (really, that’s what they’ve called it), which you return to throughout the game for some good old R&R. There is no word on specific character names or voice actors, but they did confirm that the score is co-authored by Paul McCartney…PAUL MCCARTNEY, you guys. That’s about the most exciting thing I’ve read so far. I just need to say again though….I just can’t help feeling as though I’ve played this already:

*cough*Ghost*cough*

*cough*Ghost*cough*

So, what are your thoughts? Will you be getting Halo: Commander Shepard Meets Master Chief Who Was Transformed Into A Guardian After The Reaper/First Contact War aka Destiny? I might…as additional details unfold. I just think it’s crazy to ask players to pre-order it without something as compelling as a release date attached. Then again, this is a part-Activision production here, so maybe once E3 is out of the way, we’ll see some indication of a date dropped.

And with that in mind, if you’re unable to watch Sony’s press conference today for what is assumed to be the next-gen PlayStation announcement, feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be live-tweeting it as it unfolds. I’m staying up way beyond my bedtime for this, so humour me and follow. 🙂

Until next time.

 

 

 

Next-Gen Consoles vs. Used Games Market: Is It Really A Bad Thing?

Yesterday the Internet choked on the veritable glut of tech-site articles all wondering the same thing: will the next-gen XBox murder the secondary games market? The concern stemmed from unconfirmed (or confirmed, if AppyGamer is to be believed) rumours that Microsoft was implementing several slightly unwelcome features to the new XBox:

  1. Making the switch to 50 GB-capacity Blu-ray discs, thus abandoning the HD-DVD format.
  2. Absolute commitment to online functionality, with game discs still available for purchase so probably, always-on DRM system.
  3. Games purchased on disc will ship with activation codes, thus invalidating it for re-sale/trade-in and tying them to the online account of the original purchaser.

Writers immediately seized on the glaringly obvious (at least to anyone who ever took a business class) economic downfall facing Microsoft if the last two plot-points actually become a thing. Upon consuming all the information available, which I have to reiterate is still just a collection of rumours, I too was incensed at the thought that physical copies of a game could no longer be traded, re-sold, or handed down to the younger set of gamers in my family. Commentary exploded with the anticipated “Microsoft sucks, I’m totes buying a PS4,” to which I say “you clearly don’t read enough because Sony’s announced similar plans.” Gamers brought up the idea of not being able to borrow games from friends, which was my #1 decision-making methodology before I had a job, and others mentioned that this would basically make GameStop et al obsolete which, who cares what happens to those relative thieves, am I right?

Anyway, after some thought though, you can kind of see the pros and cons of these (rumoured) decisions. Let’s take a look:

PROS:

– Longevity: I went back to run through Arkham Asylum the other day, intending to write a Replay Values post related to it. Guess what? It had a scratch and I was not able to replay it. If I had a console with major space to accommodate downloaded IPs, I wouldn’t have this problem, would I?

– Potential for lowered pricing. Notice I said ‘potential.’ I haven’t written anything about this, since I’d already addressed it on a previous blog, but being a gamer on the other side of the Atlantic is EXPENSIVE. So it would be awesome if I could download a full game for a fraction of the price I pay at GameMania, Bol.com, Wehkamp.nl, etc. When you’re shelling out the equivalent of US$70-80 for a game, your wallet cries. This is due entirely to what I call the Symbol switch. Basically, retailers take the US price and slap a ‘€’ in front of it. It happens with most everything tech-wise and it’s a pain. Anyway…it’d be great to have this happen, but ‘potential’ is a pretty heavy word when it comes to money and games.

– Evolution of the industry: Let’s face it, Valve is pressing the console makers’ buttons and they’re trying to answer now. But it’s funny that critics are up in arms about this when Steam basically employs the same concept. It may have an offline mode, but from what I’ve witnessed of friends’ experiences, you might as well not utilize it.

– Cuts down on piracy: Who am I kidding? I couldn’t even type that without bursting out into raucous laughter.

CONS

For my part, there is one main consequence to always-on DRM and choking off the secondary market: limiting accessibility. What percentage of consoles are online? How many buyers possess a reliable connection to enable them to comply with these new regulations? Those are the questions that essentially need a response. Let’s face it; not everyone can afford a brand new console or brand new games. I know many game lovers who rely on that secondary market to indulge in their favourite hobby, and doesn’t that help all of us? That the base is consistently and continually strengthened? More to the point, not everyone has access to a broadband connection, in particular gamers living in those countries that have a weak ICT infrastructure. There are other issues really, for example server downtime, but those are kinks that Steam users have to contend with now, so there shouldn’t really be an uproar about that. The primary goal of any industry should be to create more consumers of your product. That’s how you cultivate adoration and support, and limiting the accessibility to games is like cutting off access to art by stopping poster prints of the great works. I frankly don’t think it’s going to happen, but I guess we’ll all learn more when E3 hits.

Until next time.

 

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.

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.

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.