United We Blog: Our First Subject

Image by Flickr user :Commorancy
Image by Flickr user: Commorancy

Hello all! We here at UWG are excited to announce our first effort as bloggers united! For this first foray into unified posting, we’ve all decided that the next round of posts should have a common theme to them. Who picks that theme? Well, we all do! That’s right, our next round of posts will be determined by the joint efforts of ourselves and you, our wonderful readers!
Continue reading United We Blog: Our First Subject

A Rant Concerning My Growing Indifference to New Games, Plus Why Game Stores and New Consoles Can Irritate Me

Warning: This post contains whining and complaining.  Read at your own risk.

I’ve been noticing something lately.  I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I haven’t been very excited about new games lately.  Or new consoles.  My love of video games is as strong as ever, but I have realized that I can pass by the game store or the electronics section of the Best Buy with much more ease now than in the past.  I used to be excited to check out the new games and see what I could get next when I save up enough money or the next holiday comes along.  I used to be able to think up a whole list of games I wanted.  And now, not so much.  I look forward to “Rayman Legends” and the next “Final Fantasy XIII” games (even though a lot of people don’t seem to like those, I find them to be delightful).  I also wait and hope that someday the series I used to love will actually come out with good games again.  Or games at all. Continue reading A Rant Concerning My Growing Indifference to New Games, Plus Why Game Stores and New Consoles Can Irritate Me

Going to the Backlog

Image by Flicker user paige_eliz

Even though I don’t have tons of time to game, I like to keep at least two games in regular rotation at all times. That way, when I have only an hour to play, I don’t spend thirty minutes of it deciding on the game. I also prefer to only play one game per system to prevent overuse/overheating. Right now the 360 is on lockdown with Dragon Age 2, which means that the other game I choose has to be on another system. Since I don’t feel like spending money on games right now (despite all the goodness of offer, I know, I know), I guess it’s time to head to the backlog…

Oh, the backlog. That notorious shelf (or shelves or rooms or data storage devices) containing a selection of games that one intends to play. These games were purchased new or on sale, stolen borrowed from friends, retrieved from yard sales, or rescued for other terrible fates. We hold onto these games because we want to play them but just don’t have the appropriate time. We’re too busy with life and/or the latest games. Or we’ve moved onto other systems entirely. Or we’re collectors. However you want to look at it, most gamers have backlogs of various sizes. I know mine is pretty small compared to some, and it consists of games I’ve never played or started but never finished:

Continue reading Going to the Backlog

Gaming through others

Several years ago, my older brother recommended Metal Gear Solid to me. Unable to get me to dive into the game, he tried a different approach. He asked me to do whatever else I was currently claiming to need to do, and watch as he played through it a second time. He never had to ask me again. When it comes to games, I want two things: a decent story with it lying in the fantasy genre. I found a new way to experience games outside the vein I normally played by watching as my brother went through them. Instead of taking even turns on our PlayStation 2, my turn would be given to him so that he could make it to the next point in the story. It’s one of the few things that we have ever done, or ever do, together.

It’s gotten to the point where I have a love/hate situation with our arrangement. He’s introduced me to Clock Tower, to Resident Evil, to Kingdom Hearts, to Silent Hill, and Mass Effect. Silent Hill in particular is one we have both fallen for. When he started playing Silent Hill 2, he decided to set the atmosphere for himself. He played alone, in the dark, at night after everyone had gone to bed. That didn’t last for very long, seeing as how he couldn’t play very long then before he was jumping out of his skin. It occurred to him at this point to ask if I wanted to come in and watch. Then he discovered that I was waiting on him for the next part of the story, and he came to realize that I wasn’t nearly as patient as he had thought.

Halfway through Silent Hill 4: The Room, he decided that he didn’t like the game well enough to continue playing it. The game gets significantly more difficult at that point, with enemies you can’t kill and your apartment becoming hostile. I understand all this. But, the story was unfinished. It could go so many different ways at that point. I still remain half-tempted to find his memory card and attempt to play the game to its conclusion myself, despite it being different than my normal type of game. When the new Silent Hill movie came out, I was the one asking him to go with me (because going to the movies by one’s self is over-rated). He finally acquired a new Silent Hill game, Downpour, at Christmas, which we have been slowly making progress through between work schedules.

There are only two games that I have ever experience through someone else, and then went on to play them. The first of which is Lord of the Rings Online. My older brother started it because he had been in love with the series when the movies first came out, though he didn’t find the same feeling again with the game. I think simply because he passed it on to me. I discovered for the first, and currently only, time ever, a group of players that were helpful, and I could get along with. Not having as much money in the gaming department as most online players, I usually don’t interact as much, simply because they’re way ahead of you because they spend the money to get there. I’d much rather spend my time getting there and enjoying the graphics on the way.

The second of these games was The Sims. My mom played the Sims games from the very beginning. I would watch her, simply because I was not allowed to touch her computer at that point. Yes, I am one of those people that enjoys playing the Sims games. In my defense, I played for the sake of building them up, not for trying to see how to have the largest family possible in the shortest amount of time, as I had a friend tell me about her attempts. Apparently I ruined the game for my mother, making it too complicated. She still got Sims Medieval when it came out, which is the only one I still play occasionally. I don’t care for most aspects anymore, but I do for the quests and the different routes you can take.

I don’t know anyone else who can stand to watch someone else play a game, and not be the one playing. It’s a skill I had to develop, and I’m glad I did so. I’m afraid my range of gaming is not as wide as it should be. But even still, I’ve gotten to watch as Heather first saw Robbie the Rabbit (my favorite character of the series, though they messed up his charm and appearance in the movie), and as Sheppard fought the Reapers. There are so many games with great stories out there, and it helps me have new things in common with others.

Post-Memorial Day Thoughts on Fake Guns, Using Them

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons User Duffman

Let’s start by observing two important and (hopefully) relevant things.

1) Recently, we celebrated Memorial Day here in this lifelong party we like to call America.  

That means that “The Troops” are on everybody’s mind, a fact which I am not at all lamenting.  Rather, I am harnessing it, taking that thought by the hand and saying, “follow me, new friend, to a group of people that might want to get to know you a bit better.”

2) There are a lot of violent video games.

Some attempt to address violence in sophisticated ways, some in straightforward ways, some in intentionally troubling ways, and others in unabashedly unempathetic ways.  The majority of video games don’t really even “deal” with the topic, at least not nearly so much as they simply feature violent action as a narrative impetus.

These two observations combine to form a brainchild in my brainwomb.  I think interactive experiences that feature violence as a central mechanic are an incredibly unique chance for us to think deeply about violence itself, especially when those experiences come in a virtual manner.

Watching films that feature violence — or reading a book that does the same, as long as the media is passive — is a somewhat legitimate way to encounter violence, and sometimes even brutal displays on screens are enough to push one’s tolerance.  At best, a non-interactive piece of media displays some horror, and causes you to feel some sympathy and — if it’s quite well-done — empathy along with it.  A non-interactive story can display something tragic in an emotional fashion, and make you think about the effects of those tragic acts.

I’m not saying static stories can’t be dramatically effective.  Books like The Yellow Birds and films likeThe Hurt Locker have dramatically changed the way I think about war.  I’m saying that Mass Effect 3made me think about violent conflict — and mortality itself — in a more profound and personal way.

Image courtesy of Flickr User JBLivin

Games are experiences that require agency within a set of rules.  They are active moments in our lives, not passive ones.  Many games — even thematically “violent” games like Risk — require conflict, competition, and confrontation.  Whenever I play Risk, I want to win it by “killing” the overwhelming opposition.  But “killing” those armies gives me the same feeling as taking virtual people’s virtual currency in Online Poker.  I never feel as though I’ve committed something violent; I’ve simply committed an act that granted me superiority.  I’ve won.

When the subject matter is on-screen, violent, and interactive, things get hairy.  When you have to make a decision between two groups of virtual beings, killing one cluster and saving the other, you have the opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of the imaginary humans that would make those choices.  If you choose to sacrifice the one important gun to save a thousand children and risk losing the war because of that decision, you have to at least rationalize a bit, since you are stepping into a role.  Likewise, if you choose to save the gun and sacrifice the babies, you’ll have to rationalize all that blood on your hands.  When a decision like this is presented to me — and it’s a common one, at least in essence — I rationalize both, as I can only assume at least a decent amount of people do.  I weigh pros and cons.  I picture future strategies.  And yes, I “gamify” the decision, since I am actively gaming.

However, the grim reality of these decisions — and how difficult they are to make — is accentuated in the right interactive moments, especially those that involve horrific acts of violence.  Don’t get me wrong, here.  I am absolutely not saying that games in which you get to pull people’s spines out are good games because they are games in which you can pull people’s spines out.  Rather, making ME do the spine-pulling is really what has the potential to teach me about the horrors of violence, either in an illustration of desensitization or an induction of squeamishness.  For me, Telltale’s The Walking Dead was filled with the latter.

If a piece of media makes me make the decision, I’m more likely to be able to see both sides.  

If a piece of media makes me commit the violence, I’m more likely to be disturbed by it.

If a piece of media makes me walk through a bunch of bodies that I chose to set ablaze, I’m infinitely more likely to feel personal regret.

Of course, none of these things even come close to teaching me about the reality of human violence.  I will never assume that.  Virtual interactivity is just another way that we can grow towards appreciating / appropriately fearing the human animal.  So, next Memorial Day, I want you to sit down, play a violent video game, and think.

[This post was originally published on Plus10Damage May 28, 2013.]

Point-Counterpoint — The “Gamer” Label: Should It Be Retired?

Image by Flicker user Official GDC
Image by Flickr user Official GDC

Inspired by the recent Gamasutra article, Opinion: Let’s retire the word ‘gamer’, the Duck, Hatm0nster, and I take a point-counterpoint approach to discuss what we think about the “gamer” label. Should it be “retired” as the article suggests? Do we accept the label ourselves? Is there some way for the term to escape the stereotypical notion of video game players? Read on and let us know what you think. Are we on target or way off base? Join the conversation in the comments below!

Continue reading Point-Counterpoint — The “Gamer” Label: Should It Be Retired?

“I’ll Definitely Need This Later…” (Probably Not)

Image By Flickr User: Elen Nivrae
Image By Flickr User: Elen Nivrae

When it comes to RPG’s I’m what you would call a hoarder. My character’s house in Skyrim is filled with old armor, weapons, potions that I’ll never use, and gem I will never sell. In traditional RPGs like Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger or Mario RPG, I never use the best items, even as they take up more and more of my inventory. I’ve gone whole games without using any of the items I’ve stockpiled, and why?

“I’ll need it later.”
Continue reading “I’ll Definitely Need This Later…” (Probably Not)