Category Archives: video games

Ways Real Life Is Not Like Video Games

  • Random strangers you meet are not, however tangentially, related to your Destiny
  • You are not athletic
  • You are not flexible
  • Physics has pretty solid limitations
  • You are probably not highly skilled with a bow, handgun, or rocket launcher, and definitely not all three
  • You do not manage to carry a nearly unlimited number of items in only an outfit that has no obvious place for pockets
  • You will not be in a situation where you need to craft a gun from spare parts you “found” in an ancient temple
  • You are not encouraged to break pots in other people’s houses
  • You should not disturb artifacts. They belong in a museum
  • Your grandfather does not come back as a ghost to judge you on your farm quality
  • You are unlikely to be The Chosen One
  • You are not likely to survive an apocalyptic event
  • You will not be asked by said strangers to go on a fetch quest
  • You cannot fast travel
  • Cut scenes are unskippable
  • Resource boxes are not located conveniently just before the Big Boss location
  • Respawn is highly unlikely and unpredictable
  • Save points are possibly nonexistent
  • You do not get to choose your baseline appearance or personality
  • Leveling up does not come with any obvious sound effects and only rarely with badges
  • Additionally, most achievements cannot be shared with friends
  • You will not be known and respected across the land
  • If you slaughter a village of peasants, you cannot load a saved game to restore your honorable reputation
  • Not all merchants will trade with you
  • You are unlikely to make a living by selling natural resources you found by the road
  • Your companions do not have to listen to you or follow your leadership
  • You need to eat just because you burn energy, not just because you got punched in the face or otherwise injured
  • Do not light fires unless you know what you are doing
  • You do not have an awesome, inspiring soundtrack at key moments
  • If you tire of your storyline, you cannot put it aside or switch to a different game
  • Getting a date and getting married are somehow both more and less complicated
  • You are not required to give people gifts in order to make them become your friend
  • You have to take bathroom breaks
  • You are unlikely to encounter werewolves, zombies, or mechasoldiers
  • Weather lasts more than five minutes
  • Climbing a mountain is not the fastest way from A to B. Just stick to the road
  • The controls can be tricky to learn and operate, and the rules seem to be continually changing
  • You cannot draft players onto your sports team. You do not own a sports team, and even if you do, it doesn’t work quite like that
  • Drinking “potions” with unknown ingredients is a good way to get sick
  • Healing takes more than a mouthful of herbs
  • Call for help if you jump in a pipe and end up in a dungeon
  • No one is giving swords to 10-year-olds, and people in caves who try to should be reported to the authorities
  • Important objects do not highlight when you look at them
  • Plants are a poor defense against the undead
  • If you think you are fighting the Greek pantheon, a horde of demons, dragons, or aliens, please consult a mental health specialist
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Ways Real Life is Like Video Games

I’ve already explored the ways real life lets a video gamer down, but sometimes, it holds up…

Real life can be like video games in that:

  • It’s dangerous to go alone
  • You are the hero of your own story
  • Even seemingly inconsequential moments can have a dramatic effect on your “story”
  • Everyone else seems like an NPC
  • Sometimes the NPCs seem to be controlled by really bad writing
  • Friendships and deep relationships resonate and sometimes make you cry
  • Your group of friends each has a unique skill set that contributes to your collective victory
  • Sometimes you don’t want to skip the cut scene; you want to languish in every second of it
  • You think about it at night when you’re supposed to be asleep
  • Multitasking is an important life skill
  • There are some really incredible views
  • People are generally kind and helpful as you work toward your quest/goal
  • Sometimes there are bad things in the world; it’s your job to make the world a little better
  • Grinding for money to buy things really sucks
  • There’s something really powerful about collecting the produce from your very own garden
  • Some people prefer to snipe from a distance while others tackle a fight head-on
  • You’ve got to put on your armor before you face your day
  • It’s really great when you get a pet
  • We’re constantly trying to save our place but also want to keep going with the storyline
  • It’s easy to get distracted by someone else’s playthrough
  • It can feel like you’re a lab rat in a cruel experiment where the evil robot is increasingly trying to murder you in clever ways
  • It can take awhile to explore the whole map
  • It’s a bad idea to mess with Ghandi
  • It has repetitive moments and some parts you just have to grind through in order to level up
  • Your level and the amount of gold you have can make a big difference in how the world treats you
  • Even small things can count toward your achievements
  • Collecting things, even silly things, can be a lot of fun
  • There’s someone who will like what you like, if you explore enough of the world
  • The princess may be in another castle, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to fight the big bosses

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People are Making Threats Because of Video Games, Everything is Awful

I thought I was well-prepared to handle interacting with people online; I am pretty savvy, know how to avoid the trolls, not to click on suspicious links, and generally fly under the radar and try to be nice to people. But browsing Twitter for less than 5 minutes on Tuesday night left me horribly shaken, scared, and sick to my stomach. Those five minutes left me afraid to voice my opinion, made me want to quit a hobby I’ve enjoyed for years, and made me want to pack up and become a hermit in the woods, because damn, people are even worse than I thought.
What shocked me was the sudden realization that, even in America, where many voices are praised and generally accepted, where we’re supposed to know better than to oppress different ideas with violence, someone thought it was ok–acceptable, reasonable, even!–to threaten to murder an auditorium full of people who were going to listen to someone speak… just because they disagreed with the speaker.
Even more sickening, though, was that was not an isolated incident. It’s a repeating pattern of awful, horrible, wretched behavior, and not from one person, but from many people who feel safe under the cloak of internet anonymity.
All I did was click on the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate.
If you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, Vox had this pretty solid breakdown.
The short of it is: a lot of people (men) are upset that someone (several women) have offered critiques of the video game industry as not doing enough to be inclusive of women. These upset men then decide that the appropriate response to the criticism should range from mild internet dissent to–much more prominently–repeated, specific, violent threats of rape, murder, personal attacks, and damage to property.
To repeat: because someone said something they didn’t like about a hobby they enjoy, people are threatening to assault, harm, and KILL.
 
When I happened to look at it, I stumbled onto the most recent happening: because Anita Sarkeesian was going to do speak about her critiques of video games, someone decided to threaten “the worst school massacre in U.S. history” if she was allowed to speak. You can find the details in this CNN article and elsewhere.
And because Utah is an open-carry state, school officials couldn’t do anything about people bringing guns to the speech. So Sarkeesian had to cancel.
It isn’t an isolated incident. In literally just five minutes of browsing about 100 comments on Twitter, I stumbled on people supporting Sarkeesian, yes, some expressing disagreement with her views but distaste with the threats, and–this is what left me shaking with anxiety and horror–repeated threats of more violence.
I’m not going to dignify the tweeter by linking to his actual post, but I read one tweet that said, “My last tweet led some to believe #GamerGate may be pro-rape. Let me be 100% clear: #GamerGate IS pro-rape.”
****
This whole nonsense–and let’s be honest, the inciting incident IS nonsense–made me scared to write up this piece, for fear of catching even a fraction of the grief that Sarkeesian and others have had to tolerate from the horde of online assholes. Because I am a woman who writes things online, who has opinions and plays video games, so maybe I’ll be swept up and readied for the firing line by these types.
But it didn’t feel right that reasonable conversation should be suppressed by the whims of terroristic asshole children who don’t understand it’s ok for someone not to like what you like. Or even, more appropriately in this case, to like what you like but suggest that there could be more and different kinds of it. 
 
There is no reason–no reason at all–for these women to be attacked for having opinions. And any possible goodwill or reasonable debate those who agree with the “GamerGate”ers has been utterly obliterated by the vocal minority (majority? Hard to tell) who are so afraid of admitting girls to their club (girls who have actually been there, quietly, all along!) that they feel it is acceptable to threaten violence and expose people’s private information so that others can commit violence.
Our current laws haven’t quite kept up with the changing technologies. It’s unclear when a comment on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere on the internet is grounds for an arrest. I’m not one to advocate for the tightening of laws against expression, but you know what the First Amendment doesn’t actually give you the right to do: Openly FUCKING threaten to harm someone.
This is ridiculous. And tragic. And sickening. And, if you’re at all involved in the gaming community in any way, it’s highly likely that someone you know–likely that someone I know–thinks it’s not a big deal to threaten these women in this way. But of course it is a big deal. A huge, terrifying big deal.
I don’t know how to fix it. I wish I did. But don’t be assholes to each other. And call out those who are. That’s a good place to start.

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You’re Equal to Me in Every Way…For A Lady

The full cast o’characters.

In fighting the late-summer heat, I recently picked up a new-t0-me video game: Dragon Age: Origins. It’s pretty cool; you are on a hero’s journey to become a Grey Warden and travel from town to town fighting monsters and trying to save the kingdom. There’s a lot of customization, and the choices you make throughout will affect the outcome of the game.

And you have to make a lot of choices. (It’s almost the Starbucks of video games: and would you like whip with that? (I’m easily overwhelmed by Starbucks….can you tell?))

The very very first choice, though, is building your character: Will you play as a male or a female?

In some ways, the fact that it’s even an option to play as female is a great thing; in some games, forget it. You’re just a white-ish athletic dude no matter what. So I always enjoy games that give you more versatility in that way.

The prompt as you choose your playable gender says Fereldon, the world, is a pretty equal place, with opportunities for both men and women in the three playable careers–warrior, mage, and rogue. That’s important, because I like to know when I’m cutting myself off from parts of the game with my choices.

So I built my female human mage with red hair and dark eyes and went happily on my way.

Except I was constantly reminded by other characters (non-playable characters, or NPCs, for you non-gamers out there) that woah, hey! You’re a lady!

In some cases, it made sense and fit with the story: when Morrigan the wild witch met me, she was more friendly because she carries a general dislike for men, having grown up in isolation.

But most of the time, it doesn’t. It’s more like “wow, you’re a fighter and a lady? Whodathunkit?!” In a world that is supposedly equal. And where I periodically see other female warrior/mage/rogues running around.

It just got tiresome. So this happened:

dragonage Twitter

Think about this in your writing. If your character is something different, that’s fantastic! We need more minority characters–not just female, but also non-white nationalities. And that should affect the story where appropriate–as in the case with Morrigan in Dragon Age.

But when all the “NPCs” in your book take time to comment on the difference, you aren’t showing that there’s equality. You may be telling the reader that there is, but what you’re showing is exceptionalism. And it’s pretty tiresome, both in our stories and just to read. (See: Repetition)

(There may be stories of exceptionalism where it is still relevant–“wow, she’s the only one who can do that!”–but I personally think the gender-based exceptions are played out. Do something different.)

Don’t tell me how equal I am: just let me get on with the monster-fighting and world-exploring. That’s how I KNOW I’m equal–because I can definitely kick some undead monster butt if you’ll just let me get on with it.

 

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Lessons in Companionship

I’ve been playing BioShock: Infinite since it came out last Tuesday, and it is phenomenal. It is beautiful, challenging, has a great story, excellent mechanics, and pretty much makes me want to spend all my time there.

For non-gamers, BioShock Infinite is the third in a series of dystopian first-person shooter (or FPS) games, where you play as the shooter–basically, you are the main character. (Here’s my quick explanation from before the game came out). In this story, you are a mysterious guy sent to retrieve a girl, Elizabeth, from a sky-city. It’s 1912 and everything has a bit of a steampunk vibe. You get guns to shoot bad guys with and superpowers to help you interact with this city.

I’m only about halfway through, so I’m not sure how it’s going to end, but this game is already standing out for me, all because of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a sassy character who is NOT afraid to beat you over the head with a heavy physics book.

She is hands-down the BEST companion I have ever seen in a video game. And maybe in a TV show. And she’s one of the best I’ve ever seen in a book, too, (excepting maybe The Lord of the Rings, because hobbits).

Compared to the other media, video games have a few extra challenges with their companions: they have to not get killed in combat; they have to have a bunch of replies/interactions depending on what the player does; and they have to be able to keep up (any gamer can tell you horror stories about glitches where they have “lost” a companion character because the game warped them ahead or behind, and they had to go back and start from a save point to try to recover them. It’s not fun).

Not only does Elizabeth manage to do all of these things well, she’s got serious personality. And she’s genuinely helpful. And, above all, she is not a damsel in distress (though she does start out locked in a tower and you have to rescue her). Check out that video if you want to see the problems with ladies trapped in towers: it can get ugly.

But no; though you do start out as Elizabeth’s rescuer, she later chooses to stay with you. (She might later choose to stab the player in the back, for all I know. We’ll find out!) This completely changes the dynamic! Now she’s not just a helpless girl following her big, heavily armed hero around because she has to: she made a choice.

Woah.

And then here’s where she really starts to be cooler than many TV companion characters (I’m looking at you, Doctor Who)–she’s not helpless. She has at least three sets of abilities that help you BOTH get through the game. Unlike other games where the companion character is really just something for the character to lug around from place to place (*ahem* Rose Tyler***; *ahem*Princess Peach; *ahem* 007 Goldeneye’s Natalya), you could not survive this game without Elizabeth.

Sure, she needs you; but you need her, too.

I’m not going to go too much into her powers (because, spoilers!), but Elizabeth provides a potent lesson for other game designers and writers in general: your supporting characters need to be fully developed characters in their own right.

Things I can tell you about Elizabeth:

  • She has three extremely helpful abilities.
  • She’s missing part of her little finger on her right hand. (Mysterious!)
  • She wants to go to Paris, France.
  • She enjoys painting and reading.
  • She was locked in a tower for most of her life.
  • She has a joie de vive about her, but can be a little naive.
  • She’s certainly intelligent, like, quantum physics intelligent.
  • She can fight back.
  • If you leave her alone, she’ll explore and interact with her environment, showcasing her creativity.
  • She doesn’t very much approve of your character’s morality, but she’s willing to go along with you if it’ll benefit her.

Wow. I’m only maybe halfway through the game! There’s a lot more I can learn, plus some of her abilities are growing to change with the flow of the game. I think I know more about Elizabeth than I know about my playable character.

She’s incredible. Props to 2K for creating such a fantastic character.

Other people: Be more like this. It makes me more interested in the story and more invested in your creation.

***I’ve only watched about half of the Rose Tyler episodes. Yes, I know, I’m behind. So I admit she might get better, but so far? She doesn’t really contribute much.

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Infinite and Beyond

I’ve been looking forward to a video game for about two years now. It’s finally (nearly!) here, and all signs are pointing to “probably gonna be awesome.”

Bioshock Infinite is the newest title in the Bioshock line. Though it’s not part of the original Bioshock timeline, it similarly explores a dystopic society held in remove from the rest of the world, explored by the player, someone from the “regular” world. The experiences are as new to the character as the player.

For non-gamers, a quick summary: Bioshock (the original) was one of the best games I have ever played. It had an interesting concept, cool weapons and powers, and, most of all, a completely immersive storyline. It was everything I wanted in not just a video game, but also a story. It was revolutionary.

In the original Bioshock, the player wandered around the ruins of an underwater city called Rapture. It was a look at what might happen if pure capitalism were allowed to run its course—long story short, it ain’t pretty.

I played that first game so much that I still associate the title screen for the production company (2K) with clutching my controller in the dark, fearful and exhilarated.

Bioshock 2 was an okay game, analyzing some socialistic dystopic ideas in the same underwater city, but it couldn’t touch the sheer power of that first story.

Fans are hoping this newest game will be a return to that original breath-snatching incredulity.

And the cinematic trailer released this month is confirming a lot of those ideas.

Hopefully even non-gamers can feel the intrigue of that trailer. That trailer doesn’t even have any game footage in it (typically a requirement to get any traction with fans) and I’m really looking forward to it. I read a lot of dystopias and I’m interested in a lot of these ideas, but the Bioshock was something different. Video games have an advantage over other media in that the reader/user can literally interact with the environment, allowing a strong story to unfold at the reader’s pace. A good game can do that with optional voiceovers (in Bioshock, you can find audio journals of lost citizens, and choose to play them or discard them), but Bioshock also went above and beyond with their perfectly on-point background music, in-game advertising jingles, and stylized art.

Yes, it was a first-person shooter, so there was a lot of gory fighting, but that wasn’t what made the game outstanding—after all, Bioshock 2 had the exact same fighting, slightly improved, and it wasn’t nearly as fun to play.

No, it’s all about the story.

I love video games, but they’re a secondary medium for me. I hope to get that same overwhelmingly scared-in-the-dark-what-might-happen-next feeling with every book I read, too. And hopefully, along the way, with every book or story I write.

-ME

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