The Rise Of A Filthy Casual

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I’ve always been a pretty hardcore gamer. I know that’s a label that gets peoples backs up, but I just see it as a fitting descriptor. Off the back of the amount of time I put into my hobby, I may be guilty of being a little snobbish, but then who isn’t? Heck, I used to look down on youngsters that drank a couple alcopops and started exaggerating about how wasted they were. Mother fucker, I drank 15 stella’s last night and woke up covered in my own faeces; don’t presume to know anything about getting wasted. That doesn’t mean I wield the term around like some badge of honour, or title that grants me access to a special club though: I just think it is calling a spade a spade.

I don’t see hardcore as equalling good and casual as equalling bad. I’m about as likely to boast about being a hardcore gamer as I am about being a hardcore wanker (I’m probably more befitting the title “pro” when it comes to that anyway). It is just a fitting term. To substantiate my point, I’ve come to realise I’m probably now a casual gamer; or at least become a lot more casual in my gaming habits. The amount of time I spent playing and talking about games (in fact, me even writing this blog) kind of makes it hard to truly argue the “casual gamer” label, but I’ve seen a noticeable change in my gaming habits.

I don’t have the time, or maybe it’s the inclination, to invest in deep games any more. I find this quite peculiar, as it’s that depth that used to hold all the value for me. I don’t think it was ever really snobbery as such, but casual games just looked shallow to me. I liked games with complexity and some meat on their bones. I actually found myself getting annoying at what I saw as a trend of “streamlining” games to make them more casual. Mass Effect, to pick one example, went from an RPG to little more than a cover shooter. In fact, those are still very logical standpoints to me, which is how I know this is all about how I’ve changed, and not about how I think games need to.

My most played game these days is Clash of Clans (CoC), on my mobile phone. Even as I read that sentence back to myself, and acknowledge the truth of it, I still struggle to swallow it. It’s like when an alcoholic has to say the words out loud; it may help combat the denial, but you’re still left wondering how you got there. In this case it was a friend that introduced me, and before I knew it, I found myself favouring CoC in the evenings over my console games.

Clash of clans has enough depth to allow for some degree of skill, but not so much that you get bogged down in complicated details. It’s got a good social aspect to it, where you clan up with people and wage war on rivals, which also requires a degree of team work. All this is done in a little and often fashion, where you’re constantly dipping in and out throughout the day. For me, this provides a consistent gaming hit over the course of the day, which may actually be why I don’t feel the need to game every night now. I often compare my gaming habits to that of an addiction, so it actually feeds into the analogy; that a weaker prolonged hit would reduce the need for an more intense one every evening.

Of course it could be argued that “causal” games are now just another string to my bow, on top of all the other gaming I partake in. I do still play those “Hardcore” games – just not as much – so maybe I’ve merely expanded and diversified my gaming. Maybe, rather that dial back, I’ve rounded out my gaming repertoire. Maybe I’m now a hardcore and a casual gamer. Maybe I’m an UBER-GAMER!
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Replay: Pokemon Yellow

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To coincide with its 20th anniversary, Nintendo have finally released the original Pokemon game on the 3DS virtual console. As a self-hating Pokemon fan, this was an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up, despite the nagging sense of shame I feel in the background whenever I play the game.

Putting aside my personal issues, I was actually pleasantly surprised with what I discovered when I started playing. I expected and had prepared myself for first a potent nostalgia hit, followed by the crushing realisation that retro games rarely belong on the shiny pedestal I place them on. The nostalgia part certainly happened, but the disappointment I anticipated didn’t. Pokemon Yellow actually still plays really well.

I’m not sure if it’s testament to how great the original concept was or lack of meaningful innovation to the series, but the Pokemon Yellow actually feels better than recent iterations of the game; more pure. Playing this game again serves to highlight how most of the additional crap that’s been added over this years is just that: Crap. It’s meaningless filler and bolted on junk that, in hindsight, has left the series feeling over-encumbered when compared to this stripped back original.

This also seems true of the all important Pokemon line-up. As the quantity went up with each new game, the quality seems to have gone down. Coming back to the original 150, they now feel like pure-bred’s in comparison. I’m surprised by how many of these classics I still remember, especially as it dawns on me that I can’t name a single one from the most recent game I played. These guys are iconic.

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There are a few innovations that I miss though. The ability to map items to short-cut keys is a sorely missed feature that’s been added to later games. Having to keep bringing up the menu, browsing down the list and manually selecting items adds nothing but frustration. This issue really presents itself in activities like fishing, or when you want to select your bike to move faster.

At first I also really missed the indicator that lets you know if you’ve already caught the Pokemon you’re battling. Then it dawned on me that it really only serves as a crutch for the lazy. Like any good sticker collector of the 90’s, you came to know your Panini sticker album inside out, back to front. When that Argentine goal keeper turned up, you didn’t need an indicator telling you whether you needed it or not, you already knew. With “gotta catch ’em all” being one of the key objectives, the same should be true of your Pokemon. Taking the time to study your Pokedex is a mechanic that helps bind you to the spirit of game, so not being able to shortcut that process is actually quite important. I think it helps you feel more involved, committed and immersed in the game.

Aesthetically…aesthetically this is a game from the 90’s; a gameboy game from the 90’s no less. This is where things get a bit surprising again though, as it really doesn’t look that bad. Had this of been a first person shooter or driving game, it would have probably looked bad back then and positively hideous today. However, given that it’s a cutesy little RPG that takes place from a top-down perspective, time has actually been fairly forgiving. Being of the 8 bit generation and in two dimensions,  Pokemon invariably fairs much better than later games that took the move to early 3D. They’ve created a rich, vibrant world; a world packed with such a variety and intrigue, of both locations and characters, that it’s still a joy to revisit all these years later.

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The same rings true of the gameplay; but then that’ hardly surprising when you consider that even today’s Pokemon games use the same core mechanics. Random encounters and the inevitable need to grind can start to grate a little, but this is generally offset by the “catch ’em all” mentality. The monotony of fighting off endless Rattata’s is often broken up by the appearance of a rare Pokemon that you need for your collection, or by the eventual levelling, evolution and new moves learn by your team. It adds an important element of excitement to what would otherwise feel like thankless task.

Your initial quest quickly becomes multi-faceted as you explore the world and have run ins with characters you meet along the way. Unravelling these plots is key to progressing from town to town, as you take on each of the eight gym leaders. Although presented as serious, there is an air of pantomime villainy about it all, that keeps things light-hearted and enjoyable. It’s all timeless “good guys vs bad guys” stuff, so is as fun now as when it was first released.

The games music is like hearing the familiar voice of a old friend. From moody battle anthems and foreboding dungeon tracks, through to quirky Pokemon sound bites  – the music really supports and compliments the whole experience, helping drive emotion into each situation. The poke-centre melody really is quite relieving and uplifting to hear after hours of dragging your weary Pokemon through a cave.

Overall, Pokemon Yellow is much more than the simple nostalgia hit I was expecting and is still a great game in it’s own right. Although there has been some handy innovations over the years, there’s also been a lot of unnecessary tat – making Pokemon Yellow feel like the unadulterated classic that it is.

Definition Of A Troll

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They see me trolling, they hatin’…. or not, as it would so happen if you were indeed a decent troll. See the true meaning of the internet troll has, somewhere along the line, been lost. With the rise of social media, and in particular online harassment, it is a term that has been picked up by the out of touch mainstream media and applied incorrectly.

Due to this failure, if you were to ask someone what an internet troll is, chances are they would define it as someone that harasses people online. Someone that calls you a cunt, issues death or rape threats, or generally behaves in a very offence way towards others is, they’d have you believe, an internet troll. The irony is, had the media of done this on purpose, rather than incompetence, they would of actually successfully trolled you.

The act of trolling is slightly nuanced, which is probably where the confusion crept in, and its origins are slightly up for debate. There is however one key element –  an element that has seemingly escaped the media – that is always present when referring to trolling: deception. To troll someone, there has to be some deception at play. You can’t just openly annoy someone or say nasty things to them. That would simply be annoying and harassing them, not trolling them.

In gaming, where the term trolling is well established, an example would be getting people to commit suicide in game by convincing them of a lie. For example, telling people you know of a secret area, then having them walk off the side of a cliff to their death, would be an act of trolling. It is often confused with another gaming term, griefing. Griefing also generally involves annoying people online, but lacks the nuance of trolling. Open team killing for example, would be greifing, not trolling, as it lacks that key element of deception.

Another common form of trolling in gaming would take place on forums, where platform rivalry is often very heated and arguments are rife. Rather than simply bash rival gaming systems in online debates, trolls would often post new threads claiming to be disgruntled owners of the system they didn’t like. Topics like “After 10 years of PC gaming, I’ve decided to switch to Xbox” would get posted by Xbox owners that had never actually owned a PC. Anyone that bought into this lie and gave the complains more pause for thought due to their apparently unbiased nature, would have effectively been trolled. Again, deception is key.

The exact origin of the term may be up for debate. Some believe it comes from the fishing technique, where as others believe it relates to the creature. One thing is certain though, the common media definition has been simplified to the point it is factually incorrect. This is bad new for actual trolls, and perplexing to the rest of us. If I was to have a punt at a dictionary definition it would go something like this:

Trolling: Gleaning sadistic pleasure from annoying others online via the art of deception.