This Month In Gaming (April 2016)

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A slightly surprising month of gaming this one, as I played two games I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy and yet was pleasantly surprised on both occasions.

The first one was Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played a few Final Fantasy games over the years, but wouldn’t consider myself a fan. I don’t mean that in a negative way either, I simply mean I find them to be good games, but not ones that make me jump up and down whenever somebody mentions them.

Somehow – possibly down to the N64 – I kinda missed out on playing Final Fantasy VII back when it was released. Now it’s not like I’ve played all the others – I couldn’t even tell you how many there are – but Final Fantasy VII seems to be the one that people go on about. Final Fantasy VII is the Final Fantasy game. Seeing as nobody is making any fucking games on the Vita these days (and because it was on sale) I decided it was high time I gave this game a try and the handheld seemed like a good fit for it. For some reason I refuse to play retro crap on my home console. I don’t think it demeans the machine or anything – I just have better shit to play when I pick up the controller.

Unless fuelled by dangerous levels of nostalgia, many shitty retro games are….shitty retro games. Actually, I find that statement to be true for quite a lot of old shite. I’ve lost count of the number of “classic” movies I’ve had to endure – but anyway, I digress. As I was going into Final Fantasy VII for the first time, I feared it was going to be little more than an archaic RPG, the likes of which have been superseded many times over since the time of its release. Now this isn’t actually far from the truth – however, the nature of turn-based RPG mechanics mean that time has been fairly forgiving. It’s also a genre where graphical prowess holds limited authority. Where as many ageing games can look bad now in comparison (think Goldeneye), Final Fantasy just looks different. I’ve played modern releases that have opted for similar aesthetics to this as a style choice, rather than limitation – so it’s not really detrimental at all.

The game did start a little slow for me, or at least getting my head round the mechanics did. Things also get a bit choppy at times, with certain characters forced into or out of your party. Once I got to grips with materia though (magic/ability granting stuff), everything started to click and found the whole thing much more enjoyable. At the time of writing this I’ve not actually completed the game, however I’ve certainly gone from struggling through the first ten hours, to blasting through the following forty. Although I think I’ve missed the bus on this one becoming a personal nostalgic great, there are occasional moments where I feel like I can glimpse back in time and see why it is for others.

The other game that I was pleasantly surprised by was Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. I’ve written before about my feelings towards this cash cow franchise, but long story short; used to love it, now I can’t be arsed with it.

It’s probably down to the “used to love it” part that makes me feel that, on some level, I really need to play each one at some point; so that’s what I did with this one, now that it is dirt cheap.

Once I started playing, I was surprised by how seamlessly entertained I was. It’s great, top-drawer stuff, and for all the cynical comments it gets, it’s hard to find fault with it. The familiarity from all the previous Call of Duty sessions just stops if from feeling particularly special, even though it’s one of best produced games on the market. It’s kind of like why I think all these celeb’s get caught cheating on their partners. Despite having Call of Duty at home, they still get caught balls deep in Kane and Lynch 2; because variety is the spice of life.

One thing that does make it stand out is Kevin Spacey, because Kevin Spacey is awesome. Add Kevin Spacey to anything and you’re basically onto a winner. Every time he shows his face in the game a little “Kevin Spacey” alarm triggers in your head, instantly making that situation better than a situation devoid of Kevin Spacey. I can’t think of a better person to put in the game…apart from maybe Kevin Bacon.

Multiplayer has arguably been the bigger focus of Call of Duty since Modern Warfare dropped. Advanced warfare’s double jump may not sound like much on paper, but in practice it has quite a significant impact on the gameplay. Or, to put it another way; it adds chaos. Despite getting my arse kicked as gun totting manics bounced around the levels like bunnies, I actually found I was really enjoying myself. Experience of the maps themselves seemed a little irrelevant with this new ability, leaving it all about fastest finger first as everyone throws themselves headfirst into the fray. In all in all, very good fun.

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Skillz To Pay Da Billz

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Polygon recently posted a video that comically showcased how inept they are at playing the new Doom game. It reminded me of one of those times when you reluctantly hand the controller over to one of your non-gamer buddies, and are then forced to sit and watch as they stumble around on-screen like a completely uncoordinated mess. Laugher is generally the only escape from the painful spectacle you’re forced to endure.

Once the giggles subsided on this particular video, many people (including the likes of Notch  “Minecraft” Persson) started calling in to question the competence of the publication as a whole. If these clowns are that bad at playing video games, how can one take their “expert” opinion seriously? That seems rather hyperbolic to me; the idea that one member of their staff demonstrating a – “less that skilful” shall we say?- ability in one game brings the reputation of the entire site up for debate? The reasoning being applied did lead me to think about the question of: Do you actually have to be any good at games to review them?

The simple answer is no. Videogame reviews are subjective in nature and thus can’t be incorrect. This is great news if it’s your chosen line of work as, despite the internet telling you otherwise, your personal feelings towards something can’t be wrong, so anyone of any skill level can do it (hmm…this explains a lot, lolz).

The “opinions can’t be wrong” statement is a bit of a platitude however. In same way that you can go to your really racist uncle for advice on the EU referendum; sure, he can give you his opinion, but that doesn’t mean it will be an informed or educated one. Really, when you seek out advice, you want to try an insure the source of that advice is as impartial, knowledgeable, experienced and unbiased as possible. This is what we’d call “Good Advice”.

In this regard, I do think you should be good at gaming to review games, simply because it should come as a by-product from my definition of what I consider good advice. If you suck at games, I’m going to question how experienced you are. If you’re paid by the publisher, I’m going to question how unbiased you are. Any failings or short comings in what I consider the key components of good advice, and I’m going to place less respect on that point of view. That’s just how life works.

The other important thing to point out is that being bad at something generally causes frustration, which severely impairs your ability to be objective. For example; when my daughter tried out her new bike, she hated it. She struggled with the size, the lack of stabilisers, she couldn’t work the gears and she kept falling off of it. These issues were, according to her, all the bikes fault and it was rubbish; 2/10. Her old bike was much better. Now that she can ride bikes better, she appreciates that gears are really useful, that the suspension makes for comfortable riding and that stabilisers only held her back. Once her skill improved she was able to see the bike for what it actually was, and not just be blinded by her frustration. We, as people, are much quicker to pass the buck than we are to admit our own failings. Because of this, reviewers need to be good enough at something so that lack of skill isn’t an issue and it can be completely removed from the equation.

The flip side to this is that someone who is extremely skilled – a subject matter expert if you like – is probably more likely to get bogged down in the details; details that could leave the average reader more confused than informed. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly of more niche appeal. Due to this, I’d stipulate that although you need to be good at gaming to write a fair review, there is no direct correlation between the two. The better you are at gaming doesn’t equate to the better you are at reviewing; you simply need to be good enough not to trip over your own incompetence.

It’s worth nothing that the onus is on the reader as well as the reviewer. Reviewers may have a duty to try provide good advice, but readers also need to seek out reviews, reviewers and publications that meet their demands. If you’re essentially just reading a review to get talked into buying something you’re interested in, you may need to avoid a deep, hyper-critical review. If you’re looking for a detailed overview of all a games finer points, you may want to avoid short, sharp overviews. Just because something isn’t tailored to your needs, doesn’t automatically make it bad, and if something isn’t what you wanted to hear, it doesn’t automatically make it wrong.

Tron

Videogames, probably due to their tendency to rely on killing stuff as a core mechanic, seem to have a monopoly on shitty, horrifying, or otherwise dystopian settings: the kinda places you’d want to avoid in real life (unless you have a death wish). Some of them even have a surprising dark charm about them. Fallout’s capital wasteland, for example, can be quite a fascinating place – but only within the confines of a video game. If such a place existed on earth, I wouldn’t exactly be contacting Thomas Cook to book my family holiday there.

Despite this, there are a few examples of places within games that I’d love to visit: places I’d jump at the chance of being beamed into the screen and having my digitalised-self materialise into that world. The first place that comes to mind is The Forza Horizon Festival, from Forza Horizon (duh).

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Situated in the sunny Colorado desert, the Forza Horizon festival brings together motor-racing, music festivals and fair ground rides to create the most amazing, non-stop party I’ve ever beheld. By day, thousands of scantily clad party goers can be seen soaking up the sun as they dance, cheer and celebrate: a sense of pure enjoyment hangs not only on their faces, but within the air itself. As day gives way to night, the festival transforms into a spectacle of lasers and lights that can be seen from miles away. From a distance, it’s like a beacon that draws you in!

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As great as Forza Horizon is – and it truly is a marvellous game – whenever I play it, there is always a slight sense of regret that I can’t pull up, get out of my car and join in with the party that is going on around me. I don’t want it to be just a game – I want it to be real! I’ve been to many car shows, but none look as epic as the Forza Horizon Festival.

Next up, and of a similar theme, is The Gold Saucer from Final Fantasy VII.

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Accessible only by cable car, this towering amusement park has been built so high that it’s actually up in the clouds: a marvel in itself. I imagine simply getting there would be a real emotional rollercoaster of fear and excitement, as you ascend higher and higher, leaving the ground far behind you. Once inside, everything about the place just seems so happy and joyous. There’s amusement arcades to play on, live shows and events to watch, chocobo races to bet on and even a spooky themed hotel to stay in.

It looks like the kind of place where you leave all your worries at the door: a little bubble of happiness floating in the clouds. I think it would be a great place for a day-trip, with possibly an over-night stay at the hotel. Any more though, and I fear the non-stop merriment could start to distort, slowly turning into insanity.

Speaking of insanity; the original Bioshock introduced us to Rapture – a 1940’s underwater city/civilisation – in a dystopian state. Inhabited by murderous crazies, the decaying remains of the dilapidated city is more “hell on earth” than “wish you were here”. However, Bioshock Infinte’s “Burial At Sea” DLC offered us a glimpse of a much more inviting rendition of the befallen city:

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Prior to it’s fall from grace, Rapture was designed to be an underwater utopia, populated by the worlds greatest minds and free thinkers. Unbound by the laws of the land, science and creativity flourished, filling the city with grand architecture and new wonders; the likes of which have not been seen before.

Set from a first person perspective, the game does allow you to experience a taster of the city, but only from the confines of the linear story arc; you aren’t free to wonder this wondrous metropolis like you could if you were actually there. I imagine the reality of such a place would be simply staggering, leaving you breathless at every turn.

When simply looking out the window is a magnificent experience, and assuming the place is filled with the greatest art, harmonious music and finest food, my only question is if you’d ever want to leave?

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I think eventually – and even with the greatest of distractions – the reality of living in a capsule under the sea would sink in. The urge to run free under the open sky, feeling the fresh air against my naked skin would eventually take over (even though the police have ordered me to stop doing that).

This Month In Gaming (March 2016)

Two games have dominated my free time in March – both of which are re-releases of games I’ve played in the past. The main one being Pokemon Yellow – which I’ve covered HERE – and the other being:

Gears of War Ultimate Edition

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Bro’s of war: The biggest bro-fest of them all. Civilisation is on its knees and it’s up to a team of hulking bro’s – humanities last hope – to save the day via the power of bro. Had this game of been any less bro though, I fear it may have missed the mark. I think it’s the fact that this game is so inescapably and unashamedly bro that makes it work. The time for democracy has passed and a dog eat dog world is all that remains: Luckily, our team of bro’s have both an insatiable appetite and very sharp teeth.

It’s hard to say how great of a remastering has been done, as I remember the original game was a bar setter when it came to graphical prowess. If there was any criticism in the past, it was usually around the lack of colour – as if a viva piñata palette would somehow of benefited the game? Thank fuck those cunts aren’t in game dev though, as the drab, washed-out colours are still perfectly befitting the world they’re trying to present here. The environments do look cleaner and sharper this time around; “fresh” – if you can really refer to a dystopia in such a way?

The gameplay has successfully stood the test of time without issue. It’s as solid as the golem-like characters themselves. Slamming into cover, kicking down doors and chainsawing enemies in half: it all feels as good now as it did then. It’s actually quite refreshing to play something so unapologetically macho as Gears again. Gears knows exactly what it’s trying to be and never fails to deliver. It doesn’t really do anything all that clever or unique – it just does it in such sold and polished way that it feels great.

If I have any niggles, they are minor. AI companions are…AI companions. I know we’re meant to be bro’s, but Dom tends to lean more towards “sack of spuds” than he does “useful team-mate”. His three specialities are 1)getting downed by enemies 2)getting in the fucking way and 3)blocking my line of fire. Down in front, bellend!

That aside, Gears is great and the Ultimate Edition is the Ultimate way to experience it. Well worth the bargain price it can be purchased for – even if it is money for old rope (a remaster).

TEH DRAMAZ

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It’s been an eventful month of gaming drama on social media. The firing of a Nintendo employee, attributed to “GamerGate”. The removal/changing of a characters “sexual” pose. The inclusion of a transsexual character. All stuff that has had the rage machine go into full overdrive.

I’m not going to comment on the specifics (or do them justice), because in some cases I simply don’t know them (no one really does) and in others, I don’t really care: they were complete non-issues. As a casual observer to these arguments, one thing always strikes me as ironic though, and that’s the double standards, hypocrisy and inconstancy in logic.

Years ago, a writer made some unfavourable comments about a female in the industry. They were deemed inappropriate and sexist, and he was let go by the publication he wrote for. This was seem by many as a great success.

Although not actually/even the official reason, it’s been suggested that unfavourable comments made by a Nintendo employee led to her recently being let go. This has been seen as a travesty by the same group?

Personally, I think taking offence at someone’s subjective comments on social media and using those comments to try and get them fired is always wrong. To celebrate this, is to celebrate the act of being a vicious, snide cunt. “Because you don’t like them” doesn’t make it OK.

The next example is even more ironic to me. A user of the steam forums complained about a characters pose. They didn’t think it was a good fit for the characters personality. The developer agreed and decided to change it. This changing of content was seen by many as pandering/censorship/something something ethics/crimes against artistic vision. Ok fine.

Only days later, people were upset about some of the content in Baldurs gate DLC. The way a transsexual character was represented, some lines of dialogue that looked to mock “GamerGate”, etc. There were cries about having this content removed/changed. Erm… pandering/censorship/something something ethics/crimes again artistic vision???

On day one you’re going to moan about “censorship” and how bad it is. Then, on day two, you’re going to cry out and demand some “censorship”? Which is it dude?

Of course, I am guilty here of applying these contradicting stances to largely amorphous groups. I can’t say all of group A said this one thing, then went ahead and contradicted themselves by saying this other thing. It is however, a quite easily observable phenomenon if you spend enough time on social media. One thing that I am sure of is, when it comes to online debates, there doesn’t seem to be any consistent use of logic, only a consistent use of feelings.

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.

 

Does Success In Gaming Make You Fail At Life?

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As you step out of your lovely suburban home today, inhabited by your beautiful wife and two well mannered children, before walking over to the gleaming SUV parked in the driveway, spare a thought for Dave. Dave, somewhat unwittingly, sacrificed all of those things and continues to do so, due to his passion for saving the world…which he’s done now twice…this week…from the comfort of his bedroom…where he lives with his parents…at the age of 40. Dave is no less of an achiever, or any less dedicated, but the fruits of his labour hold very little real world value, because they don’t take place there. Dave is a gamer.

Dave may well be a bit of an exaggeration (or not) and a stereotype, but does dedication to gaming contribute to under achieving in life, at least when compared to other pastimes? I say other past times because that is of course the obvious argument. If you spend an unhealthy amount of time doing anything that is not “real life” productive – watching TV for example – it has to impact on your capacity to be productive. It’s a simple, logical fact. You can’t spend 18 hours a day doing fuck all and expect to get anywhere. It’s not a gaming thing, it’s a work/life balance thing, and on that much I agree.

I think gaming differs in a couple of ways though, ways with make it an increased risk to under achieving. Firstly, I’d argue that gaming is more addictive than other forms of entertainment by design. These are products that are manufactured to keep you both playing and then paying, with drip fed downloadable content. Gamers tend to actively feed their addiction by seeking new games out, and then find it harder to put them down, when compared to more casual pastimes.

You then have the social interaction. There is only so much time a normal human being can spend on their own before they need to interact with other people. I vaguely remember reading a study once (or possibly just a theory) that stated: if placed in a room all alone, but with everything they desired, the average person would still want to leave within a day. Gamings online capabilities provide that vital interaction, making it a much more sustainable bubble.

I think the big danger with gaming though, and how it really can hinder your real life achievements, is by providing those achievements itself. I myself have saved multiple civilisations, won all manner of sporting championships and saved the same bloody princess for the last 3o fucking years. I’ve adventured across the highest mountains, plunged into the deepest seas and seen the furthest reaches of the galaxy. I am constantly doing amazing stuff and medium is constantly raising the bar. Had gaming not provided this fulfilment for me, there’s a good chance that void would need to be filled with other, more tangible, things.

I’ve always been aware that gaming is a diverse, time-consuming and very powerful medium, yet been ignorant of the potential for oppression that the power possesses. We’ve all played games where a slightly disconcerting counter displays the total time played and the value recorded states days. If gaming simply didn’t exist, the average gamer would recoup thousands upon thousands of hours. That is a lot of time, and you know what they say time is.

That is of course assuming you did go out and use that time more productively. If, due to the absence of gaming, you used that spare time to learn new skills and didn’t just watch more TV. If you then applied those skills in lucrative ways. If that resulted in a wife, kids and suburban home. If that is what success is. Which then brings it all back to the biggest if of them all.

If you did those things instead – if you were a success -would you actually be any happier than Dave?

Wicky-Wicky Wild Wild West

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Every once in a while in gaming the age old complaint about the prevalence of nasty men on the internet resurfaces in some form. It could be via a blog post that goes viral, some new study or, as with recently, a new BBC 3 video on the subject.

The medium may change, but the argument is always the same: the world of internet gaming is full of nasty men that will abuse you the second you enter into their dark realm/game lobby.

Whenever I listen to this bullshit two things always come to mind. Firstly, this complaint is about a decade out of date, and secondly, boy do I miss those cunts.

See, if you’re an OG of Online Gaming (an OGOG if you will) you’ll have been privy to the days when this image of the community was, in some ways, vaguely true. I’d argue that it’s never been as bad as people will have you believe, but it was certainly more a matter of when (and how frequently) you’d experience it, rather than if you’d experience it. If you gamed online back then you were going to run into one of these douche-bags sooner rather than later, and the games they inhabited seemed to be a little more clearly defined (Gears of war was a particularly bad cesspit).

This magical time in gaming was pre 2008 before the introduction of a little thing called party chat. Back then, services like Xbox Live really were the wild west of sexism, homophobia and general douche-bagery. Everyone had a mic, and very few were afraid to use them. Each time you entered a lobby, you didn’t know what you were going to hear. Sometimes it was smack talk, sometimes it was game chat, sometimes it was discussions about where people were from, but the key thing was, it was always people interacting.  Once party chat was released, everything changed. We all paired off into our little friendship circles and the general game chat died.

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If you fire up a game of battlefield tonight chances are you won’t get abused. You won’t get harassed. You won’t get like minded individuals discussing the loadouts on their M16 either. You won’t get anything. No one talks online any more. Well, not outside of party chat anyway. Most will see this as a good thing. There own safe spaces have been created to hide away in. Me, I miss the good/bad old days when randoms used to talk to each other. I’d tolerate the abusive arseholes because it’s much easier to click mute on an arsehole than it is to get everyone talking again. During all that talking, arguing, abusing and general banter enemies were made, but more importantly, friendships were forged. During these early years of Xbox Live I met people that went on to become some of my closest friends. This is something that I don’t think would be possible any more. Devoid of chat, the randoms I play online with now are little more that bots with better AI. I have no interest in befriending them.

I’m not arguing that online abuse doesn’t happen any more, that would be silly. But now that I find silent lobbies are the norm and have been for years, I struggle to recognise the portrayal of gaming that is being presented. I’m certainly not an advocate for online abuse either, and I appreciate that I’m of a demographic that got it less than others, but with the silent community that now exists, I can’t help wonder if more has been lost than has ever been gained.

This Month In Gaming (Feb 2016)

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For someone that starts many games and yet finishes very few, I’ve actually managed to complete three games in the last month. That might not mean much to you, but for me it’s quite an achievement. They were also all titles on the platform that time forgot/ignored: The Playstation Vita.

Grim Fandango

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I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that is so brilliant and yet so rubbish at the same time. See, Grim Fandango is a piece of pure creative excellence that is unfortunately coupled to game mechanics of pure dog shit. It’s an adventure game where you play as Manny, a grim reaper/sales man who’s job it is to guide recently departed souls and advise them on what travel package entitlement they have for their journey across the land of the dead to the ninth underworld. It’s all pretty off the wall stuff, and it’s packed with fittingly off the wall characters, locations and plot twists. All of which are some of the most interesting and memorable I’ve seen.

However, the archaic (although lets not forget this is a game from the 90’s) point ‘n’ click adventure style gameplay quickly becomes a chore. The puzzles aren’t very logical, so it becomes a case of trying every object on every bit of the environment, or simply turning to the internet. I soon found myself playing with one eye on the game, the other on a walk-through. This would generally be the part where I simply stop playing, but the fore mentioned brilliance of the story kept me compelled to finish it.

As I say, it’s a really odd one. A poor game to play, yet a great one to experience.

Fez

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It’s probably about the third time I’ve come back to this game, and finally it clicked. As I often say, I’m a very fickle gamer and I have to be in the right mood at the right time (bow chicka bow wow) for certain games. This time I obviously was because it not only clicked, it clicked hard. At first it comes across as a simple platformer with a neat perspective rotating mechanic – which it is – but there’s also a bit more going on beneath the surface. I think my initial stumbling block was that I was playing it as an A to B platformer, and then getting confused/lost with all the bloody doors. Once I started using the map properly, and unearthed what I was meant to be doing to progress, I found myself lost to it for hours.

I came to find that Fez has a very endearing charm to it. The mix of platforming and puzzle solving (with sometimes the levels themselves being rubix cube style puzzle-platformers) combined with the pleasant, vibrant visuals and enchanting soundtrack come together in such a way that I now understand why people rate the game as they do.

The final game of the three that I completed was Resogun. Although there is an ending of sorts, it’s still not really a game that you play for that. It’s arcadey nature – Defender on crack, if you will – make it a game that you really play for high scores more than anything else. A solid enough game that is fun to play, but still not quite up there with games like Luftrausers in my opinion.

Stupid is as stupid does

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And finally….being that I am not a fan of scary games, I intelligently decided that Alien Isolation would be a sensible purchase. I’m not sure what compelled me to buy it? Possibly the £10 price tag? Possibly because it generated a fair amount a hype? Possibly because I’m a moron? Anyway, it’s actually pretty good. I highly doubt I’ll compete it. My bravery only lasts about 20 minutes, so I pretty much turn it off every time I find the next save point. I do appreciate the pacing (lack thereof) and the atmosphere though. Few games dare to utilise those aspects in such a way like Alien Isolation does. I’m about two hours in and I’ve only seen a glimpse of the Alien once…in a cutscene. It’s actually a bit of a shame that I a) know I’m playing an Alien game and b) know what Alien is, because this game would be phenomenal to go into knowing nothing, other than what you’re presented with. It would be great to share in that mystery with Amanda (the person you play as) rather than secretly knowing what the deal is, before you actually know.

I may not be that far it, but it’s clear that the development team behind this one know exactly what it is that makes for a good “Alien” game and have nailed the execution precisely.