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Found 120 results

  1. Gameumentary is a gaming website that has been gaining some traction in recent months, but it really made a splash with the release of its first short documentary on the history of Runic Games. Their first foray into the world of video game documentaries is really impressive - and free! Their documentary keeps things brief, but to the point over the course of its 27-minute runtime. Gameumentary's mission statement tells the world that their goal is "to create a website that tackled modern games journalism from a new perspective, one that was wholly unique from what any other site was doing. We’re making a conscious choice to give our readers something entirely different than what they’re used to seeing." To that end, their Runic Games documentary focuses on the story of how Marsh Lefler managed to keep his team together after the collapse of Flagship Studios and create Torchlight. The aftermath of how Torchlight sold and what the studio did after that are equally fascinating. The documentary also heavily features gameplay and information about the studio's upcoming title Hob. Hob is an homage to The Legend of Zelda, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, and many others. It focuses on the adventures of a strange protagonist with a mechanical arm as it explores a strange world populated by bizarre and endearing creatures that exist alongside occult machinery. The documentary delves into the nitty gritty of game development like the art direction, sound design, and gameplay creation. This is the stuff that's rarely pushed out into the gaming world, so check it out if you have time. I heartily recommend it if you have a half-hour to spare. You can watch the documentary in its entirety below. While no release date has been given for Hob, the title will be hitting the PlayStation 4 and PC.
  2. Gameumentary is a gaming website that has been gaining some traction in recent months, but it really made a splash with the release of its first short documentary on the history of Runic Games. Their first foray into the world of video game documentaries is really impressive - and free! Their documentary keeps things brief, but to the point over the course of its 27-minute runtime. Gameumentary's mission statement tells the world that their goal is "to create a website that tackled modern games journalism from a new perspective, one that was wholly unique from what any other site was doing. We’re making a conscious choice to give our readers something entirely different than what they’re used to seeing." To that end, their Runic Games documentary focuses on the story of how Marsh Lefler managed to keep his team together after the collapse of Flagship Studios and create Torchlight. The aftermath of how Torchlight sold and what the studio did after that are equally fascinating. The documentary also heavily features gameplay and information about the studio's upcoming title Hob. Hob is an homage to The Legend of Zelda, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, and many others. It focuses on the adventures of a strange protagonist with a mechanical arm as it explores a strange world populated by bizarre and endearing creatures that exist alongside occult machinery. The documentary delves into the nitty gritty of game development like the art direction, sound design, and gameplay creation. This is the stuff that's rarely pushed out into the gaming world, so check it out if you have time. I heartily recommend it if you have a half-hour to spare. You can watch the documentary in its entirety below. While no release date has been given for Hob, the title will be hitting the PlayStation 4 and PC. View full article
  3. Hawk announced the new PlayStation 4 skateboarding title during Sony's CES keynote speech. As exciting as that announcement might be, there are no additional details about the game, not even a title. We know it will release this year and that it will come to PlayStation 4. There was no word on whether it will be exclusive to PS4, leaving open the possibility that Tony Hawk might make its way to other systems. Heck, we don't even know if it will be a downloadable or physical release. Some speculate that Activision and Sony have cut a marketing deal reminiscent of Destiny's Sony exclusive advertising. Of course, it is a bit too soon to jump to any conclusions with the limited information available. It's enough for now to know that Tony Hawk 2015 exists.
  4. until
    International Tabletop Day at Midgard Comics
  5. Extra Credits is an excellent YouTube channel run by people who work in the video game industry and like to share their knowledge and opinions with the wider world in concise, well-made videos. One of their series, Extra Frame, delves into the various facets of video game animation. In a recent episode, animator Daniel Floyd explains in great detail what might have gone wrong with Mass Effect: Andromeda's animation that led to such large public outcry against the facial animations, lip sync, and the recently patched eye issues. The veteran animator made it clear that the issue isn't just "bad animation is bad, make it better." Rather, it is a multifacted issue with a number of possible contributing factors - the failure of any one aspect could bring the rest crumbling down and lead to a visual mess. Floyd stresses that players must understand that animation can be done very differently in the video game business. Games like the Uncharted series often custom animate everything from the ground up, but they can do those bespoke animations because they only have to animate about 8 hours of total scenes or interactions. A project like Mass Effect can have upwards of 40 hours of animation to be done, and when you are on a schedule tackling that much work on a custom level becomes impossible. The demands of large-scale RPGs that requires animation that accounts for different player choices results in devs turning toward the use of algorithms. Some people in the gaming community have pointed their fingers as the algorithm approach as the culprit behind Andromeda's visual shortcomings, but that's not quite right, either. Many games use this approach to create baseline interactions that they can then further customize later on in the development cycle. Even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt made use of an algorithm to generate many of its more mundane interactions. So if it isn't the system, what exactly caused all the problems in Andromeda? Daniel Floyd speculates that any number of issues might have occurred. It could be bugs affecting the algorithm tags that are supposed to be telling the character models how to act. It could be that compressing the files to fit on a disc or online for release resulted in a garbling the animation data. It also might not have anything to do with the algorithm at all. Mass Effect: Andromeda makes use of EA's Frostbite engine while the previous Mass Effect series was done completely in modified versions of Unreal Engine 3. Switching engines is always a pretty tricky task for any developer. All the assets and systems used in the old engine no longer apply. To create a new Mass Effect in a new engine required BioWare to start from scratch when it came to their assets and animation. Floyd points out that BioWare already had some experience with Frostbite from Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the new engine might still have presented a significant stumbling block for the development team for a Mass Effect game. Floyd takes time to mention Johnathan Cooper, an ex-BioWare animator, who gave a brief analysis of Andromeda's animation kerfuffle. Cooper explains that, essentially, the gaming audience has become more discerning. Gamers have access to easy sharing tools and game capture and are able to share goofs and slip-ups more easily than ever before. That combines with what Cooper believes to be an overly ambitious and overly confident development team that thought they could go back and tune all the animations by hand (which definitely proved not to be the case in the finished product). These problems could have been eliminated or alleviated with more development time, more money, or a more reigned-in scope for Andromeda. The tools are likely all there to have shipped Andromeda with some fantastic animation, but the visition and expectations of the development team would have needed to be different. Floyd closes out the video with a quote we should all keep in mind going forward as a way to reign in our expectations and our anger when something we love doesn't quite turn out to be as great as we'd hoped: "Game development is just like this sometimes. You set out to do a new thing that you've never tried before or you try to do an old thing in a more ambitious, new way. You plan it as best you can. Sometimes it works out great, but other times things go wrong - you run into problems you could have never predicted. Before you know it your plan has gone awry and you have no way to fix it before the deadline and it just sucks." I'd be willing to bet there will be some interesting postmortem interviews on Mass Effect: Andromeda's development released in the coming years. For now, let's enjoy what we have and perhaps coming patches and DLC can bring Andromeda more in line with BioWare's grand vision.
  6. Extra Credits is an excellent YouTube channel run by people who work in the video game industry and like to share their knowledge and opinions with the wider world in concise, well-made videos. One of their series, Extra Frame, delves into the various facets of video game animation. In a recent episode, animator Daniel Floyd explains in great detail what might have gone wrong with Mass Effect: Andromeda's animation that led to such large public outcry against the facial animations, lip sync, and the recently patched eye issues. The veteran animator made it clear that the issue isn't just "bad animation is bad, make it better." Rather, it is a multifacted issue with a number of possible contributing factors - the failure of any one aspect could bring the rest crumbling down and lead to a visual mess. Floyd stresses that players must understand that animation can be done very differently in the video game business. Games like the Uncharted series often custom animate everything from the ground up, but they can do those bespoke animations because they only have to animate about 8 hours of total scenes or interactions. A project like Mass Effect can have upwards of 40 hours of animation to be done, and when you are on a schedule tackling that much work on a custom level becomes impossible. The demands of large-scale RPGs that requires animation that accounts for different player choices results in devs turning toward the use of algorithms. Some people in the gaming community have pointed their fingers as the algorithm approach as the culprit behind Andromeda's visual shortcomings, but that's not quite right, either. Many games use this approach to create baseline interactions that they can then further customize later on in the development cycle. Even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt made use of an algorithm to generate many of its more mundane interactions. So if it isn't the system, what exactly caused all the problems in Andromeda? Daniel Floyd speculates that any number of issues might have occurred. It could be bugs affecting the algorithm tags that are supposed to be telling the character models how to act. It could be that compressing the files to fit on a disc or online for release resulted in a garbling the animation data. It also might not have anything to do with the algorithm at all. Mass Effect: Andromeda makes use of EA's Frostbite engine while the previous Mass Effect series was done completely in modified versions of Unreal Engine 3. Switching engines is always a pretty tricky task for any developer. All the assets and systems used in the old engine no longer apply. To create a new Mass Effect in a new engine required BioWare to start from scratch when it came to their assets and animation. Floyd points out that BioWare already had some experience with Frostbite from Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the new engine might still have presented a significant stumbling block for the development team for a Mass Effect game. Floyd takes time to mention Johnathan Cooper, an ex-BioWare animator, who gave a brief analysis of Andromeda's animation kerfuffle. Cooper explains that, essentially, the gaming audience has become more discerning. Gamers have access to easy sharing tools and game capture and are able to share goofs and slip-ups more easily than ever before. That combines with what Cooper believes to be an overly ambitious and overly confident development team that thought they could go back and tune all the animations by hand (which definitely proved not to be the case in the finished product). These problems could have been eliminated or alleviated with more development time, more money, or a more reigned-in scope for Andromeda. The tools are likely all there to have shipped Andromeda with some fantastic animation, but the visition and expectations of the development team would have needed to be different. Floyd closes out the video with a quote we should all keep in mind going forward as a way to reign in our expectations and our anger when something we love doesn't quite turn out to be as great as we'd hoped: "Game development is just like this sometimes. You set out to do a new thing that you've never tried before or you try to do an old thing in a more ambitious, new way. You plan it as best you can. Sometimes it works out great, but other times things go wrong - you run into problems you could have never predicted. Before you know it your plan has gone awry and you have no way to fix it before the deadline and it just sucks." I'd be willing to bet there will be some interesting postmortem interviews on Mass Effect: Andromeda's development released in the coming years. For now, let's enjoy what we have and perhaps coming patches and DLC can bring Andromeda more in line with BioWare's grand vision. View full article
  7. Hey guys! Our little RVA Guild just keeps growing and growing!!!! I find one of the best ways to get to know someone is by talking about something they like... and since we're all already part of Extra Life... an easy topic is VIDEO GAMES!!! So let's introduce ourselves and give a quick blurb about what our favorite video game is and why!!! To kick things off: My name is Jillian Ryan, I'm the EL RVA Guild President My favorite game of all time (it's hard to pick!) is Chrono Trigger (all variations!). It was the first game to ever make me tear up and the story will stick with me forever! Also amazing music and great graphics!
  8. until
    DAY/TIME POSITION NAME FRI 3-9 LEADER Angela DiMare @aradiadarling SAT 9-2 LEADER Angela DiMare @aradiadarling SAT 9-2 SUPPORT David DiMare SAT 1-6 LEADER Greg Harris-Jones@Serolis SAT 1-6 SUPPORT Amelia Ott @Oporotheca SUN 9-2 LEADER Danielle Standring @DMo2TheMax SUN 9-2 SUPPORT Angela DiMare @aradiadarling SUN 2-6 LEADER Greg Harris-Jones @Serolis SUN 2-6 SUPPORT Amelia Ott @Oporotheca
  9. Bandai Namco has announced that a new Godzilla game will be rampaging to PS3 and PS4 next year. The new game starring the terror of Tokyo will include appearances by many of Godzilla's familiar enemies, like King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Mechagodzilla. Other than that, this game looks a bit perplexing. Apparently players will control Godzilla with the goal of trampling through cities and foes to destroy Energy Generators and collect G-Energy. All of this will be done with a "Movie-Style Camera Angle System" which sounds like something a vengeful camera god would come up with scourge the lands with confusing camera controls. Whatever the case, I do enjoy the humorous take on the game in the trailer, which might be a good indication that the game won't take itself too seriously. I'm probably in the minority of people who will definitely be looking forward to whatever weird concoction of gameplay Godzilla ends up being.
  10. until
    DAY TIME POSITION NAME ROLE FRI 12-6 LEADER Shawn Todd LEAD/PITCH FRI 12-6 VOLUNTEER Angela -DiMare Messier GREET FRI 12-6 VOLUNTEER Gregory Harris- Jones @Serolis PITCH FRI 12-6 VOLUNTEER CONSOLE SUPPORT SAT 9-2 LEADER Danielle Standring @DMo2TheMax LEAD/PITCH SAT 9-2 VOLUNTEER Rebecca Ash GREET SAT 9-2 VOLUNTEER Javier Para @Javier PITCH SAT 9-2 VOLUNTEER Sam @quitecrazy PITCH SAT 9-2 VOLUNTEER CONSOLE SUPPORT SAT 1-6 LEADER Angela DiMare-Messier @aradiadarling LEAD/PITCH SAT 1-6 VOLUNTEER Gregory Harris- Jones @Serolis GREET SAT 1-6 VOLUNTEER Kris Waterman PITCH SAT 1-6 VOLUNTEER David Kinghorn @Robop1g PITCH SAT 1-6 VOLUNTEER David DiMare-Messier CONSOLE SUPPORT SUN 9-2 LEADER Eric Richburg @PotatoTaco LEAD/PITCH SUN 9-2 VOLUNTEER Ana Richburg GREET SUN 9-2 VOLUNTEER John Gillis (Precision Gaming) PITCH SUN 9-2 VOLUNTEER Gregory Harris-Jones @Serolis PITCH SUN 9-2 VOLUNTEER Allen Chamberland @alleenc CONSOLE SUPPORT SUN 1-6 LEADER Angela DiMare @aradiadarling LEAD/PITCH SUN 1-6 VOLUNTEER Rebecca Strauss @BeccaCora GREET SUN 1-6 VOLUNTEER Simon Strauss @kineticmedic PITCH SUN 1-6 VOLUNTEER Christine Reale-Strauss PITCH SUN 1-6 VOLUNTEER David DiMare CONSOLE SUPPORT
  11. until
    We are offically in for this show. SAT 9-2 Leader Danielle Standring @DMo2TheMax SAT All Leader Angela DiMare-Messier @aradiadarling SAT All Volunteer David DiMare-Messier SUN 9-2 Leader SUN 9-2 Volunteer David Kinghorn @Robop1g SUN 1-6 Leader SUN 1-6 Volunteer Simon Strauss @kineticmedic
  12. There was a bit of confusion over the weekend when Target was spotted dropping ball on the surprise announcement of the sneaky follow up to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The leak contained everything from game bundles to the release date. Warner Bros. officially announced the sequel to Shadow of Mordor today and confirmed basically everything in the Target leak was accurate. The second game, titled Middle-earth: Shadow of War, has been developed by the same team at Monolith Productions that crafted the first entry in the budding series. It continues the adventures of Talion, the lone ranger who swore vengeance for the death of his family in Shadow of Mordor. The trailer for Shadow of War seems to show Talion and his Elven wraith ally forging a new ring of power in the heart of Mount Doom itself as Sauron marshals his forces in earnest against the world of men. New enemies unique to the game are shown joining Sauron's ranks alongside favorites like the Nazgûl. And, yes, at the end of the trailer your eyes did not deceive you: That was indeed a fully armored Balrog of Morgoth ready for war. Not going to lie, I personally had a good nerd out over that moment. Middle-earth: Shadow of War releases on August 22 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. A gameplay demonstration has also been scheduled for March 8, so keep your eyes ready for that reveal.
  13. There was a bit of confusion over the weekend when Target was spotted dropping ball on the surprise announcement of the sneaky follow up to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The leak contained everything from game bundles to the release date. Warner Bros. officially announced the sequel to Shadow of Mordor today and confirmed basically everything in the Target leak was accurate. The second game, titled Middle-earth: Shadow of War, has been developed by the same team at Monolith Productions that crafted the first entry in the budding series. It continues the adventures of Talion, the lone ranger who swore vengeance for the death of his family in Shadow of Mordor. The trailer for Shadow of War seems to show Talion and his Elven wraith ally forging a new ring of power in the heart of Mount Doom itself as Sauron marshals his forces in earnest against the world of men. New enemies unique to the game are shown joining Sauron's ranks alongside favorites like the Nazgûl. And, yes, at the end of the trailer your eyes did not deceive you: That was indeed a fully armored Balrog of Morgoth ready for war. Not going to lie, I personally had a good nerd out over that moment. Middle-earth: Shadow of War releases on August 22 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. A gameplay demonstration has also been scheduled for March 8, so keep your eyes ready for that reveal. View full article
  14. Anime Boston Calendar Event Once again, we have space at Anime Boston. We can have all hands on deck, as many badges as we need. So volunteer away. I set only so many shifts, but on Saturday, we can never have too many people. Comes with a weekend badge to AB.
  15. Supermegafest Calendar Event And just like that we have another confirmed event. Supemegafest 4/7-4/9/2017 Shifts and schedule are up for Sat and Sun. I will go out and set up on Friday and man the table that evening if anyone wants to join me. We will be going with the table top/non powered edition, seeing that the area that the comp tables are in are usually not powered and thankfully due to some other outside forces, we we able to finagle power last time, but don't want to push our luck this time. So this con we will highlight the table top/card/dice game possibilities for Extra Life.
  16. Northeast Comic Con Calendar Event Volunteer Shifts are up and awaiting..
  17. until
    DAY TIME POSITION NAME ROLE FRI 9-2 Leader Eric Richburg @PotatoTaco LEAD FRI 9-2 Volunteer Luis Cardona @The Guat CONSOLE SUPPORT FRI 9-2 Volunteer Merissa Johnson @Merissa PITCH FRI 9-2 Volunteer David Kinghorn @Robop1g PITCH FRI 1-6 Leader Angela DiMare @aradiadarling LEAD FRI 1-6 Volunteer David DiMare CONSOLE SUPPORT FRI 1-6 Volunteer Emma McGowan PITCH FRI 1-6 Volunteer Patrick McGowan PITCH SAT 9-2 Leader Danielle Standring @DMo2TheMax LEAD SAT 9-2 Volunteer Melissa @thats_spinach PITCH SAT 9-2 Volunteer Jessica Selberg @SassyJ PITCH SAT 9-2 Volunteer Kerry Selberg @KriptiKFate CONSOLE SUPPORT SAT 1-6 Leader Angela DiMare @aradiadarling LEAD SAT 1-6 Volunteer David DiMare CONSOLE SUPPORT SAT 1-6 Volunteer Grace Taverna PITCH SAT 1-6 Volunteer Todd Standring PITCH SUN 9-2 Leader Danielle Standring @DMo2TheMax LEAD SUN 9-2 Volunteer Todd Standring PITCH SUN 9-2 Volunteer Sam MacDonald CONSOLE SUPPORT SUN 9-2 Volunteer Merissa Johnson @Merissa PITCH SUN 1-6 Leader Melissa @thats_spinach LEAD SUN 1-6 Volunteer Greg Harris-Jones @Serolis PITCH SUN 1-6 Volunteer Amelia Ott @Oporotheca CONSOLE SUPPORT SUN 1-6 Volunteer Maya Gagne PITCH
  18. We've covered a lot of games after fifty episodes of this podcast (and a number of fun honorable mentions and extra mini-sodes). Since we are hitting a podcasting milestone, we figured it would be a good opportunity to look back and re-evaluate some of the games we once praised and choose one to kick out of our arbitrary, growing video game canon. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the first of our deathmatch episodes! MUAHAHAHA! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Donkey Kong Country 'High Tide' by FoxyPanda (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03327) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  19. We've covered a lot of games after fifty episodes of this podcast (and a number of fun honorable mentions and extra mini-sodes). Since we are hitting a podcasting milestone, we figured it would be a good opportunity to look back and re-evaluate some of the games we once praised and choose one to kick out of our arbitrary, growing video game canon. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the first of our deathmatch episodes! MUAHAHAHA! Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Donkey Kong Country 'High Tide' by FoxyPanda (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03327) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  20. For those that don’t know, the last few weeks have been rough in the video game industry. Developers and critics have been harassed and threatened to the point that they have had to flee their homes or leave the industry entirely. A bomb threat was called on a flight carrying the president of Sony Online Entertainment. A campaign of harassment has continued at unprecedented levels and has disturbingly seemed to target women. There hasn’t been a day that goes by in the last three weeks that I haven’t looked at my Twitter feed and seen another industry person accused of wrongdoing and sent hundreds of awful messages containing the worst examples of language, intent, and malice. There is no winning scenario against such an onslaught of hatred. Fighting it makes it worse. You can’t reason with it because it is like a hydra; even if you convince one or two people that they’re mistaken several more are ready to go for your jugular. Both the people who write about games and the people who make them, especially the people with smaller outlets or who have gone the independent route, rely heavily on social media, it is a key tool that’s necessary for doing their jobs and paying their bills, something that many in the industry struggle to do. In reaction to this ongoing behavior, a number of game critics and writers declared that the term “gamer” was dead, rotten to the core, or broken beyond repair. This had the effect of further alienating their audience. Those who had been participating in the campaigns of harassment felt justified in striking back at the industry that they felt had tried to disown them, while the majority of people who identify as gamers felt unfairly labeled as people who accept and participate in hateful behavior. There are a number of great articles on the subject that I found to be helpful when trying to make sense of this entire situation and perhaps they can be helpful to you all as well. Devin Faraci over on Badass Digest, Jim Sterling on the Escapist, and Keith Stuart at The Guardian. As for what I think about the whole affair… well, it genuinely makes me feel very sad. It seems to me that the core argument of the harassers is that the majority of games journalism and developers are corrupt and trying to in some way enrich themselves. I am in a position to know that many of the allegations of corruption aren’t correct. Sure, out there in the wide world it must happen, but most game journalists and critics get paid in beans. They do it because they love games and find them to be exceedingly interesting. Most indie devs aren’t in the business for the money, either. As anecdote to illustrate my point, a few months ago a gaming podcast I record on the side had on a member of the startup indie studio Tangentlemen as a guest. Their studio was working out of a garage and their financials were on the line. These were people that had worked at big studios and they gave up that life to work on games about which they thought were important. The people being targeted with harassment and accusations of corruption can’t afford to be corrupt because they are already paying the price of wanting to either write about games or make them without the backing of major publishers. Many of the people in this line of work could be very successful, but they choose to put their talent to work for a fraction of what they could make elsewhere because they love games. I also find it alarming that so many of the people targeted have been female indie developers. Given that the games industry is mostly populated with men, it is disturbing to see that the brunt of the harassment has been experienced by women. Not only do these targets tend to be women, but they also have tended to be indie developers who have turned to services like Patreon or Kickstarter for financial support, making them more vulnerable than people who are a part of established organizations like EA, Activision, etc. I feel like that’s more than a bit telling that our industry still has a long ways to go when it comes to how women are treated both in-game and in the real world. The entire situation isn’t right. A small portion of the gaming community has been harassing developers, critics, and journalists for weeks, which has spurred some games journalists into defensively lashing out at the entire community. Naturally, this all begins to look like something that could become an ongoing cycle of ugliness. I believe that the journalists saying that the term “gamer” is dead are wrong. The word is widely used in the community to describe someone who enjoys playing video games. It might not be the most logical word (after all, how often are people who watch movies referred to as moviers or people who enjoy books called bookers?), but it is a useful word. The English language is one that prioritizes usefulness over logic; one of the reasons why our grammar is so strange and there are so many exceptions to rules and strange pronunciations. “Gamer” will be around as long as it continues to be useful as a descriptor and a cultural identifier. However, there is a slight catch. Every word has both a denotation, which is its literal definition, and a connotation, which is the spirit of the word or the ideas and feeling that the word invokes. Denotations tend to remain somewhat static, while connotations can change rapidly over time. The term for this shift in meaning is called semantic change. There are many words that originally had positive and useful applications, but later became unacceptable. If a small segment of the gaming community continues to harass developers there is the possibility that the word “gamer” could come to have negative connotations. I think it is probably very easy to poison a word when a group of individuals associated with it are broadcasting awful things to the world in a very public manner. I am sitting here and I don’t know what to do. I get on Twitter and see people like Jenn Frank leaving the industry because their years of passionate work is being rewarded with torrents of awful comments. I’m seeing some of the most interesting game makers and writers out there leaving an industry because a small group of people has decided that they are corrupt or a jerk or are in some way a threat. It makes me mad. It makes me sad. I want to open my window and shout down the street about how unfair the situation has become. But being mad or sad or shouting or complaining will actually fix the problem. Perhaps this so called “Gamergate” is symptomatic of the growing pains that the games industry needs to go through before coming more fully into its own. I think that’s a possibility. It is also possible that this isn’t an issue that will just go away in time. I think that what I said two weeks ago still holds true: Be excellent to each other. With all your might, be excellent to each other. When you see people harassing an individual over social media, speak up for what is right. Discussion is great and criticism is encouraged, but hate speech, threats, abuse, and baseless accusations aren’t either of those things. Always remember that it is okay to disagree with someone while still showing them a modicum of respect and human decency. To anyone who might be participating in the harassment, remember that you are heaping an abuse on actual, living people. If you have a shred of empathy or good in you, please stop. After all of this, I want to talk about the things that brings game journalists, developers, critics, and gamers together: Games. While the present state of the industry and its community might appear to be foul, the prospects on the horizon fill me with hopeful anticipation. Technology that several years ago could only be dreamed of is slowly becoming a reality. Thinking of the possibilities inherent in video games and how the technology could broaden their scope reminded me this week of why I love writing about video games in the first place. I thought I’d share a few of the technologies that gave me new hope. Project Holodeck is basically a full-body virtual experience, or at least an attempt at one, aiming to have a feeling similar to the holodeck popularized by Star Trek. It consists of an Oculus Rift headset, a PlayStation Move, a Razer Hydra, and a Lenovo laptop attached to players’ backs. While the necessary equipment for Project Holodeck looks goofy on players, it is important to remember that the technology is still in its infancy. While the graphical quality of the demos that have been revealed so far is a bit underwhelming, the proof of concept is amazingly attractive. If a group of student developers could create something like that, what could an entire studio do? As rough as the tech appears and as silly as the VR equipment looks, it does actually work. That fact alone is enough to make me smile at the possibilities. Also it doesn’t hurt that their original concept video showcased Skies of Arcadia, one of my all-time favorite RPGs. Another piece of technology that has yet to be fully explored in the realm of gaming is Leap Motion. Created as a gesture-based interface for computers, the $80 sensor tracks hand movements with astounding accuracy. While the initial peripheral released last year to a somewhat lukewarm response, it was recently revealed that there are plans to use Leap Motion tech alongside Oculus Rift. Basically, it would allow the VR headset to read hand gestures and track their movement before they moved into player view, expanding peripheral vision. It could also be used to perform simple tasks like picking up objects, opening doors, etc. in a way that is much more accurate than what the Kinect or Wii were able to accomplish. Something else to think about is the Oculus Rift and other VR headsets like Sony’s Project Morpheus. Those are on their way, too! Regardless of whether you think the “gamer” is dead or still alive and kicking or if you are a journalist or just a normal person who plays games, this is exciting. It could be like the invention of talkies in film or the step into the realm of color projection. It is a big deal and it is coming no matter the outcome of our industry’s current dust-up. To me, that is something of a comfort. The idea that we could soon be fully immersed in digital spaces is insanely exciting and just thinking about the opportunities to tell narratives in that form is so dang cool. Then there are the technologies that are a bit further out there. Augmented reality games that place digital creations in the real world might seem like a fantasy, but how many of you got excited at the prospect of a Pokémon game in the real world when Google Maps did their April Fools joke this year? Can we all just take a minute to imagine how unbelievably rad that would be? I just used the word rad to describe something, which speaks to the amazing potential of AR games. Right now, AR seems to be relegated to the realm of side-show oddity or relegated to apps. The 3DS has the ability to produce AR games, but not many people seem to be in the business of making AR games. If anything, the nearly 16,000,000 views and 120,000 likes that Google’s Pokémon AR goof has received is enough to show that there is definitely an untapped interest in similar experiences. All I know is that if something like this was actually made, I would finally go outside and see that “sunlight” thing that everyone keep yammering on about. Finally, we get to one of my most anticipated pieces of technology that makes me look forward to the future of gaming. Four years ago, there was an Australian based company called Euclideon appeared. Euclideon claimed that had created a way to abandon polygons and increase visual fidelity to near infinite levels of detail without even taxing a traditional graphics card. After making the claim, the company went silent for more than a year, which caused many to shrug and assume it was some sort of scam. However, when Euclideon reemerged and broke its silence, it released a tech demo for an engine it called the Unlimited Detail engine. UD was supposedly a new way to generate visuals. Euclideon claimed that it used a search algorithm for each pixel on the screen and in this way it was able to create levels of detail so minute that individual grains of dirt could be zoomed into in real time. To give everyone a reference point, they converted the atoms of their tech demo into polygons. They claimed that every cubic meter of dirt was composed of over 15,000,000 converted polygons, which is more than the total number of polygons in any game at that time that didn’t use procedural generation. The bottom line was that Euclideon claimed that their Unlimited Detail engine could improve the graphical quality by a factor of around 100,000. Despite the tech demo, many dismissed Euclideon’s claims as impossible. Once again the company fell silent. Last year, they resurfaced again, but not in the world of gaming. It turns out that the geospatial industry makes use of large amounts of data and has trouble rendering it all quickly and efficiently. It normally takes about a half an hour for a computer with sixty gigabytes of RAM to render ten billion points of data. Euclideon’s geospatial program that makes use of their Unlimited Detail engine demonstrates the ability to render twenty billion points in 0.8 seconds. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. It can do this off of a USB 2.0 stick. It can shift into 3D. It is flippin’ incredible! You might be thinking, “that’s great, but a laser scanned map doesn’t seem much like a video game thing. Does working on a program for geospatial companies mean Euclideon has abandoned gaming forever?” That doesn’t seem to be likely. There is a video floating around the internet that was posted last year shortly before Euclideon’s geospatial program was announced when an Australian student visited Euclideon to tour their facility and interview CEO Bruce Dell. The tour shows the company working on creating animation models and game creation tools for developers. Some employees who were let go have also said that the technology does indeed work. In the interview with Dell, the CEO explains why no games have been made with their engine. It was a bad time for us for computer games. The current consoles are ending (the interview was done before the release dates and prices for the PS4 and Xbox One were announced last year), not enough time for us to make the software development kit and for companies to make games. We had a few joint projects that we just plainly had to turn down saying, “it doesn’t work for us right now to make the SDK for the existing consoles.” They’ve lasted longer than we’d thought, no one was quite sure when the next Xbox and the next PlayStation was about to come out and we’d been dragging on for two years now and we thought we really couldn’t take that risk and it is too early to prepare for the next ones, so it is a bit of a problem right now for people going into the game engine business. We decided that we will come back to games, and we are doing things regarding games here, but that’s a surprise for the future, but we decided that we should go into another industry temporarily. I know it is probably wise to take Euclideon’s claims with caution. However, I can’t help but watch the tech demos and interviews with the company that have cropped up over the years and feel myself growing more excited. Many people claim that Euclideon can’t actually make games with their engine, that interacting with the environment would be too much for any computer to process, that animating with such a system would be a nightmare, etc. Despite those logical reasons, I just can’t find it in myself to dismiss Euclideon’s claims. I’ve seen nothing that proves their claims are false, just that what they claim to have done has never been accomplished before. If their incredible assertions are real, something that is given more credence given their application of it in the geospatial industry, this will change the face of gaming technology forever. All of this is to say that, yes, the industry is in a rough patch right now and that makes it is easier to lose sight of some of the more exciting possibilities that the future has in store. We could be seeing games that run on computers with a fraction of the RAM they currently require. Heck, we could see high-end games begin played on our phones. Technology that allows us to grasp virtual objects while fully tracking our movements. Digital creations invading the physical world. These are just a few examples of the technologies on which our future games will rely. What will those games look like? What sorts of narratives will they tell? Where will they take us? How will they change the world? These are things worth anticipating. Ultimately, we all play video games because we enjoy video games. Many of us feel that they’re important to our lives. That goes for gamers, journalists, and critics. We are all in the same boat. No one in the industry deserves to be harassed out of their homes or jobs and as game critics and journalists my colleagues and I shouldn’t be painting their entire readership with the same brush as those participating in the harassment. When we attack each other, we’re drilling holes in our own boat and that doesn’t help anyone. The only way forward is by being excellent to each other, respecting one another even in disagreement, and bonding together through a mutual passion. Video game industry and community, the present might seem to be mired in muck and vitriol, but the future holds fantastic promises.
  21. until
    Place holder for CAPE
  22. I've given years of my life to writing about video games. When I was little and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always responded "I want to be a game designer!" It turned out later that I was terrible at learning how to code, so I decided I'd write about them instead. When I say that I've wanted to work in this industry my entire life - that it has been my dream - please believe me. Now imagine how heart-crushing it is for me to say that I feel deeply disappointed and saddened to be a part of the video game industry after the events of this past week. I believe that Extra Life is one of the most positive video game communities out there and a real force for good in the video game industry, the wider video game community, and for people who have no relationship with video games whatsoever. That force for good is what I want to address right now, because I think that to remain silent on this issue would be a tacit acceptance of deplorable behavior. Video game community, we have a problem. The past seven days have been eye-opening for anyone who watches the game industry closely. I will not get into the nitty-gritty details of events because those aren't what I want to discuss. Essentially Zoe Quinn, the indie developer of Depression Quest, became the target of a campaign of hatred which began because of sordid accusations that she traded favors with Nathan Grayson, a writer at Kotaku, for favorable coverage; a claim that has since been refuted by Stephen Totilo, the Editor in Chief of Kotaku. However, simply because the accusations were made, harassment began to flow into Quinn's twitter feed and inbox. Video game "fans" sent her threats and insults. People who profess to love video games stole personal information and shared her home address and nude photos on the internet. There is more; the attack went on for days, but you begin to understand. In the face of all of that ugliness, Zoe Quinn stood her ground. The more hopeful among you might think that this is where things end. You might assume that the mob of anger eventually accepted that a grown woman like Quinn could have a romantic relationship with someone in a field of work similar to her own. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Someone professing to be one of the leaders of both Anonymous and 4Chan, essentially declared a cyber war on Zoe Quinn and anyone of her professional acquaintances who might support her. Quinn's sites were hijacked and riddled with viruses. The contact information from her Skype was used to infiltrate other developer's personal computers as well. Notably, Phil Fish, the outspoken creator of Fez, was hacked. All of his personal information, as well as the information of his development company, Polytron, was spread across the internet. His site was hacked to better spread viruses and his information. It was a straightforward attempt to ruin him personally, professionally, and financially for the crime of being friends with Zoe Quinn and speaking up on her behalf on Twitter. In this situation, as in most others, I find myself asking why. Why are people attacking and attempting to destroy the developers who make the things that they claim to love so much? After giving it a fair amount of thought, I believe the answer is that there is no one reason that motivates so many people to lash out. Each person who is participating in these attacks does so because they think that it is a statement against what they see as corrupt video game journalism or because they didn't like Depression Quest or because they felt that what Quinn did in her private life as morally wrong. Or - or - or - or - or, there is no end to the mental gymnastics that go on to justify each individual saying something horrible from the cover of internet anonymity. One of the strangest parts of this whole ordeal is that many people simply believed Quinn's initial accuser and then assumed that Quinn and her developer friends were creating a conspiracy of victimization via staged hackings. But those rationalizations only apply to Zoe Quinn's situation. Why does it seem like the gaming community more than, say, the community of people who are passionate about film, seem to be prone to this sort of outrage? We've seen it aimed at David Vonderhaar, Anita Sarkeesian, Jennifer Hepler, Adam Orth, and Stephen Toulouse. We've seen the video game community assure that EA was known as 'The Worst Company In America' for two years in a row. People at BioWare received death threats over the ending of Mass Effect 3. Heck, these are only the incidents we know about from people in the industry who are willing to discuss the topic. Some people are fearful about revealing their identities to talk about the harassment they experience because it can always get worse. I could keep listing examples, but this is all nothing new. It has been going on for years. It is painfully obvious that this kind of behavior, this mass of vitriolic virtual hate, should be completely unacceptable. Yet the reactions I see from commenters and forum posters on various sites seem to be ones of apathy or of finding enjoyment in the spectacle, as if these attacks have nothing to do with the people standing on the sidelines. Many point to a 'vocal minority' as some sort of mysterious and elusive culprit behind these attacks, as if that somehow makes hundreds of personal attacks each day better. Who greets that vocal minority with silence and allows that kind of ugliness to fester? Others claim that there is some sort of formula where Developer X says Y and earns response Z, which makes developers the ones at fault for bringing the harassment upon themselves. However looking at the examples in the previous paragraph, very few made what could be considered incendiary statements. For crying out loud, David Vonderhaar changed the stats on a digital gun and received hundreds of threats. Was it really his fault for doing his job balancing Call of Duty? The aggressors are at fault in almost every case and yet the wider gaming community has come to accept this sort of behavior as par for the course. We either sit silent or reach for the popcorn bucket. Personally, I've reached my limit break for sitting silent and accepting a mob mentality ruling the game industry. The real issue, the one that exists underneath all of the hateful things that are being said, is that we have forgotten the importance of respect. Look no farther than YouTube comments or most comments sections at all for that matter. We don't know how to talk with each other without slinging insults at each other. We have forgotten that it is okay to dislike someone or be angry or bitter without lashing out. It is the difference between a reaction and a response. We have become an internet culture that finds it acceptable to merely react like an animal, rather than respond like a human being. A reaction is immediate and emotional, while a response is considerate and rational. The instant we resort to name calling, insults, or belittling we have give into reaction and lost the argument by virtue of having nothing else of value to say. This is not what Extra Life is about. Everything about Extra Life is for the kids. As a result of that core focus, I believe that Extra Life has one of the most loving, caring, and genuinely respectful communities in the gaming space. I know that we already ask all of you to give what you can to support Extra Life, but I'd like to ask one more thing from all of you. Take the values that you share as a community and demonstrate them in whatever other online groups in which you take part. Maybe this isn't the best solution, maybe it seems a bit trite or saccharine, but I think it is better than saying nothing at all or fighting hatred with more hate. Let's just be excellent to each other.
  23. Today I was going to write about gamescom reveals and do my best to leave the hulking shadow in the room untouched. The universe, it seems, had other plans for me. An odd confluence of events left me without power, giving me several hours to type this up on the battery life afforded to me by my laptop. So, the issue I’ve been doing my best to avoid for the last 24 hours begins to come front and center. Since I started writing for Extra Life over a year ago, I’ve been committed to making it a positive space free of the cynicism and spiraling negativity I see elsewhere on the internet. I’ve probably slipped up on more than a few occasions, but that has always been my goal. With that in mind, it is time to tackle the topic that has been heavy on my heart and mind since yesterday evening: Suicide. That might not seem like the most positive of subjects, but I think it is one that does more harm than good when left unaddressed and ignored. By now you have probably heard that the beloved comedian, Robin Williams, has reportedly taken his own life. When I heard the news, I thought it was a joke, because it made no sense. He seemed like such a happy, funny, hopeful individual that exuded charm and affection like some sort of genetically enhanced super soldier of happiness. To me, just seeing him in a movie was enough to feel the comedy equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket. That someone like that could take their own life seems ludicrous, right? Immediately after being momentarily incredulous, I realized that it made all the sense in the world. Some of the most miserable people in the world appear to be doing fine. They laugh, cry, smile, etc. Sometimes it is genuine; often it is just an act. I kicked myself for even disbelieving for a few seconds, for falling into the trap of “but he seemed so happy and funny, and he had everything going for him.” I should have known better; I have firsthand experience with how miserable someone can be without showing outward signs. In school, I was the kid that others decided to hate for little to no reason. When one of your peers tells you that he’s going to have his brother come and kill you the next day or another tells you he hates you because you smile too much… well, those are things that stick with you. I got really low during those years, but I wanted so much to be liked that I never showed that side of myself to anyone, because how could anyone like the miserable person that hid behind those smiles? If nothing else, I can understand that what a person projects into the world isn’t necessarily what they have inside of themselves. For some reason, this seems to be particularly true of great comedians. Like the saying goes, there is a grain of truth in every joke and a lot of jokes deal with some sort of pain, be it physical, emotional, psychological, etc. It seems like most, if not all, comedians suffer from some form of depression or thoughts of suicide. We should all take this as a reminder that sometimes it doesn’t matter if a person has a loving family, how well off they might be financially, or how much they can make us laugh; that person could still feel worthless or be in pain we know nothing about. You might be wondering, “Yeah, this is great and all, but why are you writing about this here?” I’m writing about this on Extra Life for one plain, simple reason: Robin Williams was one of us. I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, that hits close to home. This was the guy who loved to play Call of Duty, who named his daughter Zelda in part because his favorite game was Ocarina of Time. He loved Portal and had a number of Warhammer 40k armies. He loved anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, and Cowboy Bebop. Robin Williams was like you or me. The demons he faced could be like the ones you battle every day. That’s why I think it is important to have this conversation. One of the key things to remember about depression is that it is often different from how it is portrayed by most media. Some people experience depression as a constant, simmering rage. Others feel apathy so intense that they can’t get out of bed in the morning. Another thing to keep in mind about depression is that it is often not something that can be overcome with sheer willpower. Depression has many root causes, like chemical imbalances that make it difficult for people with depression to feel joy or psychological traumas that have ingrained a harmful way of thinking about themselves and the world. Sometimes it is both of those things together to varying degrees. This is all compounded by the general stigma associated with depression. Many people view depression and thoughts of suicide as weakness, when often it is something over which those afflicted have little to no control. Here’s the thing, seeking professional help when you feel like you are struggling to make it through the day, at risk of harming yourself, or are contemplating taking your own life is not weakness. It is one of the hardest and bravest actions you can take. If you need help and don’t know where to turn or what to do, this is the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273- 8255 The people who work the phones on the hotline will not think you are silly or overreacting. They will take you seriously and work hard with you to get you the appropriate help. Many of them have been through similar experiences themselves and can truly relate to your current state. While Williams has passed away, it is of overwhelming importance that we remember him for what he represented in many of his most beloved movies. I always walked away from his films with a feeling of laughter, warmth, and kindness. Beyond those, there was always the feeling that there would be a better tomorrow. Robin Williams gave me hope. Now that he is gone, perhaps that hope is one of his greatest legacies. Right now, it is something to which I cling. You will be missed.
  24. I’m going to be trying something a little different with this article and, if you will graciously allow me, I’ll explain why (I apologize in advance if you get no enjoyment out of this or find it altogether terrible). I take my job as a critic seriously. As a result, I have a tendency to read/watch/listen to criticism of not only games, but also of other forms of media. My basic college education focused heavily on literary analysis, which proved early on in my career to be surprisingly applicable. I say “surprisingly” because one of the sentiments I often read in comment sections or hear in conversation whenever a topic compares mediums is how diverse storytelling mediums are too different to have common traits. I am probably simplifying to suit my needs here; however, I can agree that it may seem a bit odd that literary criticism can be helpful when looking at and making sense of video games. But that background is what shapes my perceptions and ultimately shaped how I think about games. To me, video games are another vehicle for narratives. The medium itself has its own language, but it is a Frankenstein’s monster of a language made up of disparate elements from other mediums. For example, have you ever thought while playing a game with fancy, new-fangled graphics, “Why is there a lens flare?” Why do we call them “camera controls” instead of something more blunt, like screen adjustment controls? The answer is because video games often borrow from film. The language isn’t what is important, though. My main point in bringing up the example of film is to be able to segue into the fact that I love reading criticism of all kinds, especially of film, because I find that it often deepens my insight into the medium that I have chosen to involve my life with personally and professionally. In other words, to better understand video games I think it is important to look at what other mediums can teach us about video games, even if it is often an indirect education. There is one critic in particular that I would like to call out as someone who, though primarily focused on film, routinely delves into issues that plague narratives in a way that I find particularly helpful when approaching video games. I am, of course, referring to Film Critic Hulk. Now, I’m not going to go into much detail about who Film Critic Hulk is or his credentials or anything like that, primarily because doing so isn’t terribly important, but also because this person writes anonymously under a pseudonym. Suffice it to say, that this individual is both incredibly smart, eloquent, and someone who can articulate what makes stories work and what makes them buckle or break. The reason I bring up this particular critic goes back to what my first paragraph outlined; namely, I enjoy reading other criticism focusing on other mediums because it broadens my knowledge of those mediums while also shedding light on the one toward which I find myself most attracted. Several nights ago, I found myself reading an older article from back in January of this year about a documentary called The Act of Killing* (which is seriously a fantastic film and an important one, though not necessarily enjoyable or pleasant). In the article, Hulk doesn’t provide a review, but instead dissects how the film succeeds in truly moving an audience to achieve something that can truly change society for the better. I’m afraid that my meaning in the previous sentence was a bit vague, so let me rephrase: Hulk dissects how the film reveals an honest truth about life to the audience. The article is great and I highly recommend that you both read it for yourself and go on to read some of Hulk’s other writings about movies and the film industry. Now you might be wondering about the purpose of all of this preamble. While I was in the process of reading through Hulk’s article, I made numerous connections between the world of video games and the world of film. As I was in the process of making those mental leaps, I thought of how neat it would be if I could give readers a way to arrive at the same conclusions in a similar manner. To that end, I encourage readers to follow me on a small mental excursion to examine video games through (if you will pardon the parlance) the lens of film criticism. And so, we begin. (Note: The writing style of Film Critic Hulk is all caps. I apologize in advance if that irritates you.) --- To begin his essay on The Act of Killing, Film Critic Hulk uses a quote from Andrei Tarkovski: The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good. Now, people can debate the definition of art and what art is capable of and how it functions until the end of time, but what Tarkovski seems to be getting at here is that art, all art across all mediums, functions as a way to challenge the soul and mold it into something that can do good in the world. In other words, art reveals an honest to goodness truth about human nature, which is a topic that often leaves people staring at their feet. Real truth is something that forces us to confront reality, an experience that can often be unpleasant, and motivates us to change for the better. Hulk then goes on to say in the essay proper: THE BLUNT TRUTH IS THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN THINK OF MOVIES AS BEING VEHICLES FOR IDEAS... OR EVEN AS ART. TO MANY, CINEMA IS A SOMEWHAT DISPOSABLE THING. A WAY TO PASS TIME. A MODE OF ESCAPISM. A LARK. This is where video games come in. You can replace the words “movies” and “cinema” with “video games” and the same blunt truth that applies to film also applies to games. I’d argue that even more so than movies, most people don’t think of video games as being vehicles for ideas, let alone vehicles for truth or something that could be capable of ‘harrowing’ a soul. I’d argue that the average person considers video games to be power fantasies, time sinks to while away youth, or a mental escape from the daily grind of life. Perhaps I am doing the average person a disservice by giving only three very narrow ways of looking at video games as a medium. I think a more accurate statement would be that the average video game player views video games as something trivial. The truth is that many people view video games as 'just games,' a train of thought that the very name of the medium both implies and reinforces. While I do think that there are games that have important ideas to convey and that the medium is capable of revealing human truth, many, many, many video games do their utmost best to be indulgent, escapist, power fantasies. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a game being an indulgent, escapist power fantasy, but I do think it is easier to carelessly transmit a message that could be harmful through a project that is trying its best to be devoid of narrative ideas. Hulk gets at one of the powerful aspects of stories in the second paragraph which is that, “STORIES CAN TAKE THAT DIDACTIC THING WE CALL ‘ADVICE’ AND RENDER IT INTO EXPERIENCE; MEANING IT CAN MAKE US EXPERIENCE THINGS BEFORE WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO DEAL WITH THEM AND GUIDE US IN THAT PURPOSE.” Empathy is one of the most powerful motivators for human beings and it is empathy that allows us to learn from the experience of others. Video games in particular are suited to learning vicariously through others without having to live through the reality first hand due to how strongly people bond with in-game characters. Or rather, people have a tendency to insert themselves into video game narrative. I’ll approach that previous sentence a bit backwards: Of those of you who played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which of you talked with friends about the decisions you made? I’m going to take the liberty and assume that it was most of you. Strictly speaking, however, “you” are not a character in the The Walking Dead universe, but that doesn’t seem to matter so much, does it? It still feels like you are the one responsible for whatever befalls Clementine because you were the person making Lee Everett’s decisions. If people can empathize with a character to the extent that they consider the decisions they made for how that character should act as their own actions, that goes far beyond the amount of empathy typically experienced while watching film. We feel as if the challenges and problems faced by the video game protagonist were actually our own. While none of us are likely to live through a zombie apocalypse, the sad truth is that every one of us will at some point struggle with very real issues like depression, hatred, domestic violence, or death. In recent years, there has spring up a small subset of games that explore some of the more deeply tragic and personal aspects of being human. The currently-in-development That Dragon, Cancer puts players in the shoes of a father whose son is going through cancer treatment. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest attempts to convey what it is like to exist with depression. Papo y Yo deals with alcoholism and abusive fathers. Papers, Please puts players behind the desk to deal with the paperwork of an immigration officer. Cart Life asks players to try to live as one of three street vendors on a small budget. These are games that use stories and mechanics in an effort to promote understanding of and empathy for these various situations. As time goes by there are more of these games being released and concepts outside of “shoot bad guy” being explored. To me, that means I can hold out hope that one day video games will inspire the type of social and societal change that The Act of Killing seems to have produced in Indonesia. Hulk puts The Act of Killing alongside movies like The Thin Blue Line (which gave a man his life back after being wrongly sentenced to life in prison) and Harlan County U.S.A. (the filming of which prevented violence and allowed the coal miners of Harlan County to live better lives without dying from the black lung). While I can rattle off a dozen games that have revolutionized game development or inspired social change within the gaming community, the fact is that, outside of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. catapulting Mario into cultural ubiquity, I can’t think of a video game that has had an impact on society at large. I believe there are four reasons for this. First, video games are the newest storytelling medium. Film and photography have had over a century to mature and hone their respective crafts, while widespread video game development has been around for less than half that time. This puts video gaming at a severe disadvantage when trying to enact change outside of the core gaming community. Second, though photography and moviemaking both rely on technology for their arts, video games are the most technologically reliant medium. As technology has progressed, the ways games are both presented and played have drastically changed. Compare Pong to Missile Command to Super Mario Bros. to Chrono Trigger to Ocarina of Time to Halo to BioShock to The Last of Us (I know that was a long string of _____ to _______’s. I apologize). Yes, the graphical differences are plainly evident, but generally speaking the advances in technology have affected how well games could tell their stories. In fact, the improvements in graphical fidelity have allowed games to draw upon film for language cues that people new to gaming can more readily understand. Third, though 58% of the American population plays video games, that still leaves 42% who don’t have anything to do with gaming. Gaming probably needs to be as ubiquitous as music and film, or at least close to the level of consumption, in order to really bring about a widespread change that everyone can see and understand. Finally, it is hard to for anything to be taken seriously when its own definition trivializes its importance, which is exactly what the term “video game” accomplishes. According to Google’s dictionary, the definition of a video game is, “a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen.” Google then defines the word game as, “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.” There are numerous problems with these definitions, but for the purposes of this essay the primary difficulty is that narratives aren’t strictly won or diversionary and the games we are ideally talking about here are the ones that make use of effective narratives. I am convinced that video games will one day move society, but they just aren’t quite there yet. Imagine that the following quote from Hulk’s essay replaces the word “cinema” with “narrative” to illustrate how far video games have left to go: WHAT CAN BE SUGGESTED IS THAT THE ACT OF KILLING IS AN ATTACK ON MITIGATION ITSELF. ONE THAT ZOOMS IN ON THE SPECTACULAR COGNITIVE DISSONANCE AND REFUSES TO RELINQUISH UNTIL WE ACTUALLY FACE IT. AND WHAT THIS FILM IS DOING IN INDONESIA IS SO MAGNIFICENTLY REAL; PRECISELY THE KIND OF REAL-LIFE EFFECT THAT IS SO UNIQUE TO POPULAR CINEMA THAT, QUITE FRANKLY, IT RENDERS ALL THE OSCAR TALK KIND OF SMALL. The plain and simple truth is that video games, for as heartrending, adventuresome, fantastic, and magnificent as they can be, are still in the stage of development where the industry struggles to have award shows. It is an environment where the prospect of putting on an award show with some semblance of dignity is a goal for which many strive. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either, a quick look at any part of the VGX award show from 2013 proves those people have their work cut out for them. But it is important to remember, especially in a medium as new as video games, that awards should not the end goal. When we are talking about video games that hit the world straight in the gut; games that grab onto a truth and refuse to let go until we collectively face said truth and are changed by it for the better… well, games like that haven’t been made yet, but they are worth waiting for. It should be noted that I am not saying that the narrative-focused video games that we have now are rubbish or that they don’t have great stories or messages. I mean to say that there is nothing like The Act of Killing in video games. The Act of Killing gives its audience something that they need. In fact, most games strive for the direct opposite of need and merely try to deliver what their players want. There is a very large difference between what people need and what people want. Most games cater directly to what people want: power, escape, excitement, puzzles, etc. But very rarely do video games aim to give players something that they might need; video games that present hard truths in a way that we can accept. For that very reason, the number of games that have personally affected me and changed the way I look at the world seems to be miniscule compared to the number of games that I have played. For the record here they are: Shadow of the Colossus, The Stanley Parable, BioShock, BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Mass Effect 3. *Spoilers for Mass Effect 3 in the following paragraph* In fact, many of the points I’ve been getting at so far can be perfectly summed up in going back to Mass Effect 3 and how people reacted to its ending. Now, there are certainly a lot of people out there who felt the original ending didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the narrative (and also that the “extended cut” of the ending didn’t go far enough). I never really felt that way either before or after BioWare released the patch which clarified several lingering questions. The internet threw around the term “entitled gamers” like a slur as tens of thousands of players expressed their dissatisfaction by petitioning BioWare to change the ending of their game. At the time, I questioned why people had the unprecedented outrage that is usually reserved for angry mobs or human rights violations. Let’s be honest, many games have unsatisfactory endings or laughable writing, but even the most disgruntled of gaming communities don’t usually file complaints with the FTC. With the distance of a couple years, it seems obvious that this is a potent example of players inserting themselves into the story; they felt responsible for the actions that Commander Shepard was taking and that gave many a sense of ownership toward the narrative of the Mass Effect franchise. I’d guess that there were a lot of people at BioWare who actually wanted players to feel like the story of Mass Effect was really theirs, but the nature of the story they were telling wasn’t conducive to a satisfying ending catharsis. Mass Effect 3 requires that the Commander Shepard that players have developed and bonded with throughout the course of three games released over five years sacrifice his/her life. That is a huge amount of time and effort put into this story and the ending! While perfectly sound in a traditional narrative sense, it clashed so much with what people wanted from the story that people felt slighted; they felt wronged. The outrage was very real, but so were the other emotional reactions to Mass Effect 3 which at the time were largely overshadowed by the ending controversy. It made people laugh, cry, and rage. It motivated tens of thousands of people to band together for a common purpose. Now that I think about it, Mass Effect 3 could very well be the best example we currently have of how video games can enact change on a large scale. The pressure from the gaming community eventually caused BioWare to buckle and release the extended ending DLC (something that has never sat right with me). It might not be an example of motivating change in a positive or productive direction, but it did unite people to a collective cause on a scale that I haven’t seen in the video game community. Perhaps all of this talk about video games being anything more than fun distractions from real life seems ridiculous to you. But, then, why do we tell stories in video games? Are they just to add texture and context to the gameplay? Why do developers like BioWare attempt to tell nuanced stories dealing with weighty issues in video games? IT WAS A QUESTION ABOUT THE EXISTENTIAL HEART OF WHY PEOPLE WANT TO DO SOMETHING SO TRIVIAL AS TELLING STORIES IN THIS MEDIUM. IT SEEMS SO SILLY IN A WORLD FULL OF PEOPLE WHO DO REAL THINGS. TEACHERS. DOCTORS. FIREFIGHTERS. THE KINDS OF FOLKS WHO FILL THEIR DAYS WITH MUNDANE HEROISMS AND GET LITTLE TO NO RECOGNITION FOR IT (AND OFTEN, THEY GET OUR DISDAIN). BUT THE REASON THIS INDUSTRY CAN FEEL SO HOLLOW AT TIMES IS THAT WE ARE ACTUALLY MESSING WITH SOMETHING INCREDIBLY POWERFUL: THE AFOREMENTIONED LETHAL COMBINATION OF IMAGE AND SOUND. AND IF WE HAVE MADE SOMETHING WITH THE POWER TO MAKE PEOPLE CRY IN 30 SECONDS, THAT CAN MAKE PEOPLE OPEN THEMSELVES UP AND LEARN TO WALK A MILE IN ANOTHER MAN'S SHOES, THEN WHY DO WE JUST KEEP USING THAT INCREDIBLE POWER TO MERELY INDULGE PEOPLE? […] [WHEN WE ASK THAT QUESTION] WE ARE WRESTLING WITH THE FACT THAT WE ARE USING ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS ON THE PLANET FOR TRIVIAL PURPOSES. OR WORSE, WHEN WE THINK OF ANWAR RECREATING HIS FAVORITE GANGSTER SCENES, WE CONTEMPLATE THAT WE MIGHT BE DOING SOMETHING THAT COULD EVENTUALLY LEAD TO GREAT HUMAN COST IF NOT HANDLED RESPONSIBLY. Gaming is still at a place where, for all of the digital bullets, death, and games about war, the game that most effectively understands violence is a post-apocalyptic zombie narrative. Seriously, have you ever taken a minute to think about how weird it is that compared with The Last of Us, the Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises feel tame and sterile? The main difference there is that The Last of Us shows us the human costs of taking a life, both in the brutality of animations and in the way the characters are affected by their own violent actions. In comparison, our digital war games approach their topic with all of the nuance, depth, and seriousness of a group of second graders on the playground pretending to have a shootout. I’ve never been a person who thinks that video games inherently make people more violent, but I do think that video games can influence how we think about the world when we accept them without thinking. It isn’t wrong to have dumb shooters set in times of war, but I think there is something wrong and perhaps even irresponsible when almost all war shooters that approach the topic are silly, empty, and fangless. For all of the emphasis Infinity Ward puts into making Call of Duty look and sound authentic, how is it that Valiant Hearts captures the humanity of war better than the last six Call of Duty games? The video game industry is capable of great things, I know it in my bones. Why do we keep using that incredible power to merely indulge people? We have seen through Extra Life that people uniting around their common interest in video games can save lives and change their communities for the better. Imagine if that passion was backed up by games that could inspire a similar revolution in the world. Let us know in the comments if you found this type of writing helpful/interesting or if you weren't to keen on the idea. We'd love to hear from you either way! *The Act of Killing is available on Netflix Instant if anyone is interested in checking it out for free, and a variety of other services for around $9.99. **The image of the sunflower is actually not a real sunflower. It is from Mass Effect 3. Anyone remember where?