Featured

Dear Men of Gaming: Grow Up.

…it’s one thing to consistently raise awareness about an issue in the gaming community, but it’s another thing to only raise that issue during a conversation about a prevalent issue…

Advertisements

So I was originally going to finish writing about the relationship between characters and open-world gaming today, but after hearing about the “Ellie” Overwatch Competitor’s scandal I feel the need to address it. For those out of the loop and unwilling to click the link, Overwatch Competitor’s team, Second Wind, signed a female player by the gamertag of “Ellie,” who then later left due to extreme doxxing threats. To make matters even worse, streamer “Aspen” said during a Twitch stream that “Ellie” turned out to be a man pretending to be a female gamer, which Blizzard has since confirmed. When the scandal broke, there was mass outrage. See below:

Critical Role creative director, Marisha Ray, response.
Note: This tweet was before the Aspen stream.

So before I start going into the necessary detail, I concede that I was raised in a high school culture that was extremely sexist, even to the points that I did not realize at the time that I actively perpetuated with heavy regards to the friendzone. Even if I have grown since then, I should apologize for that now and for anything else I have done that was sexist no matter my intention in those moments. My intentions do not overrule how I made someone feel.

Ok, now that’s out of the way:

These tweets express disgust and rage that this scandal raise the probability of “whataboutisms” exploding online. A “whataboutism” is a flawed counterargument used to disregard and pivot the conversation from the main point of the conversation. In this case, it’s a conversation about a well-founded issue that needs drastically improved, to a separate issue that, even if there is a legitimate concern to fix it, takes away from the main point of the conversation. Further, it’s one thing to consistently raise awareness about an issue in the gaming community, but it’s another thing to only raise that issue during a conversation about a prevalent issue like the harassment women face in the gaming industry. That latter scenario, shown below, is a copout because you show that you don’t care about both issues.

That last one clearly is not aware of how badly Christine Blasey Ford’s life has been decimated since testifying against Brett Kavanaugh, or how much mental strength the USA Women’s Gymnastics team had to testify against Larry Nassar.

Men don’t listen to that tweet. Instead, here are some things that we need to do to be better:

Shut up and listen

When a female gamer you know speaks up about the harassment she has faced while playing online, don’t counter it with “it happens to men too.” That doesn’t make said gamer feel better knowing that other people go through this experience too, it makes them feel worse because they don’t feel like they can talk about it without being seen as emotional. Let them express what happened, and take them at their word. Next:

Call out harassment, even when you don’t see it.

If you’re in a game where someone is being sexist towards a female gamer, or you become aware of a specific issue primarily affecting female gamers, call that shit out. Don’t let the harasser feel in power, and don’t stay silent on an issue where the harasser is in power. Regardless of whether there is a female gamer in the game or not, the less someone is called out when they say derogatory things about women, the less likely they’ll stop doing it when eventually called out. Finally, and it angers me that I even need to type this out:

STOP HARASSING AND DELEGITIMIZING WOMEN BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT MEN.

There’s really no other way I can call this out other than that.

I know that there is a lot that I haven’t covered in this piece in regards to repeated instances of women not being believed as authentic in gaming when they are, especially Geguri, but I will dedicate a post for them and other minority gamers because men are not the only gamers.

Make this the rarity, not the norm.

The Joy of Discovery in The Outer Wilds

“Regardless of the order of your discoveries, the game will reward you nonetheless.”

You wake up to the night sky. Maybe you enjoy a marshmallow over a campfire before heading back to the village. Everyone is excited for your first flight, giving you ideas for places to go and who to see. Once you have the launch codes, you’re good to go out among the stars. After a while though, be it of your own doing or just a lack of time, you die.

You wake up to the night sky, but didn’t you just die?

That is the basic summary of everyone’s first trip in The Outer Wilds, the indie first-person exploration game from Mobius Digital Games and published by Annapurna Interactive that came out on May 29th for the Xbox and the 30th on PC. A quick Google or even Twitter search will tell you, this game is blowing people’s minds. Every celestial body and space station is filled with puzzles and mysteries to solve. With only basic equipment, whispered rumors, and a desire to explore your solar system, The Outer Wilds rewards the joy of new discoveries without ever needing in-game rewards.

Writer’s note: There are spoilers for very general information from The Outer Wilds below.

Discoveries are your progression system.

The game uses your discoveries to map your progress. When you first set off on your space ship, you should take note of the ship’s log in the back of the ship’s interior. From there, you can look at either a map view, showing each planet in order from the sun with any moons in its system, or the progressively sprawling rumor view. In rumor view (seen below), specific landmarks found on the various planets are listed, and unless you’ve discovered everything about a given strand, will point you towards the next landmark(s) you should check out. Early on, there are a couple of options to go explore, but once you’ve followed a number of these strands, rumor view turns into a conspiracy-esque board of landmarks you’ve heard of and ones you have visited.

Each new strand you find is a puzzle piece to the mosaic of The Outer Wilds. You can’t find every piece in order because there is little to no order to what pieces you need to find when. Further, there will be times that you find items out of order because of when you arrived at a planet instead of where. Regardless of the order of your discoveries, the game will reward you nonetheless by pointing you towards another location to explore or pointing you towards an earlier time in the galaxy’s life cycle. These discoveries don’t just make sure you explore every planet, they ensure you visit every moment on every planet.

The Outer Wilds rely on a core-combination.

Astronaut from your home village.

Time and discovery are inseparable in The Outer Wilds. In an overtly notable metaphor, the closest celestial body to the sun are the Hourglass Twins: a canyon-like planet, the Ember Twin, with an ashen, equally-sized twin body, Ash Twin, that rotate around each other while the latter drops a literal planet load of sand onto the former…much like an hourglass. Metaphor aside, this planet drills the game’s time cycle mechanic into the players. Ember Twin has a swath of caverns and deep canyons to delve and explore, some of which contain pertinent information to key rumor threads, but you have to go straight to Ember Twin when you start a new flight to find them because the sand will cover it. Conversely, on Ember Twin’s counterpart, the longer you wait to visit the Ash Twin the more there will be to discover.

Timing is just as much of everything that exploration is in The Outer Wilds. You have such a short time to get your checklist done in the life cycle, but all the time to do it over the course of the game. Each planet can be researched in its entirety, but only at the right time of the cycle. In order to fully uncover every discovery, you need to find the right place, at the right time. Hitting that sweet spot of the one crossroad where all three meet is what generates a sense of accomplishment.

These discoveries are civilization-building.

Roughly 90-95% of the discoveries you make in The Outer Wilds are from another race called the Nomai. Every celestial body has Nomai footprints all over it, heck some of these bodies are Nomai space stations. Yet all these footprints are what remains of them; no one in your village nor the other astronauts have discovered a living Nomai. Good news, though: they did leave a plethora of swirly writings behind that qualify as most of the game’s discoveries. These writings contain full conversations, with each writer having a distinctive voice from the others. Most writers appear on multiple planets in the game, carrying their personalities and values in each entry.

For an apparently extinct species, the Nomai feel so alive. As you progress through the game, learning more and more about the Nomai people, they start to become your motive to discover more. You want to find out what happened to them, and you want to find all of their discoveries and experiments. This species now lives through you, and each discovery you makes brings you closer to finishing any and all work they didn’t get to.

The Outer Wilds is a fascinating combination of exploration, discovery, and time-looping. Every lead on the rumor map will lead to a greater discovery down the road, but sometimes you have to backtrack through time to make them. Where the Nomai left off, you must now carry on for their sake.

Pokémon regions have always been this faithful.

Once [Pokémon] moved out of Japanese-inspired regions, it began to feel like a world instead of a country.

Pokémon is the longest standing video game franchises detailing the relationship between humans and other creatures. The 800-plus different Pokémon species appeared throughout seven regions, some of them serving specific purposes to their region. In the past decade, we have seen a growth in region variety from generation to generation, and as a side effect, Pokémon variety from generation to generation. Like many fictional places, each region is based on a real-world equivalent, which took a different turn than usual with the fifth generation. Game Freak kept that same trajectory for this past decade, and as a result has led to a wider array of Pokémon species.

Writer’s notes: This article will only examine the main series’ regions, however this link goes into further details about all regions’ real-world equivalencies.

If the first four generations feel like different parts of the same area, they should.

The early Pokémon games all drew inspiration from Japanese regions. Red and Blue’s Kanto region was based off the real world Kantō (note the accent mark) region on the main island in Japan, Honshu. Tokyo is in the heart of this region, and its most important areas are Shinjuku and Marunouchi. They are the respective cultural and business centers of Tokyo, which inspired Celadon City and Saffron City in the game’s Kanto region. There are further examples of basing in-game areas on real-world areas, and up through Diamond and Pearl, the fourth generation, they all took pages from Japanese areas. None of them are completely, geographically similar, as both the in-game Kanto and Johto regions borrow from the real-world Chubu region, but the similarities are strong enough to see the correlation. As such, the first four generations had a sense of unity tying them together, and all feel as though they’re from the same country. Regardless of these generations’ two-dimensional similarities, each generation still felt life-like.

The fifth generation was when Pokémon literally got away from that.

Black and White is when Pokémon took it’s sharpest turn. This was the first generation since the original Red and Blue to only release with entirely brand new Pokémon and to build its region, Unova, primarily around a non-Japanese area (that area being New York City). Further, Black and White was the first generation to give players their choice of order for the Elite Four, which was eventually followed by Sun and Moon’s Island Challenge substitution for Gyms. Since Black and White’s release, the series has used France, Hawai’i, and most likely the United Kingdom as inspiration for the Kalos, Alola, and upcoming Galar regions. Once the series moved out of Japanese-inspired regions, it began to feel like a world instead of a country. The regions stopped feeling as similar as usual, a wider variety of Pokémon designs came (especially in the Alolan region), and the developers got the opportunity to change core traditions to the games.

This was one of the newly revealed Pokémon, Wooloo.
Wooloo’s sheepishness is based on the UK’s favorite livestock.

Now that we have had a second look at Sword and Shield, look for more references to a real-world area. References can be anything from specific Pokémon like Wooloo, locations in the Galar region, or recurring themes through the cities, like Gyms.

Give games a second chance…and proper updates

There are a handful of games that I couldn’t get myself into the first time around. Here’s an example and a lesson: give games a second chance.

Final Fantasy VII is a game that I loved but couldn’t finish. I first played it on with the PS2’s backwards-compatibility, got stuck on Don Corneo’s second pet, Rapps, and never returned to that file. Thankfully for Steam, I bought it when it hit the Steam Store, and finally finished it at least six or seven years later.

I’ve been talking about games I need to give a second chance with my friends recently. These are games we picked up, played for a couple hours, and never got close to finishing the plot. They are not games I started a new file on because I got arrested in Whiterun, escaped without retrieving my possessions, and fled as Heimskr summoned a Daedra Lord (true story of my first Skyrim character). Further, they’re not games I got far into and couldn’t finish. That’s a separate but equal category that includes games like Final Fantasy XII and Tomb Raider. Coincidentally, these games were well received at least from a critical standpoint.

For me, right now it’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. When I first tried to play it, I was put off by the combat, display, and most movement issues. Combat felt flawed with unnecessary mechanics, and even on its second chance I stand by that criticism. Likewise, the standard difficulty was unfair at times, with an end fight for a side-quest being disturbingly over-leveled. Next, the menus had poor layouts and text sizes, meaning I had to squint to read everything (Day One Wild Hunt players might know my problem now). The only issue I excused was my lack of knowledge of the various backstories because this was my first Witcher game.

Despite all of the above, I still wanted to play through the game. The side quests were written so well it made me want to invest in this world to see how the world’s state affected these various citizens. So I gave the game another shot, and it turns out that it was worth it. Not just for the reasons that sold me originally, but I also finally connected my console to the internet and got all the updates the console was missing thus far. This mean a much better display with options to enlarge texts further when necessary, no more squinting, which in turn led me to improve my combat abilities to the point where I find the game to be fair.

Not every game is going to immediately rub you the right way. Sometimes you either need to dig deep into a game to fully appreciate it; sometimes it requires updates from the developers (as long as it’s not completely broken like Fallout: 76 was). Heck not every game is going to be your cup of tea, but if you go back and give it a full run through, maybe you can make something you really enjoy out of it.

Detective Pikachu made me feel like a kid again.

“Pokemon has been my original video game, so you could have bet your life savings that I would go see Detective Pikachu.”

Writer’s note: I swear that I’m not turning into a movie blogger, I’ve just had two films deal with my biggest fandoms come out in the past month. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD.

I need to go digging through my mom’s house, because I can guarantee that I’ll find our first Game Boy Color. The yellow handheld matched our Pokemon: Special Yellow Edition’s cartridge coloring, and we got more than a lifetime’s worth of gameplay out of our first console of any kind.

Now fast-forward twenty years (give or take a year) and Pokemon is still going strong. My siblings have moved onto other gaming areas or just other interests, but I’ve stuck with Pokemon since. Diamond & Pearl came out on my twelfth birthday, X & Y got me to buy a 3DS and complete the National Dex, and I went to the midnight release of Sun & Moon with my college friends. Pokemon has been my original video game, so you could have bet your life savings that I would go see Detective Pikachu when the first trailer for the movie dropped back in November.

Detective Pikachu got two major things right in making a film adaptation of a video game

Detective Pikachu’s biggest strengths were knowing its audience and collaborating with the source’s developers. Being a 20+ old series with a plethora of spin-offs games, anime, and other content, Pokemon is deeply ingrained into the world’s culture, so this audience at least knows the basics of the game and the world. It wasn’t necessary to explain Pokemon to an audience who knows it, so instead they opted to put in numerous references and appearances of Pokemon throughout the entire series. According to Joe Merrick (the Serebii guy), every generation has at least one Pokemon present, and every generation is further referenced in posters and phrases in the movie. That simplistic world-building let the plot roll at its own pace, unrestrained by laying groundwork for this world.

Meanwhile, the filmmakers (Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, etc.) worked with The Pokemon Company and a “realistic Pokemon artist” to
get the Pokemon designs and behaviors perfect. There was a Pokemon expert on set every day of shooting (see link at top of the section) who helped make the actors feel the Pokemon were real (there was a 40 pound bag in place of Psyduck). This rarely happens with film adaptations of video games, and goes to show how important the original creator’s input is.

That’s not to say the movie strictly followed Pokemon canon, they experimented with possibilities in the Pokemon world while ensuring it was still familiar enough for the fans. My personal favorite example was making the Bulbasaurs squeak and squeal instead of saying their names (i.e. the anime, where they sound like chainsmokers). Of all the Kanto starters I expected to find the cutest, Bulbasaur was the most pleasantly unexpected.

Now as a film on its own, Detective Pikachu did have some flaws. Some of the twists were too easy to predict, some of the characters didn’t feel realistic or original, and the flashbacks only moved the story when they were holograms. Every movie is going to have some flaw, but Even though this is a step up for video game movies, there are still areas for improvement in the genre.

As a Pokemon fan, watching Detective Pikachu made me feel like that four-year-old kid again. No other series has held my attention span longer than Pokemon, and I fully believe that Detective Pikachu, like Pokemon Go did, will help usher in a new generation of fans to continue one of the longest running series of all time. Further, there are already rumors of sequels and other Pokemon-universe live-action movies shaping up. Of all video games franchises to have such a good film adaptation, Pokemon has always been the one I’ve wanted the most.

How to End a Chapter of Life

Crazy to think it’s just been seven years since we all saw the first Avengers flick. I don’t care that this blog is focused on video games, the MCU deserves this treatment more than anyone else.

*Writer’s note: NO ENDGAME SPOILERS I SWEAR*

The morning I first took the SAT was in 2012, the day after my first prom. I ran into a bunch of my friends also taking it that morning, and we talked about going to see The Avengers. Well, after the test that day, we all met up with at the theater. Many of us met up for Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man in future years. Now fast forward seven years: I’m now two years out of college, am living with one of the guys in that group, and just saw Endgame last night. The Infinity Saga is complete for me, and I feel a part of my life has wholly ended.

In those seven years, Thor: The Dark World was the only movie I didn’t get out to see in theaters, but I also made it to nine Thursday night showings. Sometimes I was away in college watching them, sometimes I went multiple times (Guardians of the Galaxy and Age of Ultron have the record at four), and sometimes I even dressed up for it (I spent about $90 for a Groot mask and gloves set for Guardians, and went as Captain America for Infinity War).

Many of us in that original group have gone our separate ways, unfortunately. Some are out-of-state, and others have moved to the other side of the state. Whenever I came back for a break from college and there was an Avengers movie out, then you bet that we’d rally the wagons and head out to it.

While I mostly read Spider-Man comics growing up, it was always Captain America who caught my attention the most.

Found on AllPosters.com

There was something about his do-goodness and origin story that resonated with a skinny, super socially-awkward guy like me. I am still a skinny, super socially-awkward person but now one with years of MCU films shaping my character. I’m not going to address what happens to Cap in Endgame, but I do want to thank Chris Evans for making me a Captain America fan over these past eight years.

To that end, I also want to thank Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo for making up the rest of the OG Avengers. Even if Chris has the biggest spot in my heart, you all tie with Tom Holland for second (Spider-Man was my introduction to comics, if he came into the MCU sooner he’d be tied with Chris). Next, every director throughout the MCU, especially the Russo Brothers and James Gunn for helming my two favorites individual groups within this overly massive universe. Finally, the mastermind of it all: Kevin Feige, for being mad enough to solidify the MCU as this decade’s biggest franchise by ramming 20 movies down our throats in the coolest ways possible.

Thank you all. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see Endgame again.

The Importance of Gaming Journalism

In an industry that is notorious for stress, burnout, and layoffs, gaming journalists are the way we get the full picture…

Two days after Kotaku’s Jason Schreier posted the findings of a massive investigation into Anthem’s development, the article is still buzzing around the internet. Since it’s publishing, Bioware has sent numerous emails to its employees about the company’s response to the article, ranging from flat-out orders against talking to the press to a full-fledged response memo from Bioware’s GM Casey Hudson.

Bioware’s immediate response, however, was what drew the most negative feedback. According to an update that was posted on Schreier’s original article, Kotaku sent over a bullet-pointed summary of the article, yet they still doubt Bioware & EA actually read the full article before writing the above response. The line in Bioware’s response that has drawn the most ire was:

We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.

Bioware

No matter what angle or side you choose, this is an attack on the free press and their responsibility to maintain high standards of accountability, among others (truth, accuracy, and fairness). As a college student, I was a member of my school’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and I was taught a simple maxim: seek the truth and report it.

I understand that many video-game industry specific journalists rub gamers the wrong way for sometimes questionable viewpoints (ie Polygon’s and GameSpot’s respective responses to the Borderlands 3 reveal). Simultaneously, the gaming industry is far from infallible, as Schreier’s article points out. As a matter of fact, many game developers have taken to Twitter or Schreier’s DMs to express empathy due to similar situations with other developers. Seeing this article come after seeing a similar article (also by Schreier) about Red Dead Redemption II’s crunch-culture, Telltale Games’ collapse, Activision-Blizzard’s & EA’s mass layoffs and so on are all important news that the public deserves to know the truth.

There are many more layers that I won’t be able to get to here, such as the Free Press and the First Amendment, ethical coverage, sponsored content, etc. Regardless, we need to stop dismissing gaming journalists as all hacks. In an industry that is notorious for stress, burnout, and layoffs, gaming journalists are the way we get the full picture from each of these issues in the industry.

Thank you, Rare.

As a recent college grad with $60k+ in student loans, I was not initially planning on buying Sea of Thieves. I bought it for two reasons:

  • My D&D DM urged everyone in our campaign to buy it.
  • I won a gift card off of a work raffle the week the game launched.

When choosing my avatar, I went with the skinniest, whitest person I could find because that is my physique. Once I stepped out of the tavern, we saw the skull in the sky and realized that I would get thrown right into the Sea of Thieves.

I have spent much of the past year with my best friends playing this game, as evidenced by the numerous clips I took of it when I used to Twitch stream. Has every moment we had in this game been a good one? No. There were nights I quit the moment all of the loot was in and we were done. But there are no finer crew-mates nor a finer pirate game that we could have asked for.

Many a night was spent staying up WAY later than I should have playing this game. Early on in the game’s release, I would play Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum whenever I saw a Skull Cloud to signal an active fort. Also early on and for most of my time playing, I designated myself as the ship’s resident drunk ginger (red hair, shirtless, scars & tattoos to match, the cheapest hook? You bet I looked unkempt).

One of my all time favorite moments in the game was when we finally went for the 20-chest achievement, and as we got it on the last island, the closest fort went active, so I played the song right as people saw the skull, we turned in everything we had up to that point, and kicked that fort’s ass. There were also some honorable mentions: being on a loot-filled dinghy, heading straight towards my crew’s galleon, with another galleon in tow (see below for artist’s depiction from eyewitness accounts).

Just imagine a lot more loot and browned pants.

Then there was the time a crew mate was hit mid air by a cannonball, but (recency bias accounted for), my crew’s record time for taking down a skeleton ship this past weekend may have been the highest of highs (Immediate Helmball + Ballastball = downed Skeleton Ship in under two minutes).

Of all the major events from it’s release year, the one that truly got me to fully realize what a great investment I made was the Shrouded Spoils. That was the one that not only added new content, but it diversified what it already had. There was new cosmetics, varied threats (see the Megalodon), and new loot.

So, as someone who gets about to hit Pirate Legend (Please Rare, let me get those last five ranks!), all I have to say as this game hits it’s first anniversary is thank you. Of all the games I played throughout 2018, this is probably only second to Overwatch, which I have played religiously since it came out. Of all the games I have played in my life, there has been no equal to the amount of time I’ve spent playing with my best friends. I fully intend to continue on with this for as long as you’re pumping out content and caring for them. As you originally said upon release, I’ve been more pirate.