Sunday, December 26, 2010

Discussing the EMA Case with Senator Leland Yee

On Sunday, December 19th, my good friends Sean Patrick and Devan Patel, along with myself, had coffee with Senator Leland Yee. Yee was the author of the controversial ABs 1792 and 1793, which attempted to governmentally regulate the sale of mature games to minors. The bills were deemed unconstitutional by the State Court in 2005, and their constitutionality was again discussed in a November 2 U.S. Supreme Court meeting. I wrote an open-letter to the Senator with my particular objections to the bill, for which the meeting was called to discuss.

After spending a short time watching Sean play Obsidian's Alpha Protocol, we walked down to Starbucks to meet with the Senator and his aide. We introduced ourselves as Juniors from Stuart Hall High School and talked about our relationship with gaming (Devan and Sean being consumers and me being a writer and artist). 

Yee, a developmental psychologist, began the meeting by discussing the “Bobo Doll Study” regarding youth aggression, in which children emulated an adult model violently abusing a human doll. It is common knowledge among the psychological community that exposure to violent imagery causes desensitization to violence. The Senator thus did not contend that there was a causal relationship between game-consumption and real-world violence, a position that I strongly object to. Several notable anti-game critics have held considerably more theatrical viewpoints on the matter, Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton come to mind, such people have recognized Grand Theft Auto to be a public safety hazard. Yee thus held that the desensitizing effect of game justified the bill.

The Senator also held that it was the state's responsibility to protect children from harmful forces, likening his bill to laws passed in the early 20th Century outlawing child labor. Whether or not the desensitizing effect of violent games would be on the level of the atrocities that child coal-miners faced in the Industrial Revolution is debatable. Furthermore, he again acknowledged that games did not pose a public safety hazard, if this was so, then why would the law be necessary to protect children? Is psychological desensitization enough to justify the distinct treatment of violent games to violent film, comics and literature?

Yee also emphasized the distinction between what he considered “violent games” and “ultraviolent games”. Nonetheless, the disparity remained extremely vague. I brought up Sony Santa Monica's God of War III, a game so graphically violent that even I recoiled at the gore. Yee responded by saying that God of War III would not be affected by the bill because the subject of its violence was not human in nature, “creature violence” did not fall under the bill. Apparently, the genocide of thousands of harpies and minotaurs did not deserve recognition.

Senator Yee stated that the “ultraviolent” games that would be affected by the bill depicted violence between human characters in a patently offensive manner. While Gears of War would not be considered “ultraviolent”, considerably tamer games would be. Nonetheless, the distinction remains extremely vague. The T-rated Uncharted and Goldeneye feature shooting human enemies as their primary mechanic. Over the course of their respective campaigns, the player kills hundreds of pirates and terrorists. Nonetheless, the relatively innocuous nature of such violence is on a level infinitely lower than that of Manhunt and Soldier of Fortune, which feature human dismemberment as an option. Under the law, would Goldeneye fall under the same group as the far more disturbing Soldier of Fortune? T-rated games feature human violence as a primary mechanic, and under the bill's verbiage, such games would be grouped with the likes of Postal, even while sci-fi/fantasy games like Halo are not affected.

The Senator also held that the bill was ultimately intended to assist parents in determining what content their children can access and that parents can choose to opt out of the policy by purchasing violent games for children, thus, pre-informing parents about content. Thus, the bill would reinforce the measures that the industry already takes in order to police its own content. Built-in parental controls by console manufacturers, the ESRB, ID check at retail and the refusal of console companies to license AO rated games are such measures. By governmentally reinforcing the industry's standards, notable risks arise given the degree of power the state gains over it. This ultimately makes the bill redundant to the industry's already held policies, rendering it a rather unnecessary exercise of political power over content advisory and the medium itself.

Senator Yee then asked us about our own gaming habits and the degree of parental control that our families had over our play decisions. Despite our dissenting viewpoints, the meeting was ultimately respectful, interesting and productive.

Upon the conclusion of the meeting, we returned to Sean's house to celebrate the merit of games by playing many matches of Call of Duty: Black Ops. I came out with mostly negative spreads, but found respite in the AK74u, stun grenade and claymore. Devan and myself were involved in an epic tug-of-war over the central control point in Nuketown. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Explorations in Gaming: Year in Review

An interesting trend that I have noticed in the history of this blog is the constant evolution of the topic of the posts, thereby reflecting my own moral and intellectual growth. In previous phases of this site's development, I have written about pre-teen angst, Proposition 8, bioethical issues, adolescent sociology and now, video games and ludological studies. Previously interested in doing “Year in Review” posts, this in this post, I'll discuss such. In creating this site, I did not intend to create “just another online diary”, avoiding trends that I have seen in other teenage bloggers, this is essentially a journal of my own progress and explorations in gaming, a memoir of the experiences I've had this year with the medium that I have fallen in love with.

My year was spent mostly catching up on releases from the past two years and dabbling in some of this year's releases. Here, I would like to talk about some notable, meaningful or interesting experiences I've had playing games this year. The games I will discuss in this post will not necessarily be the best games I've played all year, but some of the the most interesting.

Entering the Community

I've been in somewhat of an upward streak in gaming for the past few years. In 2010, I spent more time and money on games than the past two years combined. My relationship with the medium reached new heights after participating in a video-game program at COSMOS, producing Tactile Cave and signing on to do spriting and animation with Studio C5 on the tentatively titled Platformertown. Reading Ed Halter's From Sun-Tsu to Xbox and Tom Bissell's Extra Lives, I was introduced to fascinating intellectual approaches to the medium.

Formally studying ludological issues in a classroom setting was a very enlightening experience, UC Santa Cruz's Expressive Intelligence Studio gave me the opportunity to learn more about code and creativity than I would ever be able to using online guides and forums. Meeting several current and future indie developers, I came to see the lack of innovation plaguing the current corporate industry and the need for increased accessibility for independent projects and lower prices. The EIS's research deals with Artificial Intelligence, not of the breed that shoots and takes cover, but the kind that can simulate human behavior and conversation. The creative potential for games to arouse powerful emotional reactions is inherent in this type of design, and discussed heavily were the art-games Portal, Braid and fl0wer (all of which I played this year). The studio's own studies and advancements, contained in their game Facade, exemplified fascinating new approaches to interactivity that would be integral to future WRPGs.

The Year of Metroid

2010 began with a grand playthrough of the entire Metroid Prime: Trilogy. My trek through Tallon IV and Aether was one of the most atmospheric and absorbing I've taken, the planets being some of the richest and imaginative virtual environments I've partook in. Retro Studio's attention to detail is incredible, and the Trilogy is a package that I gladly suggest to any gamer. Samus's scanning ability was ultimately my favorite part of the game, being able to analyze and study any part of the environment brought me into the game's world, making the planets feel real, their intricate histories absorbing and magical.

Unfortunately, the two other Metroid games I played that year were not as compelling as the Prime games. Metroid: Other M's emphasis on taking prompts from film to tell its story were disappointing, mostly because of the uninteresting characters than the intriguing plot. I also appreciated Super Metroid's compelling open-world design, but ultimately, the caves of Zebes was not as interesting as Tallon IV with its varied ecosystems or Aether with its rich Luminoth history, and thus, I was not motivated to complete it.

Catching up on Classics
If there was a theme for my gaming choices this year, it would be “modern classics”. I had the opportunity to play, for the first time, Resident Evil 4, Sands of Time, Portal, Knights of the Old Republic, Modern Warfare, Metal Gear Solid, Chinatown Wars, Soul Calibur II, Tatsunoko v. Capcom, Borderlands, Arkham Asylum, Fallout 3, Braid, Galaxy 2, Phoenix Wright, No More Heroes, Cave Story, Counter-Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2, Spirit Tracks, Final Fantasy IV (2007) and finally, StarCraft. I am somewhat embarrassed to have missed out on these games on their original release, and having the opportunity to play these games, beginning to end, was an immensely pleasurable journey.

Resident Evil 4 I held particular gripes with, while the environmental design was second-to-none and the combat, gory and satisfying, the story, while intriguing, was poorly told, shattering suspension of disbelief. Sands of Time I picked up upon hearing high praise on it, while I enjoyed the simple Arabesque story and its memorable ending, I was ultimately immensely frustrated by the linear platforming and the trial-and-error nature of the controls. Portal I easily recommend to anyone, the innovative physics based puzzles are of extreme quality, and in spite of its extreme brevity, Portal is one of the most memorable experiences that any gamer can have. While not a Star Wars fan to begin with, KotOR's absorbing narrative and great characters turned me into one, the plot twist ranking up near that of Inception.

Flashbang Reviews and Semtex Memories

The military game has reached Bieber-esque popularity in the past few years, and the nature of these games, I would admit, lacks particular nuance. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is onesuch example of such a game. Despite the potential for politically charged emotional moments in the game, Modern Warfare takes a rather tepid approach to its own subject matter, seldom does one question the motives of the slaughter he commits. Nonetheless, Modern Warfare did succeed in certain, non-action based moments, the AC-130 mission struck me as particularly cold, brutal and disturbing. The sheer indifference NPCs held towards the mission was shocking, and of course, the death of Paul Jackson left me speechless.

I disliked Bethesda's previous role-playing game, Morrowind, the sheer narrative freedom of the game was daunting, and the vastness of the options available was overwhelming and inaccessible. Fallout 3 improved on these flaws considerably. The ludonarrative freedom available to the player no longer felt overwhelming, but rather quite liberating. V.A.T.S gory, turn-based combat was not particularly compelling, but the options presented to interact with NPCs and the game-world absorbed me into the story of the Capital Wasteland.

Braid has been heavily cited as the most influential indie game of the past decade and the platonic ideal of the art-game. Much like Portal, it is a brief, single-player puzzle game. However, the nature of its challenges are of extreme quality, every moment of the short experience being worthwhile and satisfying, forcing the player to think in ways that would be physically impossible in our own dimension. Braid's four-dimensional gameplay permeated into my own world, and weeks after I was done with it, I still was contemplating the possibilities of altering time. The fact that the absolute and total mindf_ck of an ending stayed with me even when I was not playing the game makes Braid a game that I cannot recommend my friends to play, but demand them to.

To be as frank as possible, I felt that the hyperbolic praise that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was slightly undeserved. While I absolutely adored the game with its challenging levels and inspired artistic design, the superlative reviews it received did not describe the lack of amazement. The first Galaxy absolutely floored me with its unbridled fun, moving through space through the creative environments was one of the finest gaming experiences I had the opportunity of entering. Ultimately, Galaxy 2 felt to be more of the same, and while not a bad thing (more Mario is always good), I felt that the game failed to amaze on the level of the first game.

About that Open-Letter...

Some of my readers may remember my Open-Letter to Senator Leland Yee and the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the EMA case and the Assembly Bills that the case concerns. To those who supported me and signed the petition, I thank you immensely. I received a response from the Senator's office and had the opportunity to meet Senator Yee over coffee to discuss the bill and the ramifications that games have. More on that will come in the following weeks. Until then, Merry Christmas!  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Goldeneye 007 (2010) Review

I initially had absolutely no intention of picking up Goldeneye 007 for the Wii, doubtful that it would do the N64 game justice, I was cynical of Activision’s ability to replicate classic feel. Nonetheless, upon hearing many good things about the game, I decided to take a risk and purchase the game. After a seven-hour marathon session, I can profess with certainty that Goldeneye 007 does its legendary namesake justice, a modern shooter that feels like a classic. While it may not have the impact of the original, Eurocom’s remake takes creative liberties while preserving the original aesthetics of the game even through the addition of modern mechanics. The result is a fine and memorable campaign coupled with incredible local multiplayer worthy of the prestigious franchise.

Reverent Tribute or Blasphemous Desecration? Single-Player
From watching gameplay footage, one would predict that Goldeneye 007 would be a Bond-flavored Call of Duty game, and to a minor extent, this is correct. Aim-assist is present, levels are linear (though not to the extent of Modern Warfare 2), story is told through load-screen briefings, breaches are accompanied with a slo-mo effect and aiming down the sight is the key to success in combat. What makes this Wii-remake so special is how it delicately balances these modernizations to make the game both familiar yet fresh.
For one, much like the original, this is a stealth/shooter hybrid. Running and gunning leads to many deaths, and thus, enemy placement is designed to promote a stealthy play-style. Enemies are positioned so that tactical planning of attacks is necessary. A stealth-takedown move is preformed by maneuvering behind an enemy and following a motion prompt, allowing for the player to eliminate enemies unnoticed. This stealthy method of play is extremely satisfying and gives what could have been an overly generic shooter its own unique play style. While the N64 game was geared towards run-n-gun gameplay, it still was filed with stealth-sequences. Fans of the original will be pleased to see this style of play replicated in 2010.

Unlike the original Goldeneye’s short, snappy levels, Goldeneye for the Wii has a very lengthy campaign with some incredible set pieces. While the N64 versions levels could be completed in five minutes, the average Goldeneye Wii level takes about 25 minutes to complete, resulting in one of the meatiest single-player games in recent memory. Goldeneye’s weapon set also mixes Call of Duty and the N64 games dynamics to an excellent effect. Weapons feel powerful, sound great and are excellently modeled. Pulling off headshots with a high-powered Pavlov sniper is as fun as it was years ago, and while it might not have the spectacle that other recent AAA shooters are known for (read: Reach, Black Ops), Goldeneye’s campaign stands alone both as a modernization of the original and a new experience. Level layouts may be entirely different, but they differ to Goldeneye’s  benefit
Nonetheless, one innovation that this game utilizes that has been sorely underused in modern FPS games are multiple objectives. As the player increases the difficulty, new objectives must be completed, thereby changing the experience and adding a replay value rare in modern shooters (no pun intended). The original Goldeneye had this scaling difficulty system and not since the TimeSplitters series has this been used. Needless to say, the utilization of this difficulty system makes this modern game so much more honest to the original, and thus, so much more fun.

Ultimately, Goldeneye 2010 does indeed succeed in replicating the original games aesthetic despite its newer mechanics and is a worthy successor to the esteemed 007 title.Whether or not it can create as many fond memories as the original remains debatable. 

Graphics, Control and Sound
Goldeneye 2010 is by no means a good looking game compared to game like Corruption or Red Steel 2, and despite the best intentions of the art team, Goldeneye’s artistic direction feels generic in the face of the recent surge of modern-warfare inspired shooters. The game runs off developer Eurocom’s Dead Space Extraction engine, and thus, features some very impressive facial animation and lighting effects. Light sources are awash with ample bloom-lighting and reflect and bounce off beautifully off polished surfaces. Mo-capped and facially scanned character models are impressive in detail and react realistically.
Nonetheless, the graphics do fall short in certain areas. For one, some textures are rather blurry compared to other Wii games. Bullet-holes leave a noticeable decal and the frame rate drops slightly at busy times. Goldeneye’s engine might lack the sophistication of The Conduit’s Quantum3 engine and it might also lack the inspired artistry of Corruption, nonetheless, the framerate is solid almost all of the time and rarely drops and the texturing won’t get in the way of enjoyment.

Goldeneye’s controls, much like its graphics, pale in comparison to titles like The Conduit and Corruption. The pointer-based controls are excellent, without many problems. Nonetheless, I often wished for a quick-turn button which would allow for me to snap back to engage with threats behind me, as the default turning speed was too slow for my taste. Nonetheless, Goldeneye features extremely customizable controls through which every button can be remapped and the bounding sensitivity can be adjusted. In addition, the game also supports Zapper, Classic Controller and Gamecube support. Gamecube control, while functional, is not recommended as the C-Stick is too small and stubby to work well for long play sessions. Ultimately, the bundled Classic Controller Pro works best for this game, with button mapping being flawless.
Sound-wise, the game is excellent. Daniel Craig leads the voice-cast of the game as Bond providing a very authentic recreation of the events of Goldeneye. Music, while repetitive, remains reminiscent to that of the series and sets up the game’s tone and mood very well.

Narrative Problems
Nonetheless, a considerable problem facing Goldeneye is its story.While thematically, it is refreshing to have a fun espionage-themed shooter in face of the gritty war titles we have received in recent years, Eurocom’s attempt at modernizing the Goldeneye story falls absolutely flat in seven instances, leaving gaping plot holes.


For one, by moving the events of the game to occur in 2010, the writers have essentially made Treylevan’s motives for attacking the Bank of England useless, his motives seemingly become hazy. Also, the dam mission, now coinciding with the rest of the story, makes the relationship between Janus and Ouromov confusing and unclear. If Treylevan was working for the Russians under the guise of a MI6 member, how did he survive the gunshot wound and why did he kill so many Russian operatives. Goldeneye’s story is minorly tainted in this revival and is one of the weaker parts of this game.

Goldeneye 64 was known for its innovative split-screen multiplayer mode, which attracted a cult-following in the late 90s in college dorms and high-school basements everywhere. Surprisingly, the revival’s multiplayer is very robust for the Wii, while it may not necessarily cut into the TF2 time, the online multiplayer is both fun, responsive and addictive. While not as deep as the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops, one can appreciate the smaller maps and reduced player-count, leading to better balance, simpler gameplay and fewer infuriating spawn-kills and deathstreaks.

Structurally, Goldeneye is considerably simplified Call of Duty. Character customization is limited to three perks, a primary weapon, secondary weapon and a primary weapon attachment. Thus, success depends on reflexes and marksmanship rather than map memorization and camping. The low-player count reduces the risk of frustrating spawn kills and the lack of killstreak awards keeps things simple and controlled. The same simplicity is one of Goldeneye’s faults, and while it is fun to pop online for a few quick matches, online multiplayer eventually grows repetitive and the lack of voice-chat significantly reduces the appeal. Online Multiplayer fanatics might rather look at Black Ops or the upcoming Conduit 2.


Thankfully, true to the original, Goldeneye 007 features not only some of the best local multiplayer shooting on the console, but of the entire generation. While modern shooters have focused more on online play, seldom is excellent local multiplayer a focus for developers. Sure, there is Call of Duty, but one does get tired of playing Rust and Nuketown for the umpteenth time. Goldeneye 007 does an excellent job of fine-tuning its maps for raucous split-screen matches. While the fact that the pre-set loadouts does limit strategic depth, the sheer accessibility of the experience is reminiscent to the quality of the original N64 game. A bevy of character models and the large variety of control options allows the game to access a wide audience. The masterful degree of customization allows for a degree of rule-changing depth unseen since TimeSplitters 2. Needless to say, Goldeneye 007 offers a refreshing change of pace, and while the online multiplayer might not be as robust as other FPS games, the split-screen will give ample reason to leave the disc in your Wii for weeks at a time. Highly Recommended. 4.5/5

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Psychological Ramifications of the EMA Case

The law states that violent video games are ones in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being in a manner that's "patently offensive," appeals to a person's "deviant or morbid interests," and lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." ~ Gregory Leporati

On November 2nd, 2010, the US Supreme Court heard a case named Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association. The case regarded a challenge to California’s currently held violent video game laws, respectively AB 1792 and 1793. Which were created by State Senator Leland Yee after the controversy regarding the Hot Coffee mod to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a fan-created hack that allowed the player to have sex with a female avatar. Under the challenged laws, any video game that would allow for violent acts to be preformed onto a human character would be cordoned off in a separate section of a store, require ID to purchase and bear a two-inch sticker warning of dangerous content, essentially placing video-games on the level of guns, pornography and alcohol. During the case itself, Justices Scalia, Sotomayor, Roberts, Kennedy and Ginsberg expressed skepticism towards Zack Morazzini, who represented California’s objections towards violent games. The Justices agreed that the laws posed a serious infringement on the First Amendment rights of game developers and that exceptions should not be made for content accessible by both children and adults, Kennedy stated that “You are asking us to create a -- a whole new prohibition which the American people never -- never ratified when they ratified the First Amendment." Nonetheless, Justice Breyer pressed the EMA representative on the psychological effects of violent games on children, questioning the notion that a First Amendment exception should be made for a different medium. Running With Scissor’s Postal 2 was brought up for discussion, a poorly selling sadistic action game which allowed for the maiming and abuse of children. The EMA took the position that “there is not a violence exception to the First Amendment for minors and there should not be". Ultimately, the courts were skeptical of the California video-game laws, believing them to be a First-Amendment violation, nonetheless, the psychological effects of gaming left the members ambivalent, as neither side had any solid evidence pointing to whether or not video games were indeed harmful to minors.


I chose to cover this article because it involves me personally as both an avid video-game player and an indie game developer. Writing an open-letter to Leland Yee ( a few weeks ago, I protested against California’s attempt at regulating an artistic community that I am very much part of. There is a considerable lack of solid evidence pointing at a causal relationship between video-game violence and real-world violence, leaving the relationship entirely speculative. In fact, surveys indicate that youth violence has decreased significantly in the past fifty years, while this may not be a causal relationship it is clear that video game consumption has rose in the last fifty years. While there is undeniable that media of any kind has an effect on its audience, and that young children are especially easily influenced by media, the notion that video games are more harmful than other media, say children’s cartoons or children’s marketing, is extremely shaky. For one, the belief that the play of first-person shooters leads to school shootings is entirely false and a gross oversimplification of social problems facing troubled adolescents, it is proven that a variety of other factors, such as parental and peer relationships (or lack thereof) are the causal factors of violent behavior in children, not game consumption. In addition, if a causal relationship were to exist, the rampant popularity of the Halo and Call of Duty franchises would have lead to the total annihilation of society, as no such thing happened, the causal relationship cannot exist. Furthermore, should the Supreme Court side with California and treat video games like pornography, guns and tobacco, games will essentially become a taboo hobby, their consumption being frowned upon socially. Having played games since three and recently helped in the foundation of an indie studio, I cannot allow this to a happen. I have recently received an email back from Senator Yee’s office, expressing interest in a meeting to discuss the matter and the ramifications that the case entails.


Leland Yee, the California State Senator who originally created AB 1792 and 1793, is a child psychologist. A considerable portion of the organizations filing amicus briefs in support of California cite the possible adverse effects violent games might have on children, the rest believing violent games to be mere obscenity. However, the professional psychological community is entirely split on the subject. Dave Grossman, a West Point psychology professor, holds that game publishers are essentially training children to use weapons and are systematically desensitizing them to violence, calling first-person shooter games “murder simulators”. On the other hand, child psychologist Lawrence Kutner wrote in his book Grand Theft Childhood that his studies indicated that children who did not play video games were statistically more likely to participate in violent behavior. A Texas A&M study published just this year concluded that there was no link between violent game consumption and school shootings. Nonetheless, another Iowa State University article linked video-game play to increased levels of aggressive behavior and thought. The lack of consensus within the psychological community leaves the veracity of the notion that game violence causes real violence questionable, and thus, requires further research and understanding to reach a compromise, if one is needed, between game developers and concerned parental organizations. Ultimately, if there is indeed an explicit link, the question will come down to whether or not such behavioral affects would justify First Amendment exceptions.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Sites 68

PUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDI I'm rather ambivalent about Facebook's most recent trend, changing one's profile picture to that of a nostalgic cartoon character for the sake of child abuse. While previous trends have been innocuous and fun grabs at personal fame for meme creators, this one has been disguised beneath the idea of a good cause, thereby dragging many into what is newly known as "Facebook Slacktivism". Nonetheless, I am participating out of interest in nostalgia. and while we're on the topic of memes, two new and interesting ones have surfaced in the past week, Jimmy Wales and PUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDIPUDDI Just try it out. Runs entered text through Google Translate multiple times to hilarious results. (thank you Sean White)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Platformertown Developer’s Diary (Part 1)

Hey readers,

For those of you who don’t already know, I participated in the foundation of a new indie game development studio along with some of the alumni of COSMOS UCSC Cluster 5 2010. Our first game is tentatively titled Platformertown, a 2D Java based platformer, on which I am art director. Our project wiki can be found here. Right now, here are some preliminary sprites and art assets to be found within the completed game (we’re going for a “it’s done when it’s done” approach).

150578_1755359930020_1419610922_31937503_2659252_n Logo (Credit: Marcus Goldschmidt)


Main Player Character (running)


Main Player Character (Jumping)


Signpost Enemy






MagmaMonster Boss

Well, that’s it for now. Come back later for more developer’s diaries as well as an upcoming review of the new Goldeneye.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Sites 67

What’s up readers. Here are this week’s Sunday Sites. The election day passage of prop L, a measure prohibiting the sitting on sidewalks, is most detestable and is restrictive of an extremely innocuous use of public space. A protest against the proposition is underway and has garnered much attention from high-school students. A reflection on the recent Schwartzenegger v. EMA case by the editors at the Escapist. Awesome meme, spent several hours browsing this site. Funny and true. Ignore the incendiary URL and title, but Mr. Yee’s attempts at ruining the lives of game developers and ruining the enjoyment of game consumers is very, very alarming.

Friday, November 26, 2010

100 Free Games (pt. 2)

I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. To troll retailers hoping to profit from Black Friday, here are another 25 free games.

74. Alien Swarm – If you have a Steam account, then you already have this free game. A top-down cooperative shooter based off an unreal mod, Alien Swarm is reminiscent of classics like Smash TV, but with modern twists inspired by Valve’s Left 4 Dead.

73. Desktop Tower Defense – An open-source take on the casual tower-defense genre, this a simplified RTS built for quick-play.

72. Nethack – A timeless classic from the early 80s, this open-source dungeon hack has been alive forever and is still widely supported.

71. Secret Maryo Chronicles – This is a shameless rip-off off of Super Mario World, but a good shameless rip-off. Very fun physics and 2D platforming inspired by the best.

70. Zelda Classic – A fan-project to add levels and remake the original NES Zelda as a ROM.


68. fl0w – Jenova Chen’s ambient Flash game is an alternative piece that really cannot be understood without experiencing it. As the precursor to fl0wer, creative gameplay revolves around developing a creature by navigating around an ambient environment

67. I Wanna be the Guy – Allegedly developed during a drunk flame-war, this 2D platformer is a sarcastic tribute towards incredibly difficult 8-bit action games. Considered by many to be the hardest game ever made, this is an indie classic.

66. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory – Another freeware classic, this objective based shooter might suffer from long-load times, but its legendary heritage makes it worth consideration. Its influence in Quake Wars is apparent.


65. Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden – this is a sarcastic parody of classic action-based JRPGs and is a pretty decent RPG itself. Excellent writing and a wonderful sense of humor makes this awesome.

64. Doom – The single most influential PC game ever made, Doom has an expansive variety of WAD files and mod support.

63. Penumbra: Overture – Although Frictional is more well known for their recent Amnesia: The Dark Descent, their first survival-horror game, Penumbra, is widely considered to be one of the most disturbing games ever made.

62. Marathon Trilogy – the precursor to the Halo franchise, Marathon is a 1990s shooter in the vein of works like Doom.

61. Battlechess – I remember playing this gem at three years old on my dad’s 1990 mac. This abandonware chess-sim features awesome hand-drawn sprite graphics.

60. Fallout – The classic post-apocalyptic RPG was free on Gametap last year, but has since been pulled. Keep your eyes peeled to see if this game returns to the free-section.

59. Silkroad Online – This Asian-themed MMORPG provides the same addictive play as other MMOs with an emphasis on trade.

58. A.P.B. – The commercial failure of this hybrid shooter-MMORPG forced realtime worlds to sell APB to make it a free-to-play title.

57. Need for Speed: World – EA’s second free-to-play microtransaction-based game is part of the veritable NFS franchise, which had since dipped since Carbon, this MMO-racer features great online play and graphics.


56. Vindictus – Yet another Nexon MMO, Vindictus is far more refined than one would expect from Nexon. The graphics look incredible based off Valve’s source engine, with gameplay based off Monster Hunter and brutal action, this game has incredibly high system-requirements.

55. Portal: The Flash Version – Portal was a true classic that displayed more creative ideas than the last two years of FPS gaming combined. This indie Flash tribute replicates the incredible concept on a 2D plane.

54. Fortress Forever – Fans of Team Fortress 2 might be interested in this Half Life 2 mod, remaking the original Team Fortress in the new Source engine.

53 Goldeneye: Source – Even with the incredible Wii remake stealing its thunder, Goldeneye: Source is a more authentic recreation of the classic multiplayer shooter and its N64 aesthetic.

52. Beneath a Steel Sky – This is an abandonware classic adventure game working on ScummVM, an open-source emulator project working off of LucasArts games.

51. One Button Bob- An obscure Newgrounds classic, this is a puzzle-platformer featuring innovative and creative one-button gameplay.

1237225189-s1-The Spirit E

50. The Spirit Engine –This is an extremely polished amateur indie RPG, a sequel, sold for profit, is available for $10. Cheap enough to support some talented developers with an ambitious vision.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Sites 66

Well, here are this week’s Sunday Sites. Up next, my review of Goldeneye 007 for the Wii, followed by Part 2 of Explorations in Gaming. :):):):):) A fascinating essay on free will from the creator of Awesome.!+Mail ignore the cutsey format, this one here is scintillating

Red Steel 2 Review

In 2006, Ubisoft revealed Red Steel to the world at the E3 conference. Under the promise of next-gen graphics, revolutionary swordplay and mature content, hype for the game reached a fever pitch. Upon its November release, many were disappointed at its poor presentation, clumsy controls and ugly graphics. Nonetheless, as a Wii launch game, it moved over a million copies, justifying a sequel.

With last year’s release of the Wii MotionPlus peripheral, motion control received new potential. With greater sensitivity and accuracy, true 1:1 control was made possible. After an impressive demo in Wii Sports Resort, Red Steel 2 brings Wii MotionPlus into a traditional, hardcore-oriented action game.

Most Improved Sequel… Ever?

As other game critics have pointed out, Red Steel 2 improves over the original in nearly every conceivable way. Gone is the Urban Yakuza theme, replaced instead with a Wild-West Meiji-era aesthetic that is as creative as it is beautiful. With cel-shaded graphics resonant of Borderlands (great game by the way), Steel 2 features some of the best graphics on the Wii. An excellent frame-rate keeps the action smooth, which is critical for this type of game.


Red Steel 2 does not comfortably fit into any established genre of game. It can be played like a first-person shooter, but by simply moving the Wiimote through swings, stabs, pushes, parries, blocks and evades, Red Steel 2 becomes much like a first-person hack-n'-slash beat-em-up. Surprisingly brutal moves push the edges of the T rating. Through a combination of motion-controlled special moves, I was able to knock a foe into the air, pull out a shotgun, fire into his torso and send him diving into the ground with a downward slash. As I landed, I swung my controller backwards to impale a foe behind me, pulling out a pistol to stun another enemy and jump into the air to attempt to vertically bisect him, finishing him off with a slash at the legs to knock him eight feet to the side. Needless to say, Red Steel 2’s motion combat is some of the most visceral on any console and the best since the original No More Heroes.

Incredibly stylish animation makes the combat even more enticing. The game runs at a smooth 60 FPS, leaving the gameplay precise and accurate. Special moves require combinations of button presses and gestures to pull off and the extra time spent raising money to acquire these abilities is worth it, all the special moves look awesome and hold incredible versatility in combat.


Despite the three paragraphs I spent gushing praise for this sequel, Red Steel 2 isn’t without its problems. For one, the exaggerated gestures required to fight leads to inevitable control problems. Sometimes the MotionPlus would fail to read my gestures correctly (although this was extremely rare). More significant however, is that such exaggerated gestures would frequently yank out the Wiimote from the Nunchuk, leaving me unable to move and forcing me to pause the game to reconnect. Given the exaggerated motions needed to fight properly, yanking the nunchuk loose is a serious problem in Red Steel 2, though this isn’t the fault of the developers, it still does detract from the enjoyment of the game in minor ways.


Red Steel 2 features about seven overworlds in each of its seven chapters. The fundamental structure of the game is mission-based, the player takes missions at a safehouse and explores the overworld to complete it. Despite the game’s excellent art-direction, the overworld is comprised almost exclusively of rectangular rooms and linear corridors, leading to some repetitive level design. Even more disappointing are the sidequests that the player can take for bonus cash. Sidequests are comprised of repetitive collection missions, forcing the player to activate a specified number of Comm Towers or tear down a number of wanted posters. This would be forgivable if the sidequest structure was more varied, but the fact that these quest-types reappear in every single chapter frustrates to no end. The lack of a full-overworld map is frustrating, turning these poster-hunts into a matter of wandering around the level, hoping to find a well-concealed target.

In Conclusion

Red Steel 2 is not a bad game, in fact, it is very much the opposite. Its a unique action game that could only be experienced with motion controls featuring stylish combat, great art direction and some of Wii’s best motion-combat. In spite of the technical and mechanical success that Ubisoft has achieved, Red Steel 2’s minor problems detract from what could have been one of the finest games of 2010. Recommended for the adventurous. 3.75/5

Thursday, November 18, 2010

100 Free Games (Part 1)

What’s up readers? There is a massive free-to-play scene online through microtransactions, open-source projects, Flash, Java and freeware. Some of these are amazing, most are horrid. Here are 100 of the best, free games available anywhere.

100. Combat Arms - A multiplayer online FPS game with a massive community consisting of over a million free accounts. Hundreds of weapons and a multitude of customization options, a whopping 25 maps and 14 gametypes makes this one of the most popular microtransaction based shooters available despite its occasionally imbalanced weapons and hack prevention.

99. Battlefield Heroes – Fans of the Battlefield and Team Fortress series will be pleased to see a free-to-play version with simplified and more accessible gameplay. Art style is fantastic despite the lack of a first-person mode.

98. Runes of Magic – This blatant World of Warcraft clone makes up for what it lacks in originality for highly refined MMORPG gameplay, excellent graphics and detail.

97. Lord of the Rings Online – An incredibly deep, expansive MMORPG set in one of the richest and most imaginative universes to be conceived in the past century. A lack of PVP options doesn’t tarnish the fun.


96. F.E.A.R. COMBAT – For those who have played F.E.A.R., an excellent horror-themed FPS, the excellent multiplayer-mode is now free-to-play, bringing with it F.E.A.R.’s many innovations.

95. Quake Live – 1998’s Quake III Arena is considered to be many to be the greatest online-multiplayer FPS game ever made, spawning (no pun intended) countless open-source projects. The lightning-fast gameplay of Quake III, speed, fluidity and balance has been translated perfectly into a web-game. As a result, Quake Live is now the go-to FPS for competitive gaming circuits.

94. America’s Army - A recruitment tool created by the U.S. government, the intentions and background of this game is questionable. Nonetheless, it is a highly-refined and realistic FPS based off the highly regarded Unreal 3 Engine.

93. WarSow – Much like Quake Live, this competitive FPS holds its own through its innovative movement options, sporting first-person parkour years before Mirror’s Edge made it mainstream. An attractive cel-shaded style is both beautiful and fun.

92. Sauerbraten – More a game-development project than an actual game, this open-source project sports simple gameplay, but exceptional map-making and design tools. The engine is customizable, accessible and versatile.

91. Nexuiz – Whereas previous FPS have emulated Quake III, Nexuiz emulates Unreal Tournament’s style of gameplay. A grounded art-style and variety of weapons makes this an excellent multiplayer game.

90. DOTA Allstars – An RPG-themed Warcraft III mod, this exceptionally popular multiplayer game features refined gameplay and fine balance.

89. 8-Bit Killer – Fans of retro-styled games will appreciate this game’s NES sensibilities applied to a modern FPS model. This is a memorable and bold indie game.

88. N – This is a Flash-classic, a physics based platformer that everyone has played.

87. Far Cry – Crytek’s 2004 classic is available as an ad-supported free download. Its incredible graphics, intelligent AI and open level design laid out the work for Crysis.

86. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time – This 2003 classic is an exemplary piece of poignant storytelling and linear platforming

85. Command and Conquer Gold Edition – EA’s pre-Starcraft RTS provides refined gameplay with excellent sprite-based 1990’s graphics.

84. Ghost Recon – The 1990 stealth shooter is freeware now.

83. Trackmania – A 3D arcade racer, its freeware and happens to be the single most played racer on the PC.

82. The Battle for Wesnoth – An open-source classic, a turn-based strategy RPG with extensive community support.

81. 5 Days a Stranger – While Zero Punctuation is more well known for his hilarious reviews, his freeware PC Horror Adventure game is a wonderful and terrifying horror game.

80. Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat – This Half-Life 2 mod is one of the most complex multiplayer shooters I have ever played. Its high learning curve and realism puts to shame all other “realistic” shooters, objective based online modes are impressive.

79. Dystopia – This is another Half-Life 2 multiplayer mod with wonderful art and amazing complexity. Like Insurgency, maps are objective based. The main gimmick here is the ability to “Jack-In” into the virtual world, entering a Tron like trance where virtual objectives must be completed.

78. Company of Heroes: Online – This RTS was the 2006 PC Game of the Year. The multiplayer portion of the game is now free-to-play and supports microtransactions.

77. LinCity – A highly sophisticated City-Sim in the vein of Sim City 2000

76. Cave Story – This is an indie classic heavily inspired by 8-bit NES classics. Highly regarded, this 2D action/adventure platformer is not only one of the greatest freeware games ever made, but one of the best.

75. Minecraft – The flood of Facebook statuses can’t be wrong. The web-version of Minecraft takes the Java language to its limits to create an addictive, pixilated 3D indie experience.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Sites 65

Well, after another month in limbo, Sunday Sites is back again. Why Video games are definitively better than girls When games are sold like guns Geek Heaven, this school is awesome. Fake Capsizing Boat trolls the high seas A Modern Warfare themed DoomWAD. Pretty awesome if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Schwarzenegger v. EMA - Transcripts

Today is November 2, 2010. Earlier today, the Supreme Court of the United States held meetings to discuss a recent challenge made by the Entertainment Merchant’s Association to California’s currently held violent video-game law (which was the subject of a previous open-letter to the SCOTUS). Game-journalism site Joystiq has created a scintillating summary and transcript of the court proceedings. From my interpretation of the script, it would seem that the Supreme Court justices, particularly Scalia, Roberts and Sotomayor, are supportive of the First-Amendment protection of video games.

Another interesting point raised by the justices is the question of a double-standard for protection of violent works as opposed to sexually explicit works. Roberts compared video-games to traditional art forms of narrative and film. Sotomayor also noted that children’s cartoons, another piece of commercially developed entertainment, offer no redeeming value beyond that of entertainment, and are still afforded First-Amendment protection.

And on a lighter note, the Goldeneye revival for the Wii has recieved surprisingly positive reviews, praising its authenticity to the original game’s aesthetic design.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I know I am a bit late for this, but…

Up stepped Renteria, and what happened next was a gift from the gods, who had tortured Giants fans every autumn after 1954. The wait is over. The Giants are champions. ~ Ben Schpigel

Political Endorsements 2010

What’s up readers. Its been a crazy past two weeks, after being detained at Disneyland, watching the Giants reach the World Series, helping a friend in need and watching in trepidation for tomorrow’s Schwarzenegger v. EMA, it is time for the bi-annual Political Endorsements. Given the timeframe that I have for the post, I will do only selected propositions and candidates.

2010 Gubernatorial California Candidate: UNDECIDED






Oh yeah, and one more thing GO GIANTS!!!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Open-Letter to Leland Yee and the US Supreme Court Regarding Schwartzenegger v. EMA

Hello Mr. Leland Yee

My name is Kevin Wong, an independent high-school student blogger and gaming enthusiast from the Sunset. It has come to my attention that California Assembly Bills 1792 and 1793 will be challenged in a November 2 Supreme Court trial Schwarzenegger v. EMA. A gamer supreme-courtsince four, I was deeply perturbed by news of this possible threat to not only the First Amendment rights of game developers, but also to video games as an artistic and entertainment medium. Should the Supreme Court side with California, any video game depicting violent action between human characters would be cordoned off in a separate area of a store and bear a large warning label, essentially placing games on the same level with pornography and cigarettes. As a longtime video-game consumer, writer and aspiring developer, I cannot allow this to happen for the following reasons. 

  • Passing laws calling for the special treatment of video-games as a medium essentially makes them taboo. By treating them similarly to pornography and cigarettes, future consumers could begin to treat them similarly. By making gaming a taboo hobby, gaming may become socially frowned upon.
  • The state lacks substantial proof towards the conviction that virtual depiction of violence causes real-world violence. A Texas A&M study concluded that there was no explicit link between violent game consumption and school shootings. (1)
  • By restricting sales of violent games, video game sales will ultimately dip. Developers and publishers must alter the content of their games in order to comply with sales restrictions and remain profitable. This ultimately lends the government indirect control of the content of all video games everywhere.
  • The case is ultimately disrespectful to games as an artistic medium by labeling them as a societal threat and a negative influence.
  • Even if the Court sides with California, young people will always actively seek out ways to circumvent the system through piracy, online stores or simply borrowing from peers.
  • In essence, video games are a conglomerate of other forms of constitutionally protected media. Music, narrative, digital visual art and voice-over are ubiquitous in modern games.

In the past few decades, video games have grown exponentially with changes in technology, design, commercial viability, perception and development. Understanding that games like Postal are unrepresentative of the gaming industry as a whole, video-games hold many redeeming values and maintain legitimacy as a form of First Amendment protected media. Notably violent games such as Bioshock and the maligned Grand Theft Auto should not be taken by their first-impression. These games convey traditional narratives of utopia and crime through the distinctions that their medium affords. The indie and alternative game circuit is very well known for their advancements in video game narrative and art-gaming through works such as Braid, World of Goo, Machinarium and Limbo, all of which convey narratives that cannot be replicated through any other medium.


While media pundits such as Jack Thompson may deride games theatrically, their arguments convey a distinct lack of understanding of the nuances of the medium. For one, their conviction that violence is the primary draw to video games is wholly flawed. Should this be true, than notably violent games such as Postal, MadWorld and Rapelay would not have been commercial failures. Gamers are attracted to refined games exhibiting mastery of mechanics and dynamics, evoking the desired aesthetics. Hence, the success of the Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty games is not attributed to their graphic depiction of violence, which is mild in comparison to other games, but their refined marketing and design.

Ph.D student Vanessa Gorely said, “Video games are extremely prevalent in our culture, but they haven’t been paid much attention as a cultural phenomenon. Most attention has been paid to the negative aspects of gaming and not the good aspects of it (2)”. Given the highly negative attention that the media gives games, the vast majority of older people hold condescending views towards gaming, acknowledging them as either a waste of time or a societal threat (3). However, recent intellectual approaches to gaming have portal been made by the modern intelligentsia, thereby proving wrong the notion that gaming is a waste of time. For one, Wabash College in Indiana has as part of its required material for incoming freshman, Valve’s 2007 puzzle game Portal. Portal, frequently compared to Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, was chosen for its use of NPC characters that intend to deceive the player while subtly hinting at their true intentions, thereby addressing “fundamental questions of humanity” (4). Another school with gaming programs is The University of Calgary, which has recently laid out plans for the addition of video games to its research library (5). Like film and comics before it, courts are impugning the societal relevance of video games. Given the recent advances of intellectual circles into gaming, as well as indie gaming circles into intellectualism, I wholeheartedly support the EMA in the upcoming case. Thus, I sincerely implore you, Mr. Lee, Governor Schwarzenegger, California and the Supreme Court to develop a deeper understanding of the nuances and distinctions of the video game medium and afford them the artistic respect and the First Amendment protection that they deserve.

Thank You

Kevin Wong and the Ensigned (We collected over 70 signatures in two days! Thank you!)







Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Sites 64

My friend Daniel sent me some links that I thought would be interesting and relevant to this site. Enjoy The Defenders of Free Software, a watchdog movement to monitor software corporations Atheists know more about religion than believers An excellent podcast regarding atheism, religion and misinformation. An upcoming convention on November 6 and 7 regarding science and technology. Some excellent lectures are coming up. Its free and at both Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lord of the Rings Online Review

Turbine recently released its 2007 MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) as free-to-play. The entirety of the game and its Mines of Moria expansion has been made free for download and registration. Adopting a business model similar to that of Nexon’s Combat Arms and MapleStory, real-world money can be exchanged for rare items, classes, mounts and quests. By adopting this business model, Lord of the Rings Online is not only the cheapest MMORPG out there, but also one of the best.


The Lord of the Rings license is insanely popular within mainstream and nerd culture. The Fellowship trilogy is by far the most influential work in modern fantasy, influencing works from Dungeons and Dragons to Eragon. The richness of the universe shows in the game, LOTRO is perhaps the most faithful derivative work from Tolkein yet.  Chronicling the events of the entire saga, LOTRO is more cohesive than an affair like WOW, ultimately feeling less a sandbox and more a campaign. The game is very rich in lore and backstory and that honesty to the original works shows itself in gameplay. LOTRO is a very co-op/solo oriented experience, with PVP restricted to only one zone. The leviathan number of quests, instanced or otherwise, available makes experience acquisition a rather easy task and grinding for elite titles, equipment and abilities is ultimately rewarding.

LOTRO also includes a number of innovations that set it apart from other MMOs. One such mechanic is conjunction attacks, which allow parties to perform very powerful moves by carefully coordinating attack types. Crafting also returns in LOTRO and is as accessible as ever, with resources being easy to find and systems accessible. Also interesting is the Deed system, which allows elite traits to be unlocked by completing specific tasks in an area.

LOTRO has excellent graphics and music for an MMORPG. Character models are exquisitely detailed and environments are firmly grounded in the series distinct art style. The music and sound effects characterize LOTRO’s lore very well, transporting the player to Middle-Earth and making the universe feel immersive, rich and alive.

Unfortunately, heavy PVP buffs must look elsewhere. PVP options are rather limited, restricting combat to a single zone and a minigame called “Monster Play”, where a group of players play powerful Monster characters and other players fight them with their own characters. Monster Play is unlockable only through purchasing it with real money. the-lord-of-the-rings-online-siege-of-mirkwood-20100617115054231_640w

The extent of content locked is also a considerable problem with the game. For one, players are capped at having 3 bags and 2 gold. Auction-house access is limited and three quest-packs are available. Crafting guilds are locked, Rest XP is reserved for VIP members and customer service is restricted to the forums.

Despite the many limitations that the Free-to-Play model provides, the free version of LOTRO is one of the best MMOs on the market with its rich and interesting universe, accessibility and character customization options. Those who can afford to pay monthly subscription fees get access to the VIP version of LOTRO are in for a real treat. Highly recommended, 4.25/5

Monday, September 27, 2010

Explorations in Gaming: The Most Misunderstood Medium (Part 1)

For the last year or so, I have been blogging considerably less than I had before. While I was able to push out 89 postings last year, 2010 brought a meager 49 postings. I also have not written a major blog post since last year’s Nerds and Popularity. I am embarrassed to say that a tenfold increase in gaming time was responsible for my declining blogging productivity.

Some years ago, developing and enhancing this site was one of my top priorities online. As I turned on my computer, I browsed the web and thought about content to upload to this site. It served as a good outlet for me to explore personal thoughts, share the better ones with the world and chart my personal intellectual development. Since then, such topics have tropped out of interests and video games have come to fill that void. My most-visited sites used to be Wikipedia, Flickr, Blogger and DeviantArt respectively and has since shifted to Facebook, Wikipedia, Gamespot, IGN, GamesRadar and

The tenfold increase in gaming has also changed my personality in noticeable ways. My sense of humor has grown dry, consisting of deadpan references to obscure video games in inopportune moments. Just yesterday at Quiz Bowl practice I 4chanftwblurted, “IMRAN ZAKHAEV!” when prompted with a Middle Eastern Russian imperialist. Sunday Sites are now almost exclusively reposts of IGN and GamesRadar articles. My fundamental relationships with others have deteriorated as I hold little interest in professional sports, television and the opposite sex. Thus, in this post, I will attempt to explore and defend video games and the relationship with the gamer to his games. Games have quickly become the most misunderstood art form of our day. Spreading a greater understanding of the nuances of the medium is my goal with this post, which will be part of an ongoing series titled “Explorations in Gaming.” 

A Time of Asteroids and the Birth of Obsession

"The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one” ~ Mr. Antolini

I remember that there was a time when I had yet to discover gaming. I was about two years old at that time; I mostly read and drew to entertain myself. At three, I was given access to my dad’s Macintosh, where he kept a considerable number of games. The first game I ever played was a clone of Missile DefenseA5200_Missile_Command, along with Odell Down Under, Oregon Trail and Asteroids along with a crapload of edutainment titles. I must say that playing them was no revelatory experience. While I did play games on that computer frequently, I had yet to encounter the experience that would entrance me for life. 

In 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time entered my life, I had played Super Mario 64 before, but nothing was like this. That was an early revelatory experience. The fantasy world of a 3D Hyrule permeated my early childhood fantasies, I would make up my own dungeons and Zelda stories with my imagination. I would be Link in my daydreams. The next game to conquer my imagination and daydreams would not come until I discovered Pokemon, which would entrance my fantasies and dominate my mind for years. Dreams of adventuring the countryside, chasing creatures and battling trainers would be all I would think about. Needless to say, this opened the door for a lifelong love… or obsession with gaming.

Like most teenagers, I have changed a lot over the years. I have lived through phases of anger, cynicism, silliness, fear IMG_8054and pretension. Notably, my love of video-games has remained unchanged and has only grown stronger. I love video-games for the profound experiences that they have given me, both emotionally and intellectually, nonetheless, gaming has had its detrimental effect on me, encroaching upon my interests outside of gaming, my ability to succeed socially and tackle interpersonal issues.

Wasted Time: Mainstream Perceptions of Video-Games

“Computers, long a symbol of depersonalization, were cast as ‘tools for conviviality’ and ‘dream machines.’ Computers, long a symbol for the power of the ‘big’-– big corporations, big institutions, big money-- began to acquire an image as instruments for decentralization, community, and personal autonomy” ~ Sherry Turkle (The Second Self)

When most people look at video-games, they see them as a waste of time. Indeed, while talking to my high-school peers, I discover that the general consensus is that games have grown stale and boring and are only fun when played with friends. Despite the commercial success of Wii Sports and Modern Warfare 2, the overwhelming majority of teenagers treat games as casual, social pleasure. While I have no opposition to enjoying games in this way, the sheer depth and nuance of the medium makes such a cursory glance rather disappointing. Despite the technical and artistic prowess of both independent and corporate developers, the mainstream perception of games as quick, cheap entertainment remains largely unchanged.

Video games do have their fair share of detractors. The mainstream media is well known for holding often silly and uninformed views of video games. For the most part, these pundits take video-gaming at the surface level, believing violence, not refined design, to be the main appeal of video games. This is a gross generalization that assumes that gamers are no more than a philistine population seeking to simulate violence as graphically as possible. This view is flawed, as it fails to account for the fact that several recent ultraviolent games, such as MadWorld, Manhunt 2 and Postal 2 were notable commercial failures. If ultraviolence were the main appeal of games, then the massive casual game movement spearheaded by 2006’s Wii Sports would have never started. Mad_world_wii_esrbboxart_160w

Ph.D student Vanessa Gorely says, “Video games are extremely prevalent in our culture, but they haven’t been paid much attention as a cultural phenomenon. Most attention has been paid to the negative aspects of gaming and not the good aspects of it.” Gorely is correct in this regard, the vast majority of people view gaming as boring, nerdy, socially-isolating or a societal threat. They do not acknowledge that gaming can be a truly enriching experience that can entertain, stimulate and entrance. Video games, particularly those by indie developers, have grown into a viable medium for artistic self-expression, indicating that gameplay is not a waste of time, but a means of personal development and life-enrichment. At the same time, there is no denying the profound effect that games have on their players and the mystery of the human-computer relationship.

 Intellectual Gaming: Using Games to Address and Convey Points

"If you think a game is 'Madden 2008,' then hey, games probably aren't art." ~ Jonathan Blow

In a 2008 lecture, Jonathan Blow said that 95% of independent game developers fail to complete their game, 95% of that population fail to make a fun and meaningful game. Oftentimes, developers design with high production-values in mind failing to design fulfilling mechanics and dynamics and arouse the desired response in the player. Blow is regarded by many to be the most preeminent intellectual in the gaming community, his 2008 puzzle game Braid is regarded to be the epitome of personal expression through interactivity in a medium dominated by multi-million dollar corporations. Lauded for its ingenuous four-dimensional mechanics, semi-autobiographical commentary on contemporary gaming, humanization of enemies and intellectual significance, Braid brought new ideas to game development, smashing the Hollywood-emulation mold that corporate development adhered to for so long. 


Perhaps Braid’s critical success can be attributed to its intellectually stimulating atmosphere and meaningful gameplay. Its ambiguous and surprising ending has been interpreted to mean a wide variety of things. From an emotional chronicle of a painful break-up to a psychological exploration of a Manhattan Project developer, interpretations are varied, thoughtful and interesting. Braid is unlike most mainstream games because its mechanics are an integral part of its storytelling whereas other games use a story to wrap together mechanics and dynamics.

Braid is not the only case for intellectual gaming. Indeed, video-games have already begun to make their way into educational institutions. The University of Calgary has already planned to add video-games to their research library. Wabash College in Indiana has already placed Valve’s 2007 puzzler Portal on its required summer material for incoming freshmen. Addressing “fundamental questions of humanity”, Portal has been analyzed by critics and compared to Goffman’s sociology book The Presentation of Self in wabash_college800x538Everyday Life. The character of GLaDOS, Portal’s omniscient, insane AI, is known for exploring themes of identity and conflicts between public and private selves. The fact that a video-game has made its way into a non-computer science college course signifies that video games are indeed a respectable and important part of modern culture.

Intellectualism in Mainstream Gaming: Commercial Success, Risk Taking and Satire in Grand Theft Auto

Intellectual gaming extends beyond obscure critical successes. 2007’s Bioshock and 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV were violent, mainstream (albeit traditional) commercial hits that held significant messages. Unlike the aforementioned games, which used gameplay to make their messages inseparable from the interactive experience, these games use atmosphere and cinematics to convey their messages respectively. This reliance on Hollywood-styled presentation detracts from the overall uniqueness that the interactivity of gaming affords.

This cinematic style can be attributed to the immense cost and risk involved in making mainstream games. GTA IV took 5 years and $100 million to produce. If it were to flop, then the combined efforts of hundreds of artists, engineers, marketers, administrators and writers would be undermined, causing significant economic disturbances. Realtime World’s MMO APB was a notable commercial failure, taking 5 years of development and millions of dollars. Within six weeks of its release, it was announced to be shut down due to its commercial unsustainably. Such commercial failures are why major publishers are unwilling to support experimental gameplay and champion the emulation of movies in games. The sheer number of differing voices involved in corporate game development makes it difficult for individuals to express themselves in these kinds of games.

Despite the clear distinction between presentation styles, some mainstream games still make an effort to pose challenging intellectual questions validating gaming. Bioshock received universal acclaim for its serious analysis of philosophical subject matter. It heavily criticizes Ayn Rand’s objectivism and theorizes over the ethical implications of a Randian society modeled after Galt’s Gulch. The game was commercially successful and told its story through methods unique to video games. Bioshock is considered to be one of the greatest video games ever released for its daring risk-taking and thought-provoking thematic material. Bioshockcoverfinalcropped

The oft-maligned Grand Theft Auto IV, popularly believed to be a celebration of violent street life, holds many redeeming values to be unearthed by deeper analysis. By depicting a realistically written, emotionally complex and humanly identifiable tragic protagonist through subtle nuances in animation, GTA IV garnered universal praise from critics. In his memoir Extra Lives, Tom Bissell extolled the game’s personally impacting environment and dialouge, writing that “[while] GTA IV’s dialogue has no bearing on its gameplay… it does make it one of very few games in which listening to people talk is not only enjoyable by sociologically revelatory” (168) Indeed, while most casual players ignore the intellectually stimulating writing, GTA IV is deserving of a considerable amount of respect in this area, particularly because of the media’s ample misunderstanding of it.

Missing Out on Life: Fulfilling Oneself Through Games (or not)

“So what have games given me? Experiences… most of which are as important to me as any real memories… I wanted games to show me things I could not see in any other medium… I wanted games to tell me a story in a way no other medium could… Then I wanted games to redeem something absent in myself… maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough.” ~ Tom Bissell, Extra Lives (182)

There is no denying that games hold a profound effect on the player. For heavy enthusiasts like myself, video games encroach heavily upon real-life commitments and relationships. While games may have infiltrated my subconscious and caused problems in real-life, I can absolutely profess that I cherish the presence of games in my life for many reasons.

But that is a story for another post. Stay tuned for part 2 of Explorations in Gaming: The Most Misunderstood Medium.