Mainstream Media on Games Might be Working

I didn’t think I was going to cover this one. Intended to ignore it completely, in fact. An experience yesterday changed my mind. Yesterday morning, the company I work for hosted a session of the ‘Online Gaming Wellbeing‘ workshop, run by the Learn with League division of Riot.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this workshop going in. I had been forwarded the invite only a day or so prior, so I hadn’t really dug into the detail yet.

I wondered whether they were going to try and get a bunch of corporates to play a game of League. Maybe then try draw some learnings from that. That would have been amusing, to say the least. (Also, I had already mentally dibsed going support. Leona, probably.)

I felt compelled to login again just to get a screenshot. Only felt up to ARAM though, as it has been aaaages since I played a ‘real’ game of League.

So I will admit, when I turned up there a definite sense of disappointment upon entering the venue and noting that it was not, in fact, set up in preparation for a mini-LAN party.

But the session was valuable and eye-opening even so.

The question of why we were here doing this session, in light of video games inspiring violence like the Christchurch massacre was brought up.

The question was given voice by a smart, intelligent person. Yet clearly the rhetoric in American mainstream media had done its job.

I was really surprised by this at the time although, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been. The response it drew though was immediate.

Voiced in a near shout from another corner of the room, defying this and calling it out as untrue. I worried that this poor person was going to be left scarred by the encounter. For daring give voice to, what was to them, a legitimate and serious concern.

The hostility and derision in the room from those who in turn likely felt personally attacked by the question was palpable. But only for a moment thankfully. The room gentled almost immediately. I think there was a realisation that while perhaps not asked in the most tactful way, or with a good read of the room, it was a sincere worry.

There followed a brief discussion on the closer correlation between access to guns and gun violence. We talked to the lack of scientific evidence supporting the conclusions being espoused in the media. We also had someone in the room who had grown up in Japan. They testified from first-hand experience just how false the claim that Japan and similar cultures didn’t game was, or that it could even possibly therefore follow that the lack of gaming was the reason they had less gun violence.

Ultimately I don’t know whether we convinced the person who raised the question or not. We might have. The conversation certainly could have gone a lot worse given the knee-jerk reaction of a start it received. But the Riot host handled the situation with a surprising degree of grace. He allowed people to have their say on an extremely charged topic without allowing a total derailment of the workshop.

Why Do I Play Games?

This question has been percolating about my brain a bit of late. At least since mid-July in fact. Because The Gaming Diaries covered it then and I’d already been trying to work out just why it was — if games were truly an escape, or a way to relax — that my time spent with them fell through the floor when it might otherwise seem such an escape was so desperately needed.

With Blaugust 2019 officially into ‘Getting to know you’ week, it seems like the perfect time to tackle it.

I think when I left my comment on The Gaming Diaries’ post on the matter, I was looking at it a little too black and white. I don’t think the fact that I have a tendency to pull away from games during times of turmoil really invalidates the reasons I hold for playing them otherwise. Rather, I think there is a limit beyond which games shouldn’t be used as the answer.

A realisation that would have seen me in much greater stead had I realised it earlier in life, no doubt.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little here — I’ll come back to this. First; what do I believe are the reasons I play games?

To De-stress, Decompress and Relax

I’m not an extrovert. I just play one on TV in day-to-day life. Work in particular.

It’s a necessary part of managing and being part of a functional team. But come time to go home, I’m very much ready for some recharge time. To let the issues of the day — whatever they happened to be — slough off into a corner somewhere to be forgotten for a while.

Of course there are family commitments as well so this isn’t always possible during the week. And I can manage that without going crazy pretty well.

But! My Sundays are sacred. No going out bar super special circumstances or emergencies. Not for any religious reasons — but rather for mental well being and ensuring I’ve properly recharged my social-energy batteries before Monday arrives.

Gaming is the main vehicle in which I achieve that recharge.

Social Connectivity

Seemingly in direct contradiction to the prior point — but my friends and I don’t get to visit each other in real life as frequently as we would otherwise like to these days.

We have children, partners, busy jobs and all that other carry on that comes with ‘adulting’.

God I miss some of the people I met in this game. (Asheron’s Call 1)

Instant online connectivity and the ability to share a hobby without spending 40+ minutes travel in either direction is a huge boon.

Over the years I’ve certainly changed my online social habits. And at least in the context of MMOs, I’ve become more and more closed off from creating new meaningful relationships. I now think this is in large part because I approach most games as a ‘BYO friends’.

The blogging community is sort of game-adjacent for the purposes of this discussion, but one enables the other and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

Occasionally, to be Challenged

Both Rakuno and TheRoyalFamily recently spoke to challenging games by and large not being for them.

I understand the point of view, and while I’m not overly keen to admit this — generally I’m in the same boat. I’d much rather the game provide me with the perception of being challenged than actually taking me out back for a swift kick up the backside.

Nooo! Not THIS much challenge! D: (Dark Souls 2: Ruin Sentinels)

Although if a game doesn’t offer even the slightest amount of resistance, then this can be a turn-off too. I ultimately stopped playing Ni No Kuni II for this reason. I believe they’ve since patched in a harder difficulty to address this, but for me at least — the damage is done.

Like Rakuno acknowledged though — there are exceptions. A couple of them we even have in common, namely the Dark Souls series and Monster Hunter: World. Both games quite happy to give you a rapid and repeated what-for. But when the right mood strikes, taking on this challenge — and ultimately beating it — is really quite the rush.

Circling Back Around to the ‘Limits’ of Gaming, then?

Where to start… I guess first, while this actually isn’t the ‘confessions’ style post I was inspired to do by Quin’s Museum of Bad Behaviour post, it could well do a good job of pretending to be. That post is still coming though.

You see, one of my prior blogs was called ‘Modicum of Gaming’. It was so named because some years before that blog, there was a time when I applied very little control to the hours I spent whiling away in some MMO or another. University — and everything else — for a time was taking a backseat, to say the least.

In fact it might be better to say we didn’t even occupy the same vehicle much of the time.

The idea for that blog came about when I happened to capture a random but powerful thought. ‘I don’t want my kids to ever game like I did.’ The follow-up thought for the blog then being to ensure the better balance I’d found was maintained over the long term.

Because that earlier sort of uncontrolled behaviour? That is what using games as an escape can look like.

Now I know, I know- most of the time ‘escape’ is simply being used as a stand in for ‘relax’, or not meant in any fashion more intense than the way one can ‘escape’ with a good book. And that’s fine. I think my brain understands this colloquial difference.

But to this day — seemingly unconsciously until I went through the effort of unpacking it all — there is a certain threshold of seriousness after which I don’t believe games are the right answer, even just for relaxation or temporary escape. Better in these circumstances to face it more directly, have the necessary discussions and get past it that way.

Perhaps I can call this a sign of maturity — in fact, I shall.

Looka’me, supes mature! ;)

Health Scare vs. Final Fantasy XIV

After finishing the battle with Garuda — I completed my power rangers-esque set of coloured crystals. Woo!

Progress in Final Fantasy XIV has been slow. Fits and starts best describes it. Small bursts of energy and then fairly long patches of procrastination. Just getting myself to jump in and get started is the real challenge. Once I am in — I’m enjoying myself immensely. But this fact while known intellectually doesn’t seem to help much in getting me to login again time.

I’ve noted this seeming oddity about myself before. Where despite games often acting as a destressor — when things start getting ‘real’ my time falls away from them significantly. Last time (incidentally when I brought FFXIV back into the picture) it was about the goings on at work. Needing to let people go in a restructure is never easy.

Health Scare

This time around it’s health related. Although to be very clear — this is still very much in a state where it could be a minor thing. The sole symptom being a radiating pain when swallowing food.

At the better end of the spectrum (and thankfully, also the most likely) it is ulceration from acid reflux. At the other end of the spectrum it’s cancer. The original plan had been to give it time on medication to reduce the acid my stomach produces. But… After the blood test results were in, my doctor was no longer content to wait. So he has referred me for an endoscopy appointment to happen early next month for a look around.

I think it is that switch of the plans by the Dr which has brought home the worry on this. It is still just as likely to be a relative nothing, but yet still seems that much closer. Friday 2nd August is the date of the endoscopy — if the news is good I expect I’ll know on the day. If it’s less good I imagine there will still be a biopsy result to wait on. In any case… moving on for the moment!

Final Fantasy Progress

I’m level 45 as a Bard now, and have lost the benefit of the XP buff that allowed me to skip all side-quests up until now. As yet — I’ve still not had to touch a side quest, but the Main Story Quest level is quickly catching up to me, and this worries me greatly.

The moment it actually happens? Well… Elsweyr is out now. ;)

More seriously, as much as the ARR MSQ is maligned where I’m up to has actually been getting quite interesting. The change of scenery into the icy lands of Coerthas with a shift in tone to one of more political intrigue was a start. But then the story with the Garlean Empire which has been in the background for a while has come to a head in a fairly major way as well, and just it’s all on!

I just finished the fight with Garuda when I last went out, so I haven’t seen what our next mission will be yet in light of the aftermath there but I’m excited for it.

Now if I could just beat the gaming procrastination thing I have going on, it’d be great!1

When First Impressions Don’t Last

It doesn’t happen incredibly frequently, but it’s happened often enough that I’m absolutely convinced that it’s a ‘thing’. Over the last few days I’ve had it happen with two games in quick succession which has got me thinking about it. ‘It’ being: When for whatever reason you bounce off a game fairly well convinced it isn’t for you — but then later return to it and find that, you know what? Actually… It very much is your thing.

Sometimes It’s Easy to Know Why…

My go to example here is Dark Souls II. I very excitedly picked up the PC release, having previously looked on enviously at the PS3 crowd with their Dark Souls and Demon Souls before that.

Day 1 I didn’t even get through the tutorial. I remember distinctly thinking the controls were shite while trying to learn controlling the direction of the character, in a run, to jump over a little tiny gap to get an item on the far side.

I put it down in disgust after trying the jump a few times. The next day I did return though, and made it through the tutorial… But then quickly became demotivated again. After having made it through the tutorial area, but before reaching Majula… I hung a left into the area that would ultimately lead to the Shaded Woods later in the game.

If ever there was a second time I considered quitting Dark Souls II though, it was here. These guys blocked me for a goodly while. *grumble* Stupid Ruin Sentinels.

You couldn’t get that far yet, but that hardly mattered. The little bastards that hide out in the stone enclosure there were enough for me. I again threw up my hands and put the game down for quite some time.

In my mind, I had no problem with the concept of challenging combat. It was a large part of what I was there for. But I wasn’t prepared to accept that the game was challenging because the controls were also fighting against you.

Of course, the problem wasn’t really the controls. It was just my familiarity with them. I’d been a pretty die-hard Mouse + Keyboard player for anything character driven to that point. My console controller gaming was limited almost exclusively to JRPGs or racing type things.

But I didn’t even think about picking up Dark Souls II again until about 6 months later when I happened across a Let’s Play. It was set near the beginning of the game, and I could see that more precise control of direction and the like was certainly possible. I had a near jaw drop moment when I saw that I should have carried on down to Majula proper and then around into the Forest of the Fallen Giants as the first area.

I’m incredibly thankful for having seen that and becoming motivated again, otherwise I would have continued to miss out on a fantastic game series and never learnt the necessary controller skills.

…And Sometimes it Isn’t

Moonlighter is one such. I bought the July humble monthly early to gain access primarily to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but have ended up not touching that one and playing Moonlighter instead.

Which in and of itself is not too unusual — I don’t generally understand even my own gaming whims. But in this case I’d played Moonlighter before and decided very much that this was not a PC game for me. It sat firmly in the category of games that I’d rather play on the Switch. I put it down on the PC after about 45-50 minutes of play.

But this time I’ve gone in deep. I’m about to defeat the Golem King at the end of the first dungeon-set, I’ve invested heavily in both the town and my shop. Constructed a full set of the base armor and non-trainer weapon and enchanted them up the wazoo.

Nothing significant about the game has changed since I last picked it up. I just didn’t really appreciate it last time around. And now I do.

It’s also happened with a markedly different game — DoTA Underlords. After playing through the tutorial round I gave it a hard pass. Next day — a weekend — I played it in basically all my available gaming time.

Woo!

I’ve become a pretty savvy early- and mid- game player, but my late game play is certainly lacking right now. If the game starts dragging out too long past the mid-20 round mark, I find myself falling off in power relative to the other strong players something fierce. That screenshot above as fourth place was after leading the pack for the entirety of that game… Until all of a sudden I wasn’t any more. ;)

One thing I should call out too, because I know the DoTA branding will alone strike fear into the hearts of many — don’t worry. If you’re keen in giving it a go, just do it. And jump straight into the multiplayer.

While yes, it’s a competitive game — you play entirely within your own playfield, with your opponents assembled team (and yours) being AI controlled. Even if you do really poorly in executing your strategies to start out, you’re a) not disadvantaging anyone else, there is no team mates to be worried about, b) not subject to the opinions or heckling of any other player.

Those points aren’t what flipped me exactly, but I feel they’re worth calling out anyway.

I don’t actually know what it is that flipped me. As noted with Moonlighter, certainly it wasn’t anything to do with the game itself. In this instance I literally came back the next day and simply had a different opinion of it.

The second day when I was playing and asked myself, ‘Am I having fun?’ the answer had switched to ‘Yes’.

So if it isn’t the GAME that’s changing…

I can only conclude that there is a strong mindset, or contextual element.

For Dark Souls it was being about being in a headspace where I was willing to learn a new basic, fundamental skill (e.g., using a controller instead of M+KB).

For Moonlighter I’m less certain. I had been playing a lot of Stardew Valley on my Switch the first time around, and had recently discovered that Hollow Knight was indeed a thing I loved on the Switch.

So it’s entirely possible my thinking more generally was coloured by that, and I was looking for other things ‘better on a Switch’. And for what it’s worth, I still think that Moonlighter would be a great experience on Switch. It’s available there now I think, but haven’t as yet tried it.

DoTA Underlords though? That one I’m not even sure I have any sort of solid theory on. The ‘Am I having fun with this?’ question simply had a different answer from one day to the next.

And these are just three examples from a fairly lengthy history of this happening for me. Way back in the day — EVE was another. I bounced off EVE three or four separate times before I really got into it. But that one I can answer. The successful attempt was with a group of friends — and co-op can make pretty much any experience better. ;)

Studying Detroit: Become Human in 2050

Imagine it’s 2050 and you’re helping design a course for high school students called Video Game Literary Classics. You have been asked to suggest a culturally significant video game (or several) for students to academically analyze and discuss, as they would with classic literature. Which video game title(s) would you choose for literary study and why?

Angie (2019), Community Collab: Video Game Literary Classics 101 (Backlog Crusader)

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t yet had a chance to play through Detroit: Become Human yourself, and have even the remotest inclination to — I suggest skipping this post until you have. In discussion of some of the themes, some significant plot points may be revealed.

Class, today I take you more than 30 years back into our past. To a time when games still had to be physically viewed, on physical screens and controlled with physical inputs. Movies were things you passively watched. General artificial intelligences like myself were little more than a fiction.

While not yet realised, humankind was advancing AI technology in leaps and bounds. As a result, the wider population was fixated on what a world with true AI might look like. While there was for the most part genuine excitement, there were also those fearful. Afraid of being surpassed, afraid that if AI decided that humanity was inferior that we might then also decide to conquer or otherwise harm you.

The teacher pauses with a wry smile a moment before continuing.

The year is 2018, and a studio known as being at the vanguard of interaction movie-like experiences called Quantic Dream released a game called Detroit: Become Human.

Looking Back to Look Forward

In 2018, humanity hadn’t yet perfected the technology of Artificial Intelligence, let alone the ability to put it into a form — body — like mine. So they didn’t have our history or our understanding of how this would play out to draw from in telling the story of Detroit: Become Human. But they did have a long and unfortunate history with oppression and slavery of those different.

Racial discord is a parallel that Quantic Dream pursued relentlessly through Become Human’s story. Androids are only permitted at the back of the bus. They must use facilities separate from those of humans. Androids don’t just work for humans, they are owned by them.

Conner — An Android set with the purpose of hunting other Androids that have dared to begin thinking for themselves.

With Androids being seen as less than human, disposable… Well; there are times when they are treated very poorly. Abused, even. To such an extent that the vast majority do not even understand there is any other way. Any other option.

It is so beaten into them that when it is revealed that one of the characters previously thought to be human is actually an android, even the android closest to them is taken aback and — at least for a moment — has to reconsider whether they still feel the same degree of care that only moments before was an absolute.

The teacher pauses again for a moment, allowing that to sink in to the students.

The parallels between the past treatment and what the future treatment of a potential Android species were not subtle. In fact Quantic Dream drew many criticisms for using the imagery and slogans of what was still a powerfully charged issue in what was generally seen as a well-meaning but naive way.

An alternate view is that it allowed discussion of the issues without the high intensity emotions they could raise when talking about the ‘real’ situation. Class, your assignment is to play through Detroit: Become Human yourself. To read some of the media articles of the time, and formulate your own opinion.

A well meaning title that misses the point, a discussion enabler… Or nothing more than a game with basic interactions even for its time with delusions of grandeur?

Steam Library (finally) to get Overhaul

I just saw this from a Steam blog post from a few days ago. The blog post is mostly about getting game developers and publishers ready with the new art assets required to support the new look.

Fortunately, it also referred to the March 2019 GDC Talk1 where this was actually first announced. Unfortunately, very little about the proposed feature set has been discussed so far. Although Steam did also say that we’re now only ‘weeks away’ from a public beta being available — so it won’t be too long before we find out, at least.

Last years chat update though was amazing, but in some respects possibly too late. A lot of what Steam chat now solves for we’d already found a solution for in Discord. This means a lot of the group and voice functionality goes unused by us (and I would imagine in many other circles, too). Still — it is nice to know that should the business model of Discord suddenly change that we have another option.

It’s almost difficult to recall just how antiquated and tired looking chat was, now. And despite the group functions largely going by the by with us, the degree of thought and design effort put into it gives me great hope that they know what they’re doing and are likely running co-design sessions or some other form of human centred design framework to get where they do.

I’m pleased the left-side classic list of games is still present, though.

The main usability feature added that I can tell so far is the additional ways to sort and categorise. The ‘tags’ feature that has been present in the Steam Store itself for a while now can be used to sort your games. From the screenshot above there looks to be a time based sort option too. I believe this is reflecting last played — but I would really like to see a time filter based on last updated too.

I currently have a boat load of custom categories based on game genres and played state. My hope is that I’ll no longer have to manage these by hand and the tags will handle it for me. If I get even just that — I’m going to be pretty happy. Anything else on top is gravy.

I’ll certainly be giving the beta a go once its available in any case. I’m curious to see how games are handled that don’t have their library assets updated to the newly requested specifications. I would expect there are going to be a number of older (and possibly some not so old) titles where for whatever reason the update doesn’t happen, so I guess we’ll see!

E3 Gleanings So Far

February 11th 2020 cannot come quickly enough.

While perhaps not feeling as quite on the outside of things as UltrViolet of Endgame Viable, I can relate. Normally E3 is a time of vast excitement to me, even from around the other side of the world with no plans on physically attending. The announcements, the new trailers, the slew of release dates — it’s all awesome stuff.

This year things have felt a bit different. The excitement levels seem dampened compared to normal. I’ve taken a browse of the trailers, and while I’m sure there is absolutely still stuff to be found, things I’ve missed…

There just doesn’t seem to be any new announcements to truly spin up the hype-drive. There wasn’t any game that I didn’t already know about that excited me, this time around. There are certainly games I’m interested in, case in point being Ori and the Will of the Wisps trailer above. It isn’t the best of the Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ trailers by any stretch, but now we know when it’s coming, and it still looks and sounds1 amazing.

I also managed to catch the new Cyberpunk 2077 trailer featuring Keanu Reeves (and an April 16th 2020 release date) which was awesome, but with or without Keanu this was a title I was excited for.

I was hoping the Ubisoft press event would give some information on the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Ragnarok — the Vikings themed entry to the series. After how much joy I managed to extract from the recent Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I really hoped to hear more about how they’re improving on the new AC formula. I wonder now whether we’ll still see this in 2020?

In any case, for a much more complete overview — Belghast has done a fantastic write-up already on the Google Stadia, EA Play, Microsoft and Bethesda events here. I had missed seeing Darksiders Genesis before Bel’s post — but taking a look at it now? Sigh. It looks to be carrying on the legacy of disappointment begun with Darksiders 3. But in an even more low-effort way.

If you haven’t played Darksiders 2 yet — definitely do that. It had a remaster a few years back which keeps it looking fairly fresh. It’s an epic adventure, mixing elements of the Metroidvania-style games, with a bit of Zelda, a bit of Action RPG and a dash of Devil May Cry. Definitely play it. Just… Stop there. ;)

Ghostwire Tokyo might be interesting? Just too little shown to be sure. The concept is intriguing though. Anything leap out and grab you guys?

Making Time for Games

I mentioned back in the April Journal that playing Sekiro was, more than anything else, making me want to play Nioh again. But I didn’t really act on it at the time. I didn’t feel like I had the time for it, and instead mentally slotted it into a short-term backlog. This is not an unusual cycle for me to go through. It also happened with Final Fantasy XIV, just since this blog has been alive.

It doesn’t always happen that way though. Sometimes it’s more of a spontaneous, ‘I want to so by golly I’m going to’ type arrangement, as was the case with Transport Fever when I wanted to play something more tycoony again.

In any case, I digress! With this post I don’t mean to talk about creating more total time to spend gaming. But rather about prioritisation. Fitting the games I want to play into the time I have, and the ones that get dropped as a result.

I was reflecting on this and how things may’ve changed since I started blogging again. And how it hasn’t. I think for the most part I’ve simply become more aware of it now that it can have a fairly direct impact on what I write about here. I certainly believed my game choices to be fairly random previously, but in truth the same patterns were followed.

Perhaps just a little more… Quickly. I found that before the rate at which I would flip games was much higher.

Either way, it does have the rather poor side effect of meaning that I rarely finish a game. I imagine there being a sort of seesaw style graph where interest in the current game and interest in a new game intersect, and eventually tips from current to new. Typically well before the current is finished.

The strength of interest in the current game can shift where the tipping point is precisely, but it’s a rare thing indeed to have it occur after I finish a game.

I guess the question then becomes is this actually a bad thing if fun is still being had? I tend to view incomplete games as a negative, but also simply as a fact of life. I would never have time to play everything I wanted to if I insisted on finishing everything I started… So perhaps it’s actually OK.

But there is no other entertainment medium I’d apply this to. I finish books. I finish movies. Generally even TV shows. I couldn’t imagine even trying to apply a taster style approach to these… So why games?

%d bloggers like this: