Gamers are More Divided Than Ever…And That’s a Good Thing

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Become enthralled by one thing long enough and regardless of whatever the thing itself may be, the same set of questions tends to present themselves when you began to look back on it.

While the questions are too varied to cover in full, a host of them will inevitably concern comparing that thing as it once was, to how the thing is now. When doing so it’s often essential to use your experience to properly separate the past as it actually occurred, and the past as you perceive it through the eyes of nostalgia.

That’s a distinction that’s been running through my mind recently as I look at how games have changed from both the day one origins of the medium, and from my personal start as a gamer, to where they are now. In doing so, it’s interesting to discover and distinguish the things that have actually changed, as opposed to the things that you heart tells you are different.

Specifically, lately I’ve been wondering if the gaming community really is more hostile to each other and divided than it has been ever before.

My heart tells me the answer is yes. After all, it seemed like the cultural divide among gamers when I was young didn’t extend far past Sega v.s. Nintendo. Now, though, we have issues like AAA v.s. indies, Digital Rights Management, the treatment of women in video games, the validity of YouTube gaming as a career, the ethics of micro-transactions, gaming as art, and many, many, more. All of those issues cause a nigh infinite series of divides among the gamers of the world, and that’s before you even get into the traditional Xbox, PS4, Wii U, and PC debates.

The question then is, are we really more divided as a gaming community than ever before? Is there really more of a hostile environment between gamers everywhere than there was back in the old days? Or instead, has this always been the case and its only the rapid speed the internet carries information and opinions at from all corners that causes the perception that there is more arguments than ever before?

Even when you approach that topic from an unbiased perspective, the answer will almost always be yes. Gamers are more divided and hostile than ever. The once popular idea of a community of gamers united against the rest of the world’s upturned noses at the very idea of gaming, has given way to a civil war with infighting on nearly every front. While you could argue if the embodiment of a gaming community with an “us against the world” mentality ever did truly exist at all, there’s little doubt that certainly isn’t the case now.

And you know what? In many ways we’re better off this way.

Well…Most of the Time Anyway

Oh sure from time to time I see a topic or viewpoint that I personally consider to be outlandish get very heated, and want to cite the always popular (yet rarely practical) “Can’t we all just get along?” belief, but for the most part I’ve come to accept the constant presence of various heated debates to be a good thing for gaming, and not a detriment.

The reason being is that complacency in any industry is never a good thing. No matter what else you can say against the average gamer, one this that’s for sure is that they are not a complacent lot. Not only are they quick to turn against something the moment it becomes a little too commonplace and comfortable, but they are always seeking out and confronting hot button issues without much in the way of fear hindering them. These may not always lead to the most sophisticated and intelligent debates mind you, but they are debates nonetheless.

It’s that constant stream of debate that ensures that developers, publishers, journalists, bloggers, websites, and anyone else on the creation side of the industry can never rest on their laurels. If there weren’t the dissension that exists on so many topics that we currently enjoy today, it’s possible that many of those in gaming wouldn’t feel the pressure (or even obligation) to create a variety of experiences that can cater to any number of personal tastes, preferences and beliefs.

There is a real passion behind many of the various viewpoints in the gaming world that is more and more leading to gamers from all walks of life getting creative and making something that perfectly represents their own particular set of thoughts. That not only serves as great entertainment for those that agree, but  fuel for those who do not to do the same and create something of their own in opposition.

Sure its a general attitude that doesn’t really lead to a perfect gaming world (and there are, perhaps, some topics we would be better off being unified on), but its never really been a perfect world has it? The one we have now, though where gaming is essentially forced to constantly mature, re-invent itself, and provide a variety of experiences precisely because the role and image of a gamer is no longer a caricature, but rather a group of  increasingly outspoken and discerning individuals is a pretty damn exciting one to live in, at least in lieu of perfection.

If there is one warning that all divided gamers need to heed though, its that we should all be careful to remember that at the end of the day, games are first and foremost meant for enjoyment and to be experienced. In that regard, it’s important to never be afraid to challenge your own views by actively seeking a variety of games in order to ensure that your beliefs (whatever they may be, on whatever topic or whatever style) are ones formed by trying all of the different experiences that games have to offer, and not limit yourself at all times to those that only serve your particular notions, thus undoing all of the good the current sometimes hostile and divided culture we enjoy as gamers is actually doing.

Is there a certain appeal to a utopian world where gamers come together to form a “Pleasantville” like community based on shared essential beliefs? Perhaps. But there’s also an appeal in a more gotham like gaming community where hostility and divided beliefs may rule the day, but they ultimately come together to form an impressive world that can only be forged from the fires of such a variety of passions.

Whether that’s your idea gaming world or not, it’s time we all stood back and appreciated the beauty and quality that world can so often lead to.

Five Goals Gaming Still Has Left to Pursue

As we approach 2014, it’s hard to not feel proud of the gaming industry and how far it’s come. Every year it seems that gaming is knocking down pre-conceived limitations, and defying the expectations of naysayers who thought that certain gaming accomplishments would never be realized.

That being said, though, its important to remember that there is always more ground to cover. While everyone’s personal industry wide wishlists for the future are sure to vary wildly, here are five goals both minor and major that I feel that gaming as a whole still has left to achieve.

Establish a True Comedy Genre

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Comedy, as a genre, has been around for essentially as long as the act of storytelling has. While it rarely gets the same level of critical or artistic praise that drama does, anyone who knows even the basics of storytelling knows that the two have a yin and yang relationship where the absence of one tends to throw the other out of balance.

Gaming’s relationship with comedy is somewhat less traditional. While there have been funny games before, and there have been plenty of funny moments in video games, there isn’t really a recognized independent comedy genre in gaming, as there isn’t really a steady enough stream of pure comedy game to justify its existence.

While you can’t fairly make a blanket statement on why that is, in general I feel that the underlying issue is similar to the one that faces the pure horror genre. By that I mean that there is a growing feeling among major publishers that comedy games aren’t viable financial investments. In the increasingly more expensive world of AAA game design, that’s pretty much the kiss of death.

It’s also an incredible shame as comedy is one of the most essential aspects of any entertainment medium, and gaming seems to be trending in a way that is discouraging the pursuit of it as a primary concept more and more. While modern titles like “The Stanley Parable,” give hope that indie developers may give new life to the creative pursuit of this idea, should that prove to not be the case then you have to consider gaming’s inability to really establish a true recognized comedy genre to be among the industry’s more notable failures.

Make Sports Announcers Sound Human

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Man, this one just irks me.

We’ve come a long, long way in the world of gaming technology to the point that the law of diminishing returns is becoming a more and more popular citation when addressing the subject. Yet despite those innovations, modern sports game announcers still sound like a group of particularly antisocial robot reading lines off the sweaty palms of someone just barely in their range of sight.

I understand that as many sports announcers are pre-recorded personalities its incredibly difficult for them to account for the many variables that can occur during a typical game. However, you can’t convince me that the quality of video game sports announcers today is the apex of the technology.

What’s really needed is greater incorporation of  some dynamic commentary elements. For instance, if my quarterback in “Madden” is having a bad year and throws another interception, it’d be nice to hear the announcers mention a potential QB controversy brewing. Similarly, if a QB is in a contract year and putting up career numbers, there should be some acknowledgment of the situation.

Regardless of the specifics, the general idea is that announcers need to start occasionally sounding like human beings. Some games are better than others (the WWE games are a great example of video game announcers at their worst), but in general this is a flaw that has plagued gaming for far too long.

Mature the Incorporation of Sex In Games

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See, gaming has actually done historically well with the subjects of romance and relationships over the years. However, once things start to go beyond a platonic level, the quality of the subject gets more and more murky.

Historically speaking many games have either treated the subject of sex with the maturity of a particularly horny teenage male, or with the prudishness of a wasp couple. There haven’t really been many attempts to incorporate sex into a game (even one that would seem to naturally include it) in a way that feels organic.

It’s a bit of an embarrassment, honestly. There is still an unfortunate perception amongst the casual observer regarding the maturity and social skills of the average gamer, and the fact that there haven’t been many titles that handle such a basic topic in a mature, non-exploitative, yet still entertaining way does that image no favors.

Now, I could be wrong on this matter and there could be some game, or games, out there that actually covers sex in a way similar to what I’ve described. However, even if that is the case, the absence of that approach as a standard is the larger issue as it concerns gaming and sex.

Create or Discover the “Citizen Kane” of Gaming

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I’m hesitant to include this entry because of the vague nature of the entire idea behind it. However, since this is among the most popular topics of discussion as it concerns the advancement of gaming, I’ll play devil’s advocate and give it a shot.

The basic idea behind the “Citizen Kane” of video games is that a game will come along that will make the average game fan (and society at large) recognize games as a legitimate potential art form, in the same way that “Citizen Kane” is recognized as the film that helped movies get established as a legitimate potential art form.

It’s a fundamentally faulty notion, but the spirit of the idea does have an air of truth to it. The average person doesn’t typically view gaming as an art form, and elements of gaming in mass media coverage tend to be about gaming controversies, or are otherwise cheap and insulting attention grabbers like the VGX awards, which actively harm the idea that there is a higher calling in gaming as a potential art form among more casual, or even indifferent, users.

Of course, what people tend to forget is that “Citizen Kane” was not an overnight game changer for many. Instead it would only fulfill that role in hindsight after a flood of ambitious, artistic, and financially successful titles that were directly influenced by it would make “Citizen Kane” the generally accepted turning point.

So perhaps instead the question of whether of not gaming will get its “Citizen Kane” shouldn’t just be a lookout for an individual release on the horizon, but a careful examination of the past to see if it’s already been released.

Improve the Current Video Game Property and Licensing System, or Create a New One

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Have you ever wondered why a certain favorite game has never seen a sequel, or why that original game no longer seems to be available for digital download? Well it could honestly be for any number of reasons, but more often than not the problem is one of licensing.

Gaming has long had serious issues with property licensing. While this is sometimes tied into the inclusion of a third party property (like the one that faced “The Simpsons” Konami games), there are a disturbing amount of completely independent properties that are handcuffed by archaic, or even non-existent, laws.

The entire system regarding property video game rights and license acquisition is one of the most convoluted and mysterious in all of entertainment. While many might think it’s a simple matter of contacting the right party and offering the right figure, the truth is rarely so simple.

Good Old Games shed some light on this issue earlier in the year when they revealed that the process to acquire “System Shock 2” for digital distribution took years of concentrated effort, most of which involved navigating a system shrouded in confusion where even the people who were the right ones to contact, didn’t know they were the ones who should be contacted. During the course of their lengthy legal battles they were often working without a net, as precedent for such an effort is almost non-existent.

In some cases, the situation surrounding property rights of games would be hilarious if they weren’t so sad. For example, the popular “No One Lives Forever” series has long been unavailable to modern users due to the simple fact that no one knows who has the rights to it, even among the small group of people that potentially could. In other words, under the current system, entire game licenses can be lost as easy as a set of car keys.

It’s an embarrassing mess of bureaucracy and incompetence. Recent years have seen some major improvements in this area, but unless a concise and through overhaul of this entire system is undergone, we run the risk of making a sizable part of gaming history inaccessible.

Video Game Auxiliary Awards for 2013

Game of the year awards? Yeah those are fun. But in a year as full as 2013, I didn’t feel satisfied with the amount of games I got to talk about in that mere top ten collection.

As such, I’ve created a number of auxiliary awards in an effort to cover more ground. Some are good, some are bad, and some are so specific they could only be dreamed up after a six beer self medication session following another traumatic Dallas Cowboys loss on Sunday. These are those awards.

Game That Proves You Can Turn Anything Into a Videogame – Viscera Cleanup Detail

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Are games about farming and driving a truck across Europe weird? Yeah but at least there is some potential for excitement in those scenarios, as they allow you to do something you may not otherwise get to in real life.

It’s “Viscera Cleanup Detail” that proves that no topic is incapable of being gameified, though. In it you play a janitor tasked with cleaning up the aftermath of video game levels, with gameplay consisting largely of mopping. At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a game about data entry where you are actually doing data entry for a company, but pay them to do it.

Most Overrated Game – Tomb Raider

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I tend to shy away from this topic, as by its very nature it requires you to take shots at a game that’s generally well liked. It’s difficult to not sound like kind of an ass in the process.

However, the love train for “Tomb Raider” is getting a little too crowded this awards season. It’s by far the best “Tomb Raider” game made in years, but is also burdened by uneven action sequences, a meandering plot, a host of half implemented ideas, and not enough platforming, puzzle solving, and actual tomb raiding. It’s a very good game, but certainly not a great one.

Best System of The Year – Nintendo 3DS

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Hey believe me, I’m just as shocked as you are.

The 3DS has still yet to really prove that its 3D capabilities are worthwhile, but when you look at the system’s murder row  lineup this year (“Fire Emblem,” “Pokemon,” “Zelda,” “Animal Crossing,” etc.) its hard to deny that the handheld provided better exclusive entertainment than any other platform in 2013.

Most Intriguing Developer Not Getting Enough Attention – Simogo

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Mobile gaming is, by and large, bastardized by the “hardcore” gaming community. As such, many great mobile games tend to go unnoticed and unappreciated by that particular contingent.

In the case of Simogo that’s an incredible shame. From the entertainingly inventive “Beat Sneak Bandit” to genre, and even medium, defying experiences like “Year Walk” and “Device 6,” Simogo is proving to be one of the most inventive and original studios in all of gaming. It’s a crime that they aren’t getting more attention.
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Question Their Quality, But Never Deny The Work Behind Popular YouTube Gamers

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I hate “The Big Bang Theory.” Understand that I don’t use hate often to describe something, but such is the case with that particular show. As an “out and proud” nerd such as it were, every time someone tells me that I must naturally love “The Big Bang Theory,” I tend to involuntarily cringe.

For the most part, I feel the way about many popular gaming YouTube personalities for largely the same reason. I find the quality of their content to be creatively cheap, and a bad image for the culture they have become the most vocal representatives of.

Of course please understand that isn’t meant as a blanket review of all gaming YouTube personalities. For instance, John Bain (better known by the handle TotalBiscuit), is one of  my most trusted gaming critics. For the most part though, the popular path to YouTube gaming fame of yelling at games and making cheap jokes along the way (let’s call it the PewDiePie effect) just doesn’t appeal to me, and quite honestly I don’t think it is meant to.

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It’s what has me somewhat conflicted about the recent YouTube content ID incident, which is threatening the livelihood, and in some cases very existence, of many of those YouTube personalities and their channels.

On one hand, I think that the literal implementation of archaic property and copyright laws that just don’t easily apply to video games is yet another in a shameful line of examples of the “world at large” not being sure exactly how to incorporate the medium properly into everyday life, business, and culture. I also do truly feel that these sanctions (many of which are completely bogus mind you) are just a taste of the world that is forming, in which the power and abilities of the individual is overshadowed almost entirely by that of the conglomerate, making it closer to impossible every day for that individual to shape their own fortune and make their own mark regardless of their current position in the world.

On the other hand, in terms of the content that we are potentially losing, I’m by and large unaffected. While there are some people hurt by this that I will miss, in the grand scheme of things from an entertainment perspective, I’m not ranking this occurrence with say the untimely cancellation of “Firefly.”

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Maybe you share that opinion. Maybe you don’t. To be honest, I don’t really care. That’s not because I don’t respect your right to have an opinion on that particular subject, but rather because I feel that subject is very much worthy of debate, and of differing opinions.

However, if your stance on this topic is one of joy because you feel that the role of YouTube personality shouldn’t be considered a real job, and that these people have been just coasting along off of a broken system, then I’m here to call you out for being wrong. On that subject, I leave no room for debate.

What you have to understand is this. The people who are potentially most affected by these policies (and the ones still to come) are the people who work hardest at what they do. They are not the ones that throw on a webcam, get a cheap mic, record their game play, and hastily throw it online with some poorly chosen metal music as bookends and call it a day. They are people who have learned genuine skills and talents, and have put forth 70-80 hours a week for years of their lives to get where they are today, which is a position to do what they love for a living.

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It’s true that many of them were using pre-existing content as the crux of their works, but since when was that a crime in and of itself? Many of those who are being harmed most by this had the proper permission to use the content they were featuring at the time they used it. To criticize them for doing so is not different that criticizing the “Mystery Science Theater” cast for just piggybacking off old movies, or to criticize “Siskel and Ebert” for just judging original works and making a living off of it. Hell, while you’re at it, you might as well damn every gaming website and blog who make their livings by reporting on the industry as opposed to solely creating original content.

Many people don’t do that, though. Why? What is the difference? Is it the YouTube format? Is that what makes people completely disregard the genuine hard work that went into these people getting to where they are at in life and instead dance on the grave of their dreams while its slowly being dug?

If so, that’s a real shame. Yes I admit the concept of a grown person essentially playing video games for a living doesn’t really qualify as the most practical, or certainly noble, of pursuits. However, it is what they love doing, and through a combination of ambition, luck, skill, ability, persistence, and most importantly hard work they found a way to use the very slim opening that YouTube afforded them, and turn it into a something they could not only live off of, but take pride in.

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There was a time when that kind of ambition and recklessness was admired and rewarded. It wasn’t always rewarded with financial gain mind you, but spiritually it was the kind of action treated with respect and looked upon for inspiration to make more of yourself and to retain the belief that with the right combination of work and passion you too could make something better for yourself, and maybe even achieve your dreams.

And now that same effort is being mocked. Maybe by only a minute portion of the jaded and uninformed (or possibly just the usual trolls), but even then that is too many. The idea that you are not a master of your own fate, and rather a slave to some idea of how things may be is a mental poison that is corrupting this world a little more each day and can in no way be tolerated by anyone with a shred of hope and life left in them.

Call out these YouTube personalities all you want for the quality of their work. Critique them, question them, or just ignore them entirely if you choose. But never, ever, deny those that truly deserve it respect for the work they put in to get where they are and their willingness to aim for something greater regardless of whether or not it was through traditional means.

Do that, and you might as well deny all of those born without a silver spoon in their mouth the right to eat.

What Role Will the Survival Concept Have In Gaming’s Future?

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Gaming, like so many other things, is not immune to trends.

With some regularity entire styles, genres, and concepts go in and out of fashion. Sure certain aspects of gaming remain consistently popular, and others remain consistently despised, but for the most part you really have to keep a finger on the pulse of gaming in order to hope to keep up with which way the winds of change are blowing.

Do that, and you’ve probably noticed that survival games have been growing in popularity over the years, and have become especially prolific throughout 2013.

Nowhere is this more true than the indie market, where it seems like every week brings with it the reveal of yet another title that cites sneaking, scrounging, and surviving as its main attractions. Sure there’s been a number of AAA games to use survival elements (“The Last of Us” is a great example), but if you’re looking for the heart of the survival movement, it’s into the indies you must go.

Now unlike some other trends in various walks of life, the emergence of the survival genre on the indie scene is one that’s fairly easy to understand and trace.

Simply put, survival games represent a marked departure from nearly everything that the majority of AAA games represent. They do not hold your hand, they allow for (and require) a healthy amount of creative freedom, and most importantly they present a very real chance of failure without glory. In a way they are becoming the James Dean of indie gaming. An icon that so perfectly represents the antithesis of the current cultural climate, that those with similar spiritual beliefs cannot help but be drawn to their magnetism.

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Unlike James Dean, however, whose global impact only required a few films, survival as a stand alone concept has yet to really produce a champion to the masses that so perfectly represents everything it stands for that its presence can no longer be ignored.

Now I want to make myself clear on that point. Survival has been a part of some of the greatest games of all time, but only a part of it. For instance, “Resident Evil” was survival/horror. “Minecraft” was survival/crafting. “Fallout 3” was an FPS RPG with survival elements. Hell, while we’re on the subject, just about every video game incorporates at least some elements of survival.

The survival genre by itself, however, is still so young that it’s not even a recognized genre on Steam of all places. You can look and look, but you’ll have a hard time finding any games which classify themselves as strictly a survival game, and there’s a very good reason for that.

Without beating around the bush, survival games on their lonesome just don’t work at the moment. It’s a realization I came to when playing “Day One: Gary’s Incident” and “Sir, You are Being Hunted.” One of those games (“Day One”) is a complete abomination of game design that shows how developing a survival game is not recommended for those who intend to go in with anything but their full ass. I’ll refer you to the infamous Total Biscuit review of it for proof.

“Sir, You Are Being Hunted,” however, is a much more interesting case all around. It’s writing is crisp, it’s world and tone are simply brilliant, and the care put into ensuring its survival aspects are clever and well implemented is quite simply second to none. Yet even then, it’s a game that is hindered simply by the fact that survival (and survival alone) is not really a compelling incentive for long term play. It’s a sort of perpetual motion predicament. You’re encouraged to survive, just so you can continue surviving.

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In so many respects though, “Sir” is the epitome of the survival genre as a standalone concept so far. While that isn’t to suggest that a better game can’t come along, the end result of it still being an overall unsatisfactory experience does place some serious doubts on the legitimacy of a survival only genre, despite the growing number of entrants to it on the horizon.

However, I still do believe that the next great trend in gaming is survival.

You see, ultimately it does not matter if a standalone survival experience comes along and stands as its grand champion, as the sheer amount of games that are beginning to incorporate survival elements into their design are already a victory for the concept. Every time a new rougelike comes out, survival gaming is victorious. With every game of the year award “The Last of Us” garners, survival gaming is victorious. With every bit of hype “The Division” generates, survival gaming garners some hype.

As mentioned, this is good for gaming if for no other reason than the fact survival games are radically different from so many other major releases today. Their presence then is beneficial for the simple reason that they offer an alternative to some gaming conventions that are quickly wearing out their welcome.

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The reason I think that survival will ultimately prove to be more popular than that, though, is because developers have done such a great job in the later parts of this generation when it comes to introducing survival naturally into more and more games. It’s to the point now where if a game doesn’t have aspects of survival, it feels somewhat hollow. While you could make the argument that survival would more quickly become a necessity if a game came along that used it in a way that “Modern Warfare” made the incorporation of RPG character building elements standard in most games, the survival revolution has already gathered enough steam to plow straight ahead into the next generation.

Gaming is very much subject to trends and fads, and all indications point to survival as the next one. That may sound like a bad thing considering the negative connotations of those words, but in this case it is very interesting, as the incorporation of survival has the potential to alter the current creative direction of gaming on a very serious fundamental level.

Whether or not you actively seek out survival games may soon be irrelevant, as survival games will soon be finding their way to you.

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