Sunday Gaming

[ingressi]Welcome to the issue #2 of Sunday Gaming — a collection of 15 articles with different ways to appreciate the gift that we call games.[/ingressi]

It’s the first Sunday of this month, which means I’m proud to present my latest pile of links, or best games writing published in August. As a gentle reminder, do not hesitate to send us more interesting articles and blog entries to froth on.

This will take a while…

Kill Screen had a plenty of insightful articles to share last month so we’ll start off with my personal digest of them.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is well known for its notoriety and foul language. David Chandler experiences this game after a night of drinking scotch with his friend James. A much underappreciated gem of a game from Rare on Nintendo 64 – to be taken with alcohol.

[Conker's Bad Fur Day] parties hard with absurdity and winds up passing out in a vomit-splattered bathtub before limping home sadly, vowing never to drink again even as it eyes the liquor store.

I haven’t unfortunately had time to dig into U.S. Presidential Elections but, lucky for me, David Rudin wields a sharp-as-axe opinion about the game design problem of the presidential elections. There’s a fascinating reference to a book by Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen where a design pattern introducing early elimination is considered as an unwanted feature. Also, bacon and machine guns.

This problem became even more apparent than usual in the run-up to tonight’s first Republican primary debate. Fox News, in an effort to mitigate chaos and minimize embarrassment, decreed that the top-ten candidates according to an average of polls would appear in the primetime debate. Candidates below that cut-off point would be relegated to an earlier debate, widely and derisively described as the “kids table.”

This weekend I participated in a local electronic sports event featuring an all-male panel discussion (of which I will write later on). Women often go unnoticed in eSports discussion which will inevitably change soon. Here’s Jason Johnson writing briefly about the rise of women in eSports.

By now the guys they play against are used to playing against them, but it isn’t always easy to be a woman in the cutthroat and occasionally virulent world of esports, especially when it comes to dealing with trolls over the internet. “A girl must have really thick skin to handle all the hate and not get emotional about it,” Harvey said, explaining how insults and toxic online behavior are more than enough to kill the motivation of any newbie.

Continuing on the always timely topic, representation of women in games, Ashley Barry writes about the drastic fears some games have towards (naked) female bodies. It makes me wonder why a medium such as games feels the need to be so overtly protective when it comes to female nudity.

In Fatal Frame III, a game about malicious spirits that roam about a strange manor, Reika Kuza, the main antagonist, is topless and yet she has no nipples. This is a form of censorship, which reinforces the idea that a woman’s upper body is a highly sexualized area and therefore needs policing.

Death has become useless and trite mechanic in games. We see death tropes such as regenerating health bars and respawns here and there. Gabby DaRienzo blogs about games that cover death positively. Indie titles such as Guacamelee!, Rogue Legacy and Don’t Starve are the good examples of experimenting with different designs and aesthetic choices about death and dying.

Death serves multiple mechanical roles in video games— it is most commonly used as a thing you want to avoid, a goal you need to accomplish, or as a narrative device. While death is prominent in many video games, we generally give it much less thought and treat it with much less seriousness than actual death, especially when it comes to the player.

Kotaku republished their 2013 article on Metacritic’s influence to industry, so let’s share it. Jason Schreier thinks review scores only hurt games and has some hard evidence gathered to back his statements. He’s not alone as many sites, eg. Eurogamer, have since dropped review scoring.

Video games are personal experiences, and **they can’t be evaluated objectively**, especially through some sort of arbitrary numerical score that means different things to different people. (Go ahead and try to explain the qualitative difference between an 81 and an 82.)

Another piece from Schreier highlighting the falsity of violent games causing aggressiveness. Competition for example is a very important factor when considering the sources of aggressive behaviour while playing games.

What makes you angrier: dying to a horde of violent aliens in Gears of War, or losing a close match to your taunting brother in the very non-violent Mario Kart?

For Keza MacDonald August marked her 10th year as a game journalist and in an industry that is changing so fast and so much annually, 10 years is a huge time served. Steam transformed PC gaming forever, mobile gaming introduced casual games to new audiences, and what’s most important, narrative design and writing has improved a lot in games. Her recollections are absolutely mandatory reading for anyone working or interested in working at games industry.

Thanks to the rapid rate of change in video games, both my job and the industry I cover are practically unrecognisable. This is largely what keeps me interested in video games, this pace of transformation: there is always something new to cover, and we’re always trying to find new ways to talk about it.

On a more tragic note, August also marked a full year since #GamerGate movement started it’s wretched “quest” for more pure games journalism causing huge amounts of suffering to the whole industry. The key target of the movement, Zoe Quinn, compiles her experiences on harassment and subsequent rise of Crash Override network on her blog.

While it’s crucial to remember history to stop it from repeating, it’s overly reductive to boil a whole human being down to it. I could’ve gone off the deep end, started lashing out, only cared about myself, fallen down into my own well of torment and failed to notice my heel on other people’s throats, fought fire with fire and abuse with abuse - but thanks to other people who had been around me and pulled me out of it, and because of the shoulders of the giants I stand on, I am able to keep going and keep fighting for the rights of others to exist online without living with abuse. I’m lucky I’m able to - many people don’t have the support it takes to do that.

Do you think games are a hobby? For Keith Stuart they are something more. For me games are a hobby but more importantly, playing them and working with people who make them is a vocation. I guess that’s the reason I’m running a non-profit association and writing about these things.

We should also think about what it is we're actually doing when we're playing these things. What's going on in our heads? Why do we do it? These were questions that Hitchcock and Antonioni concerned themselves with in relation to cinema and the results were fascinating and important. And of course, neither Hitchcock nor Antonioni saw films as a hobby. Those guys knew what every pioneering artist knows: it is something wonderfully captured by that famous line in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a movie all too easily dismissed as trash: everything means something.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain came out recently and while we don’t yet have a review ready of it, we should celebrate its release by reading two articles covering Metal Gear Solid 1 & 2 – both written by a long-time fan of the series, Rich Stanton. In the first article Stanton researches how MGS1 can be seen as the first modern video game and how in MGS2 Hideo Kojima went further with his ground-breaking ideas and designed a first postmodern video game.

The tanker chapter ends with Ray being stolen by Ocelot-cum-Liquid (don't ask), who sinks the ship during his escape, and we fast-forward two years. A figure makes his way towards the Big Shell, in sequences reminiscent of Snake's approach to Shadow Moses. He's called Snake by the Colonel but the voice isn't right and, even before the big reveal, there's a section where the player sees the real Snake ahead - rising up in an elevator. Before we even know his name, we know Raiden ain't a patch on Snake.

Many of us have fallen into piracy and while we rush to barricades reproaching the very concept of pirating our entertainment we often fail to see the other side of the story. For Daniel Starkey growing up with a poor family, insatiable hunger for knowledge and piracy were the main sources of inspiration that led him to become who he is today.

I don't pirate games anymore, and I don't support pirating games if you can afford to buy them. But when I needed it, piracy gave me hope. When I considered dropping out of high school, giving up on my future, and damning myself to repeat the cycle of poverty, I was able to look back on the sea of literature and countless games I'd downloaded for answers and inspiration.

Artists tend to get ideas for their creations from strangest places and grotesque imagery can more than often mess with their minds. Alex Wawro interviews developers sharing their experiences and consequences on creating the wicked worlds and visuals of games.

Bowler suggests that working on hyper-violent games for sustained periods of time desensitizes you as a person, even if you aren’t an artist or an animator. He compares it to an Andy Warhol exhibit that once came through Chicago (I believe he’s remembering Warhol’s Death and Disaster series) which guided visitors through a series of increasingly more shocking and gruesome images of accident scenes.

This post was published in September – god forbid me for breaking the holy rule of Sunday Gaming! Anyway, legendary game designer Ron Gilbert writes about finalizing and shipping games 25 years ago (case: Secret of Monkey Island). After all the floppies and frustrations it turned out to be rather a good game, eh?

Also keep in mind that when I made a new build, I didn't just copy it to the network and let the testers at it, it had to be copied to four or five sets of floppy disk so it could be installed on each tester’s machine. It was a time consuming and dangerous process. It was not uncommon for problems to creep up when I made the masters and have to start the whole process again. It could take several hours to make a new set of five testing disks.

Music of the Month

Since the theme of that Gamasutra article was more morbid than necessary, I selected a matching track: title of the Dario Argento’s film Suspiria (1977) by Goblin. See you in the next edition of Sunday Gaming!