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Gamers - We've Got an Image Problem

Chances are that if you“re reading this post then you self identify as a “gameré. As gamers, we are happy to announce our adoration for the video game medium and share our interest (or obsession) with others. As a collective whole, we routinely raise massive amounts of money for charities through the likes of Child“s Play, indie bundles, and through donating to marathon game streams. There“s a lot of good that our community does for each other - but that“s not the image is projected to the world.   Instead, gamers have been seen as man-children if they are male or just plain weird if they are female. Young gamers of either gender have often been picked on as geeks/dorks/dweebs/nerds or whatever else people saw fit to call those who took an interest in technological entertainment. While that type of bullying isn“t warranted, there are views of the gaming community which are based in some amount of fact. Negative connotations such as gamers being rude, elitist, or downright hateful are certainly not true of everyone, but there are definitely bad seeds who speak loudly enough to make this seem the case.   How can we in the gaming community improve our image? Truth be told, it“s a hard mission considering the medium has been around for a few decades now, giving ample time for “outsidersé to formulate opinions. Interestingly, less people are truly considered outside the medium these days given the ample access to gaming media through phones, tablets, and websites. Still, they tend to view “gamersé as something else and, to be fair, gamers tend to have the same view of these “casualé players.     Regardless, it may be useful to draw from these similarities to help lessen the bias people have against gamers. Some people seem apt to rush to the conclusion that gamers must be anti-social. But what if you were to turn that perception on its head by speaking out to the enjoyment of social or casual video games? If a non-gamer were to realize their gaming intake also counts as games it might make them wonder. Many who play smartphone or Facebook games may not consider their entertainment as games, but it is definitely game-like.   One of the biggest misconceptions of gamers is simply that we are a bunch of weirdos who have no ability to socialize or otherwise have a life. Sure, we may be more excited to spend a free night powering through a game rather than getting drunk, but all in all, it seems like the wiser choice. Is there a way to change this idea in people“s heads without forcing yourself to conform to stereotypical means of celebration?   Well, maybe a little. Instead of immediately pulling out a handheld console and playing away during work or school breaks, why not try being social with others? Funnily, you may see that many of the non-gamers are the truly unsocial ones as they immediately focus all attention on smartphones or tablets. By simply extending a very simple social call to another human being you are appearing even more “normalé as they may be embarrassed by their technological dependence. Sure, still enjoy games in public, but let others know you can discuss things other than them too. Speaking about other geeky pursuits such as comics, anime, and certain TV shows might just do the trick considering they're in vogue.     What of the idea that gamers are mean-spirited, childish, or downright bigoted? This is one idea that has been spread due to news and social media and far extends the reaches of our community. And in some ways, even us ourselves are probably willing to agree with it. There“s no denying that many voices from within the community spout truly vile things to one another - and for more reason than simple trash talking.   While it is not possible to stop some people from being cruel, it is possible to keep them from getting a pedestal from which to spout their vitriol. With most multiplayer video games having mute functions, make sure to mute annoying players (or voice chat entirely, if possible) when non-gaming relatives or friends are around. Truly, even we shouldn“t lend an ear to ridiculous hate speech. Instead of letting players get away with awful things in game try reporting them so they quit that behavior or at least are known to be avoided. As for journalists, make sure to not give a spotlight to these people which could then be carried on to general new sites.   There are people out there who embody and confirm the stereotypes that some hold as to gamers and gaming culture. However, many more of us are intelligent individuals who are smart enough to not be completely awful, overindulgent beings. As long as we are a good group of folks then others will eventually come to see us as just another group of passionate fans, just like movie or TV show fans. As gaming furthers growth into new markets it will only help “normalizeé views toward gamers as well.

Marcus Estrada

Marcus Estrada

 

Video Game Music Gone Wrong

Video games have not always contained music. During their inception, the hardest task was simply learning how to get an image moving on the screen. Audio got added in soon enough, but it was a far cry from the orchestrated scores of today. Still, many arcade games did their best to have an addictive theme and succeeded. Since then, fans have gathered around video game music as a great auditory medium.   As great as some game music is though, there are times when music is a great disservice to the title it is included within. Sometimes it may just be one song out of place, and others may hinder an entire game with a lackluster soundtrack. On occasion, there are songs so completely bad that you can“t help but obsess over aching eardrums instead of what is even occurring in the game. Music can have powerful effects in the positive and equally in the negative. With all that said, let's take a look at some shamefully bad game tracks!     Doom II: Hell on Earth   First, let“s go with an example of a game being harmed throughout thanks to an unfitting soundtrack. Doom II: Hell on Earth was a much anticipated sequel to the original Doom. This popular FPS had been paired with MIDI rock which arguably was a big part of the experience. Doom II had some of this, but it also had a lot of incredibly questionable music choices. When multiple tracks can be compared to elevator music, you know you“re doing wrong by Doom.   http://youtu.be/NOTFyvj0vaw   Castlevania: Symphony of the Night   Other times, games can be fantastic up until the final point. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has long been acknowledged as a marvelous game in the series. However, one simple song is queued up at the end which nearly ruins everything. Granted, some fans have gone to laud the song for its hilariously out of place nature, but it still stands as being pretty damn bad. I mean, honestly, who thought this smooth ballad was befitting to such an action-packed game? Apparently Konami has yet to learn from their mistakes as they continually include unfitting songs in their games to this day (see Never Dead and Silent Hill: Downpour), although they have since removed "I am the Wind" from re-releases.     Night Trap   Sometimes there are games that already bad but could be aided by some good music. Although the games may be beyond redemption, at least they could include a few entertaining tracks to keep the experience from being completely useless. Unfortunately, "horror" game Night Trap was never given such a chance. Much of the music is of no consequence, being barely there to begin with aside from sound effects. But there is one song that has managed to survive far past its FMV days and live on in infamy. Give it a listen and see if you find any redeeming qualities.   For the most part, video game music is either unassuming, slightly endearing, or totally awesome. On the occasion that music is bad is when it becomes ridiculed and, in some cases, far outlasts the game it was included with. In some way, this may please the composers as at least their work isn't lost to time, but tends to be the far more embarrassing road. Is it better to score boilerplate rock or orchestrated music or a musical abomination?   At the very least no, games can suggest they have music as bad as the entity that is Crazy Bus. This title, developed in 2004, is little more than a title screen and a soundtrack, but has attained fame due to one thing: Its god awful music. I will leave readers with this video as it is one of the worst example of video game “musicé ever conceived:  

Marcus Estrada

Marcus Estrada

 

Indie Games: Will Arrogance Be Their Destruction?

Indie games have had a very long history. The first games, created without consumeristic intent, were made by only a few people with access to massive computers at a few colleges. As time went on, and games became something valuable, we saw more independent developers creating new content. As the PC made its way into homes, tiny teams did their best to sell their games free of publishers. Many of these titles were only known in the surrounding city of their creation.     In the 90s, websites became a near necessity for anyone who felt they were tech savvy. Many individuals who were making games on their own or in small groups set up sites for them. During this time period, more became aware of “indie gamesé but certainly not the complete library of them being uploaded to the web. Many of these games have since been lost to time thanks to many free web hosts closing their doors.   It is only now in the current era that we have seen indie games really rise in popularity. Minecraft, developed by Mojang, managed to hit it big and become popular with adults, children, and teens who may have never before played an indie game. Similarly, Journey managed to surprise many PSN users who had previously ignored Flow or Flower which were thatgamecompany“s first two titles. Unlike Minecraft however, their title is one which would probably never hook the bro gamer demographic.   With indie games now seeing wide popularity thanks to digital distribution, we may be entering a whole new era. This next generation could be one where indie games are backed by publisher press and attention. Although not all games have attained critical success, gamers certainly now are beginning to feel okay with indie titles as a whole. Polished and entertaining indie games have proven that you don“t need to have seasoned developers or bags of money to make something worth playing.     The way I see it, indie gaming could follow two distinct paths at this point. They may mostly enjoy flourishing as they did thanks to Steam, XBLA, and PSN, but otherwise not attempt to push for more interest. Or, there may be more teams like thatgamecompany who feel they are good enough to break free of the publishers who had helped them attain popularity as a means to further their own success.   I use thatgamecompany as an example as they are the model which others may follow. This team had lived under Sony“s domain as they could not possibly fund and subsist off their games themselves. The team is certainly full of bright, creative individuals, but would have went bankrupt creating Journey if Sony hadn“t been there for them as part of a three game exclusive deal. Of course, we now see that the game has been a massive success. Because of it, they were able to move out from under Sony“s wing and have since made their development studio one which they shall self publish from.   Hubris, whether warranted or not, is something multiple indie developers may struggle with after making a popular game. Although some have only ever self published, the success of doing well may keep teams pursuing the 100% “indieé label; one where the developer has no publisher. So far, it seems thatgamecompany plans to stay solo because they now have the funding to do so. However, in creating the games they truly want to make, they may eventually find that the money is not there. Thanks to the now inbuilt fan audience (mostly created with Journey) their fans will probably follow the next game. But what happens if it is not the experience fans expect? They may once again retreat to other games they feel are safer bets rather than the overly ambitious indie team.     At that point, it seems we may see multiple indie teams who have seen success take hits due to lack of market attention. The indie marketplace is already heavily saturated with titles and more are added every week thanks to Steam Greenlight and similar initiatives. It takes a lot to get a gamer“s attention these days, and word of mouth is the most useful form for them. Triple A games never have to worry about this since their publishers designate millions of dollars to be spent on advertising; something which no indie team will ever have much of. And word of mouth, no matter how great, seems to lately revolve around the echo chamber that is Twitter. Games that are popular within your clique on Twitter will for the most part remain within that circle.   Therefore, I predict one future of independent games is where the currently successful developers stay solo and attempt to create even vaster, more expensive experiences. However, they may see their fanbase falter and make far less than intended, which then forces them into restrictive relationships with publishers (if not destroy entire companies outright). This is hardly what they desire, and as it squelches out full artistic freedom, is not what gamers will want either.   The other path is a much less dramatic one where indie games continue a steady increase in popularity, but do not try to do too much too quickly. Indie games will maintain a hold over Steam, XBLA, and PSN and net new followers. Although it may not be the most profitable method, it is also one with less chance for completely destroying the company. There are still many out there who have yet to experience many or any indie games, and at some point they will if they keep being shown shown such titles on digital storefronts.   No matter what happens, there will always be indie games. They basically were gaming“s inception and have persisted alongside each generation. Even if once highly popular indie teams “sell outé or go bankrupt, there will be more to take their place. As long as indie games are being created, new developers were be inspired. From there, the cycle of inspiration and creation of independent titles will be able to live on through future generations.

Marcus Estrada

Marcus Estrada

 

Should Games Trend Toward Realism or Avoid It?

First, a disclaimer: I believe video games are art. Rather, I think that video games have the ability to be considered art. This is necessary to be aware of as this theme is my jumping off point for the discussion of how visuals should be handled in games.   Video games are a medium that are still incredibly young in the artistic world. With drawing and painting starting in caves, and cameras capable of saving moving images came about in the 1800s, there are long histories of how those mediums progressed. In the case of video games, we only really have the 20th and 21st century to go on. Thanks to technology, we have been able to see massive jumps in what is possible visually in some fifty years.   If you chart the history of video game visuals, you will find many times when it lines up with other forms of art. The earliest video games had only a few objects on screen and only slightly depicted whatever they were meant to be. Early games like Atari“s Adventure used a sprite that looked more duckish than monster, but gamers understood the connotation all the same. These early, very low pixel games were “cave paintingsé. At this point, the entire industry, as well as its fans, were pushing purely for realism. That“s why ads pitting companies against each other would show two pixelated screenshots and say how much more realistic their orientation of pixels were.     1982 Intellivision versus Atari ad   With the era of SNES, Genesis, and Turbografx-16, we saw a shift forming. There were way more pixels available for artists. The concern was no longer how to make the most human-looking figure in four/eight pixels, but how to create something aesthetically interesting. The games may not have been realistic, but they did look pretty close to cartoons in the eyes of a child. Even now, many of these 16-bit era works look fantastic. There is not really an artistic comparison for this era if only because once artists were really able to go at it, they were gunning for realism.   Similarly, as game consoles and computers became more powerful, many developers pushed for excruciating realism. Of course, “realismé meant something different in the 90s. Full motion video (FMV) games had a brief flourish which could easily be considered the most realistic video games ever. Sure, no one will ever suggest that Night Trap is “realisticé, but it did have one thing going for it - real actors. How more real can you get than actual human flesh recorded on screen? Both the artistic movements of Realism and Romanticism pushed artists to the best of their abilities, although in different ways.   In the current gaming landscape, we see that many developers are still doggedly pursuing graphics so real that they are indistinguishable from reality. Although it doesn“t seem we have gotten there yet, we are much closer than ever before. Does this mean that we should focus all our efforts on making more and more realistic games? Should we instead impose that games work further on making their own identity for themselves? These are the questions that were raised with Impressionism, Cubism, and even Dadaism. As the art community grew staunchly opposed to anything other than real, many artists broke out to smash the preconceived notions of what art could be.     Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2   For all intents and purposes, gaming never really had a moment that games deviated from realism because they have yet to attain it fully. Still, it“s easy to read gamer opinions and see that many are hungry for the most graphically intensive, “realé experiences out there. The audience is huge as is evidenced by many triple A titles. The highlight of posting screenshots is often to say “look at how much better this looks than games X and Y!é. Of course, anyone who has been playing games for a while is probably aware that realism is not the only way to handle games.   There have always been games which do not strive for that unattainable look of reality, and this will continue to be the case. Many truly loved games such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Okami, Psychonauts, and so many more have rejected reality in favor of artistry. These kinds of games do something that no other medium is capable of. They create some sort of fantasy world with its own look and invite players into it. Unlike a painting which you can only view and comprehend, a game allows you to actually manipulate the world. Instead of an animated film that takes you on a roller coaster ride, you are able to set your own path.   In a way, the same is true of more realistic games as well. As they are not 100% authentic to reality, they are still an experience different than movies. If there is a point when game and movie visuals are imperceptible from each other, games will still have an edge for those who want to truly experience the world. Still, these types of games do not force developers to strain for an artistic identity. Instead, they tend to draw from what exists in the world. This does not make their art any less relevant, but an experience which is not fully new.     Screenshot of Naughty Dog's The Last of Us   Has an end to artistic debate ever come to decide which is the better artstyle? No, but there are still people in both camps. Many artists today refine their photo-realistic art so that it really is impossible to tell if it is painted or photograph. Then there are many others who balk at such studious art and create pieces which confront preconceived notions as to what art even is. That“s why it seems that the gaming community will never be able to agree as to what they wish to see. Developers will seek to feed one audience or the other over time but never settle on only one way.   There“s nothing wrong with this being the case because both styles are viable mechanisms for enhancing play. When a game is realistic, it may help engross some into the experience further. As a child, I viewed Star Fox on SNES and felt that the graphics were as good as in a Hollywood movie. This was a participative experience, one where I did not have any expectations of the title and simply enjoyed my role as a spectator. However, as we age the ability to induce a participative experience is hindered (due to having more experiences and challenges) which means some may only view more realistic games as the way forward.   As was said earlier, it seems to me that not chasing realism is the more interesting path. By allowing artists to create truly beautiful, disturbing, and strange worlds untethered by reality we are able to get more interesting games. That“s not to say realistic games can not be these things either, which is why this is also not a put-down of those titles. It just seems that the possibilities of creating new and wondrous experiences have a higher chance of flourishing when not seeking to attain the most realistic graphics. As so many games exist, there is room for realistic, semi-realistic, not at all realistic, and symbolic games. There will never be a point that everyone pursues only one method as there are too many developers in the world. Thankfully, there is no need to.   Games are stories and experiences brought to us from a great variety of people. If they feel that they can best convey emotions through realistic depictions, then they should go for it. Those who prefer to do otherwise can as well, and often with as strong an impact. As with more formally established arts, games should feel free to pursue any graphical medium they choose whenever it fits. By seeking to limit ourselves to one way or the other, we would only serve to deprive the audience of many fantastic experiences.

Marcus Estrada

Marcus Estrada

 

My Thoughts on E3 and "Booth Babes"

Note: Not wanting to add to the problem, this post will only use images of women who I felt had the closest equivalent of dress to their male peers.   I went to E3 this year. Although much fun was had playing the titles, seeing famous people in the industry, and generally having a nice time, I couldn't help but be intensely unhappy about one thing. This one thing is how as soon as I walked into the world of E3 I was greeted by seeing "booth babes". Although I certainly had known they would be here before, I never really thought about just how pervasive it is. This was the first time I was really forced to spend days at E3 and see that they were everywhere. From Atlus to Nintendo, booth babes were nearly at every booth to help lure people over.   Now, before I really get into this let me say I really hate the term "booth babe" itself. Regardless, I'm going to use it because other terms will probably confuse the issue further, especially for those who have never considered it an issue. Perhaps I'm furthering it just by calling these women booth babes, but that is how this piece is going to be written right now.     I'm not sure why I didn't feel like it would really be this way. Perhaps because year after year I always have ignored sites posting booth babe "photo roundups". I can see women in a great deal of ways and seeing ones who are only tangentially related to gaming isn't particularly interesting. So, while I knew that booth babes would be around I wasn't actually prepared for it. Especially not with how they were literally everywhere I looked. Some were in costumes and some were in uniforms, but either way, they were obviously instructed to show skin.   The vast majority of people sent out to represent each booth's products were women. While there were usually men around too, they were dressed in uniforms free of showing off their body. This year there weren't even men costumed up in any state of undress. Instead, there were maybe a few guys in space armor or military-style attire. As they appeared to be physically fit I'd classify them as booth "hunks" but there was probably only four or five overall. In comparison, the amount of women in costume was higher. The amount of women in skin-showing uniforms was probably in the hundreds. The amount of women in dress which was comparable to their male partners, was probably around three.   Although it should probably have been obvious by looking at how 99% of the booth babes were thin and stereotypically beautiful, not all of these women were employees of the companies they represented. They were hired for this event, taught some facts about their games, then dressed up and unleashed on the convention center. These women were very nice and helpful with simple information sharing, but the vast majority had nothing to actually do with the industry. I can understand why Nintendo (with their massive booth) would need to call extra help, but why did the smaller booths feel it necessary to hire extra help? Atlus, for example, had a very small square booth but still had its share of miniskirt-wearing booth babes.   There is nothing wrong with these women taking the job of booth babe, either, in case someone thinks that's where I'm going with this. If these women enjoy being a helpful spokesperson for gaming and other industries then good for them. They're simply taking work where it is offered so they are no way at fault for the trend of booth babes in this industry (and others). They're obviously also not the ones making the costume or uniform selections. That's all on the people in control of the booths.     Perhaps it is due to me not being on Twitter seriously until this year, but I never noticed such a strong backlash against E3's booth babes before. As such, since the event I've read many things posted about the issue from a great deal of people. I've read some from men, some from women, and overall the critical response is that booth babes shouldn't have a place in E3. I agree.   I can't help but feel like one thing is missing from the critical analysis of why exactly booth babes are bad for E3. Both men and women seem to be focusing on the huge issue of how booth babes effect women in and around the industry. With booth babes left and right, it makes you tune them out. Not only them though, but also other women. It's a horrific thing because no doubt women in game development, publishing, media, or otherwise may be viewed less seriously because of all the booth babes around.   It also may be hurtful to women to see these women on display. There's no nice way to say that. These women are obviously chosen and dressed up to be on display. They are meant to attract someone to the booth. As they're all primarily skinny it also isn't helpful to self image, and in general, is just quite negative. Booth babes no doubt are affecting the perception of women in the industry, as well as women themselves who come to E3.   However, there's one thing that no men (that I have read) speak about. Whenever they write about booth babes and why this is a bad idea they talk about how it harms women or how it harms the view of the industry to outsiders. If not that, they may speak to it not being helpful for expanding the industry in the future (as it's not inviting to the growing audience of women). This is all true but why can no men say that it effects them too?   For me, it was a huge shock and made me feel terrible. Sure, I'm not a woman, but that doesn't mean I'm wholly unfazed by the display of thin flesh left and right. I am a feminist, but the distaste I feel toward booth babes at E3 is not purely because of how it treats women and how women will feel about it. This is a huge deal, and probably the larger side of things overall, but as a man I felt bad too. I felt bad for myself.   Were these women meant to pander to me? They must have. I'm a straight man who loves video games. This is what the developers and publishers believe to be their biggest audience and so they were pandering to it. However, thrusting lots of skimpily-dressed women everywhere makes it seems like their biggest audience is actually young teenage straight males. How does this make any sense? E3 is not simply a fan expo but a business convention for adults only. E3 isn't the only part of gaming culture which attempts to treat me like a teenage boy, but it seems most obvious here.     Are men like me meant to love this? Are we supposed to flock to a booth simply because a pretty girl is smiling in our general direction? Are we meant to be excited to play a game simply because a girl compliments me on a shirt or says the game she's demoing is fun? Apparently so, and I hated it.   It made me feel ashamed. Initially, I didn't even want to enter certain booths because their perimeter was dotted with booth babes. I didn't want to be associated with such a thing. I am not enticed to play a game because a girl is dressed up in the same vicinity. It repelled me, not because I thought the women were ugly, or anything of the sort. It was because I KNEW what this was about. It's about pandering to a specific audience, who I feel isn't even very strongly in attendance.   There are definitely people at E3 who like this showing of booth babes. I saw many people taking pictures of booth babes or even posing with them. On the other hand, with the small amount of booth hunks, people only seemed to take pictures OF them, not with their arms around them. So yes, there are definitely people at E3 the opposite of me and who benefit from booth babes. In turn, the companies that hire these women benefit too. However, I doubt this is the majority of attendees who react this way with booth babes.   For me at least I felt awful. I wanted to purely enjoy my time but it was hampered tremendously by these booth babes. They did nothing to me and I did nothing to them but it just felt awful. Here I was, participating in an industry which thinks this is completely fine. It's not fine for a million reasons and I doubt it really makes much business difference either. The only way we would know is if one year they suddenly banned booth babes at E3, but I doubt this will happen anytime soon. Companies will continue to argue that it's completely helpful as the majority of gamers are still male. And straight. And horny.   This is insulting. Not only is it hugely incorrect, it is completely ridiculous. E3 isn't the only part of the industry which treats us this way, but it certainly is the most obvious with it. Women deserve better treatment in and around the gaming industry than this. The industry deserves to treat itself better too, because this is hardly professional. Men, too, though also deserve to be treated in a respectful fashion instead of this supposed pandering to "our desires". It makes me feel like $@#%. It makes me feel worse that no men who I have read on the subject have ever brought up their own issues with booth babes. Why don't they? Sometimes I worry it's because they are okay with it themselves, and only change their thoughts when thinking about how it must cause women trouble.   Again, I'm not trying to say women shouldn't be a big focus of this. Of course they should! However, we have tons of discourse already about how this affects women, both by women and men on the subject. The issue of how booth babes may be problematic for men though is left un-discussed. So there are my thoughts about it.

Marcus Estrada

Marcus Estrada

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