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The Rise of the Gaming CEO

Posted by Segun777 Friday June 29 2012 at 12:19AM
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We’ve all heard it, the outrageous statement made that defies common sense and a firm grasp of reality. We used to just laugh, they were science nerds who had made it big, or inventors who didn’t have a good grasp of public relations; but in this new age we have a new breed of them, we call them the Gaming CEO. Bobby Kotick, Ray Muzyka, and others are now the heads of billion dollar companies; but there’s just one problem they still make statements that would be best left on the playground.
 
Last year the heads of two companies, who make two of the premier FPSs, Call of Duty and Battlefield, got into a screaming match. EA and Activision Blizzard are massive companies that compete on many areas of the gaming arena. Activision had a much published meltdown when it lost nearly the entirety of the studio that created its billion dollars a year Call of Duty franchise, Infinity Ward. The creative heads left Activison and created a new studio under the EA umbrella. Activison came under fire for what was seen as a supreme lack of long term vision. It was the latest in a long line of high profile franchises that had been overproduced and fizzled into nothing. Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk, and even smaller franchises like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot had been laid to rest. Many people considered the latest debacle with Infinity Ward to be another series that would soon follow. And while the franchise appears to still be strong as ever, a lengthy court battle is still ongoing. EA had a much publicized PR nightmare of its own a few years back when horrendous working conditions at its major studios were critiqued by a spouse of one of its employees. Business tends to consider the bottom line and so in many ways much of this can be tossed off as business as usual for better or worse. However, what isn’t normal are the comments of these highly paid CEOs.
 
Lately the CEOs of companies have been quoted taking potshots at the competition. Whether Firefall CEOs’ comments about the future of MMO gaming as a subscription based model or it’s the head of EA taking potshots at the quality of Call of Duty. It’s Biowares’ Muzyka taking potshots at Final Fantasy XIII for lack of innovation ironically a charge that has been leveled at Bioware in recent years. Gaming CEO’s have opened the lid to what is frankly childish name calling and for what? These days, gamers are older, on average in their thirties and soon to be forties. There are dedicated stock analysts whose primary focus is entirely the breadth of the gaming industry. Rumor and half-truths affect the stock price of gaming companies every day, since when was the stature of a company dictated by the latest zing?
 
Game companies have made themselves into billion dollar companies; they’ve stopped being the realms of dreams and fantasies for better or worse. CEOs love to say how they’re running businesses and telling gamers to expect their decisions to reflect that fact. Fine and good then, now gamers need these CEOs to act with the decorum expected of them.

Welcome to the Digital Age

Posted by Segun777 Wednesday June 27 2012 at 1:07PM
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I just read in the news that Cryptic Studios, the owners of Star Trek and Champions Online have discovered that they were hacked in late 2010. I laughed for a second, when I read it that it taken them so long to realize they had an issue. I've played those games and so I was not surprised to read an email about how my information could have been jeopardized. It wasn't nearly a year ago when a European Commission said that cyber warfare won't be an issue until 2030. Even back then I think the whole internet looked in askance at such a bold and obviously stupid statement. Trust the Europeans to be oblivious to reality I thought. 

Then of course came the Anonymous and their rage against the machine. News of US v. Iran cyber-warfare dropped as well. Hacking and its counterpart Cyber Security is becoming big business and certainly big news. Even the video game arena hasn't been unscathed. It seems like every major company has been hit with a hacking scandal. From Sony's PSN, to Microsoft's oddly quiet Xbox Live troubles, to Valve's Steam, and the list goes on and on. Anyone who has read the works of cyber punk pioneers like William Gibson, shouldn't be surprised. In fact the only thing that should surprise us is that it took so long. Still, it saddens me. Getting hacked is like being robbed in a lot of ways, its not just the ordeal of proving your you but the tiredness that comes from realizing that all those hundreds of hours could go up in smoke. When I got my World of Warcraft hacked the first time, I was so angry. Someone had violated my very personal avatars. I'd played the game on and off for years. Luckily Blizzard customer service was really good about. I got a authenticator on my Iphone and figured I was all solid. When I got hacked the second time, there's wasn't even any emotion left. I sort of sighed and then quit thinking about it all together. I had stopped playing months before, and while I wondered how someone got my account activated without paying money, I just didn't care.

I know most of the internet is good for us as a race. The more we know about each other the less we'll eventually hate and fear about each other. But until then, I'll just keep my passwords changing every month. I'm reminded of the Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz movie Knight and Day, 'When they say you're safe and secure, that's when you're not'. Welcome to the Digital Age.

Director's Cut

Posted by Segun777 Tuesday June 26 2012 at 10:02AM
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I just finished playing the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut and I am so pleased. When the whole controversy started I was so adamantly opposed to the whole concept, Mass Effect has always had a very special place in my heart. The idea that someone's whining or a lot of someone's whining could in any way shape or form change that was alarming to say the least. And yet after playing the last couple missions again I can safely say one thing to those dissenters; thank you.
 
Mass Effect 3's new ending expanded on the original ending, giving me new joy to see the galaxy rebuild and return and then break new heights. The idea that my Shepard is responsible and remembered millennium after she has gone is inspiring. I chose Synthesis, I always chose Synthesis, I can’t imagine the world I’ve played and built over the last few years being anything different.
 
I love science fiction. It is my first love when it comes to movies, television, and books, more than any other genre I love the possibilities of science fiction; the possibilities of where Man will go. Doctor Who, Fringe and now Falling Skies are some of my favorite TV shows but watching science fiction is always a little bittersweet. Science fiction in movies and television has never been particularly popular, when you watch science fiction you’re acutely aware that each season can be the last season; you are forced to savor each episode completely like a fine wine or a nice scotch. I suppose it’s a variation of supply and demand, because each show has such a short lifespan you hold on to them as tightly as possible.
 
I know that the bitter response over this final game is a testament to how much the fans, both new and old, really loved this series; I look forward to the places that Bioware will take us from here. I wish every fan loved this series as much as I do and could see what I see but that too is choice. I was happy the way things were, and yet I am happier after playing this new cut. I can say truly that what has happened has only made me love this series more than ever, and that is what I chose to take away from this in the end. So thank you, both those who hated the ending and those who loved it and everyone in between, those who started the journey later and those who were there at the beginning, this journey would not have been the same without you and I for one am glad that you came.
 
 
P.S. As far as I could tell there were no significant changes if any at all, until midway through the London Mission.

The Big Bad Review

Posted by Segun777 Sunday June 24 2012 at 6:06PM
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It’s hard sometimes as a gamer when you see a game that you love or are very interested getting sunk by a shoddy or lazy review. It happens, reviews are for the most part subjective, ‘one man’s treasure is another man’s trash’ so to speak. Reviews have the power to make or break a company in the case of Obsidian and Fallout New Vegas. Obsidian missed out on profit sharing by a few points in its aggregate review score. It happens; sometimes reviewers let personal issues cloud their professional judgment, as we like to say ‘they’re only human’. You never like to see a shoddy review even when it bumps the metacritic score up. It always feels so un-American; you know the whole equality for all.
 
Reviews are necessary, they put things in perspective, and they give a measuring stick on the quality of the game. A good review and a bad review can oftentimes have the same language but vastly different scores. On the other hand gamer reaction to a popular game being reviewed harshly or vice versa is often vitriolic; not that writers are not without fault. I cannot count the number of times when a review has been positive or negative and yet the score in no way reflects it, combine that with the various times I’ve read a review where the author clearly did not finish or understand the game and you have problems.
 
Reviews are not going away. As subjective as they are, they are necessary, but at times writers and gamers are too focused on the score rather than the quality of the review itself. Not all game writers are made equally but simple common sense dictates that a review explain the good and bad and why it is so as the writer sees it; when writers fail to do this there is conflict. Just because a review is subjective, doesn’t mean that arguments can’t be made as objectively and fairly as possible.
 
Sometimes a review seems like a hatchet job, the review that is such an outlier from the rest that it seems to serve no other purpose than to be noticed; the smug kid saying cool is so uncool. To quote the Matrix ‘the problem is choice’, reviews are opinions; at best they are educated guesses on what is good and what is not. At times while we might not agree with the content, grade, or even skill level the choice to write a review and the choice to read a review is always ours, gamers and writers.

Sexism in Videogames

Posted by Segun777 Saturday June 23 2012 at 9:00AM
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I’m a guy, let’s get that out the way from the get go. Sexism in video games seems to on the minds of everyone these days. As an oft-maligned media, we gamers always have made an art form out of trying to sanitize video games for the general public. Over the last year I’ve read probably a dozen articles from most of the major online websites lamenting sexism in video games.
 
Video games are an interesting form of entertainment. While the majority of gamers are in fact women; the more hardcore scene which is to say console games and PC games are dominated by men both on the game development side as well as the gamer side.
 
The problem with doing a real look at video games is that there are exceptions to the rules. Games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Uncharted, and Halo prove that gamers will play games that respect women. However, these games are top tier so in many ways they could be pointed out as the exceptions that prove the rule. For every Halo there is a God of War, or any number of smaller, low budget games with scantily clad women on the cover and in the game.
 
Let me say however, that video games are at times sexist, just like sometimes their racist and political. Games about War rarely talk about the effects of said war on the populace. Video games are primarily made by Asian and Western developers and as such rarely feature any minorities let alone as the heroes or heroines. The result of that is as obvious as it is tragic; considering the demographics of the respective countries involved it’s hardly surprising though. When I read articles about sexism in video games written by women and then those written by men, I’m struck by the fundamental disconnect between genders on what they view as sexism. Men tend to focus on the physical while women tend to dig deeper when they feel that a game has overstepped itself.

 
The argument could be made that sexism in video games is not the issue at all; rather the issue is more accurately ‘Beauty in Video Games’. The perception of the industry is that of a male dominated group. Video games like every other form of entertainment stick to societies views of beauty. The men are tall and muscular, and the women are lean or curvaceous. Even beyond the physical the men fit the hero archetypes that western society has been using since ancient Greece. The men are taciturn even when deeply hurt by personal loss a la Gears of War which uses every single archetype. There is the leader that commands the respect of his men in Marcus. There is the second in command trying to find and then get over the loss of his wife in Dom. There is the wise-cracking seemingly without a care in the world, Baird who in fact cares deeply. And lastly is the Heracles with a heart of gold, as played by Cole Train. The women tend to fall into three broad categories. One, is the sexy and feisty and usually rather dangerous side kick, an example is Uncharted 2’s Chloe. Two, they are the secretive but still sexy loner that joins the hero’s quest, of which Neir is a perfect example. The third category is the stand by your man types, more recently played by Anya in Gears of War and Elena in Uncharted. There’s a saying that possession is nine-tenths of the law. In video games the saying is more accurately perception. Video games are at times perceived to be sexist based on either the way women are dressed or their level of attractiveness.
 
And by which we come full circle. Sexism in video games is primarily the perception of what is physically beautiful in women. While the same standards apply to men in video games, the fact is that we do not care about men in video games. The fact that they could for the most part all pass as male models is irrelevant. We focus on the physical because it is easy and obvious. It is my contention that the sexism in video games is in large part completely unrelated to the physical and that what is desperately needed is more and better written female heroines as lead characters rather than drastic changes in wardrobe. The contention that video games treat women like sex objects will always be misguided as long as it focuses on the physical. We want to play beautiful people, that’s a given; the real question is whether or not we want to play realistically written ones.
 
Addendum: After I had finished writing most of this piece I came across a rather well written dialogue between two female journalists. You can check it out here.

The Almighty Comment Section

Posted by Segun777 Friday June 22 2012 at 9:26AM
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I’ve been noticing it for a while and I feel it’s time to stare the elephant in the room eye to eye. The comment section in articles has devolved into fanboi-r-us. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, maybe it was over the course of years or decades but the internet seems to made us all rather over muscled. When I went to college we used to say that when a person had enough alcohol in themselves they thought they were invincible, they had drunk muscles. These days it seems the internet serves the same function. Which isn’t to say gamers are the only ones guilty of this breach of manners; but its self-evident to any that frequents gaming sites that discussions of any kind on a non-moderated forum is impossible. And I suppose that speaks about something of us as a race, possibly there is something good in all of that, but the hard cold reality is that hardcore gamers have turned to rather virulent speak to hammer whatever point they seek to champion these days. If that wasn’t enough it has become alarmingly obvious that gamers aren’t even thinking enough to bring forth their own opinions. Time and time again I’ve read comments that not only are erroneous but it’s quite obvious that the person writing them has cribbed them either in part of entirely from other sources; which is to say gamers aren’t even speaking for themselves.
 
A friend reminded me of the scene from Good Will Hunting when the facetious grad student is parroting straight from books he’s read or studied and Matt Damon’s character calls him out on it, in this at least the student is knowingly plagiarizing another person’s work as his own, often times gamers seem completely unaware of their own deeds. I was skimming through a discussion about Tera and Guild Wars 2, the discussion was pro-GW2 and as such was basically preaching to the choir as the forum was for Guild Wars 2 fans. While both games are seeking to change how we play MMOs, it’s clear to anyone who watches five minutes of combat that Tera is the clear winner. The person had to concede that if only as a token to the other side but at the same time tried to shunt the conversation away from that point through misinformation and obfuscation. What there was, however, was the air of familiarity in the arguments, things I had read before.
 
Sometimes though, the conversation devolves into the nerd rage category. This usually involves a company once loved when it was smaller and more niche, who has become successful and much larger. Blizzard and its Diablo III game is a prime example. Last year Blizzard announced that it would have RMT (Real Money Transactions), basically using items from the game and buying and selling them using real money, as a part of its game which quickly prompted an outcry from gamers who accused Blizzard of any number of grievances without any justification or proof, as if shouting the loudest is the key to winning every argument. The same thing happened when Blizzard announced it was combating piracy and cheating, skeptics rose in force denouncing their methods as pointless as if the rise of intellectual piracy worldwide is a myth.
 
Voltaire once said that common sense is not all that common. Perhaps the same can be said of manners and common decency, but either way change must come will come one way or another. We are gamers, one and all, it defines us, but most importantly it unites us. One only has to take a look around in the world to see what happens when common sense gets tossed out of the window in the name of winning the argument no matter the cost. That we would have differing opinions is unsurprising but we cannot allow that to blind us to the fact that we are the same, just as one does not cut off the nose to spite the face so to do we need to tone down the rhetoric and keep a little peace. To have differing opinions is fine, even good, but are the same let us not forget what binds us together.

The Realistic Truth

Posted by Segun777 Thursday June 21 2012 at 6:49AM
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There has been a recent uptick in the way the industry looks at violence in video games, a few recent media darlings have come under fire for being ultra-violent and taking real issues lightly. The argument has been made that they are sensationalizing real life issues, from the implying of sexual assault to a young Lara Croft to the apocalyptic violence of the Last of Us, game writers, developers, and gamers themselves have started to ask the question is it too much?
 
The Last of Us is a story that is set in an apocalyptic United States. A fungal plague decimated modern civilization. Joel, who is a black market dealer and Elle, the 14 year old daughter of an old friend recently passed; have to make the journey west. I don’t know about you, but when the end comes I intend to be holed up in Colorado in a nice tight bunker with a decade worth of supplies and ammo. I kid, but only a little, I think we all expect that any long term collapse of society is going to be bad and then worse for years if not decades. The Last of Us doesn’t shy away from that violence. Of course the other half of the equation is whether or not Naughty Dog will focus too much on the violence. At the end of the day, we can’t say, we just have to trust the track record and judge the final product. But that game is nearly a year away, why are we judging it now, based on a smidgen of game play; it’s unfair and more importantly it’s pointless grandstanding.
 
I would make the argument that video games don’t spend enough time tackling the real issues. Often time our heroes and heroines live in fairy tale worlds where nothing bad ever happens to them. Oh they live and die, feel love and loss, but it always seems they escape the darkness that pervades the real world. Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider is supposed to be this young college girl, the woman she was before she became the legend. 1 in 4 women around the world have been sexually assaulted and the numbers are probably half that for men. To dismiss the issue or to say that games can’t have a real impact on the discussion that our society makes on these issues is to relegate our industry to irrelevance.
 
Now I can’t say for a fact that Tomb Raider is an insightful look at a very real issue for young women. Even Crystal Dynamics, the development house making this game, can’t seem to make up its mind about what is happening even though the scene is obvious to anyone watching. We tend to want to push the problems facing our society under the rug like it never happened, and with the backlash about this issue taking up more ink space than anything about the game itself we shouldn’t be surprised to see that it’s written completely out of the story entirely. And that would be a shame, video games have made numerous missteps over the years with gay bashing, racial slurs, and misogynistic tendencies; we have too few success stories to ignore or erase another possible one. Video games have to be able to talk about the real issues in meaningful ways if we are ever to be anything more than an expensive hobby.

The Song in the Void

Posted by Segun777 Wednesday June 20 2012 at 6:20AM
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On unbroken feet I walk, crushed and alone/ The lies they told me have turned the world grey.
But oh, that you still breathe and live, / Is a song in this void, that gives me life again.
-          The Old Republic , Kalas and Fiana as told by Nadia Grell
 
Love and similar emotions in video games is essentially the same thing that it is in movies, music, art, theatre, books, and any and all forms of entertainment; it is there for the sole purpose of making sure the audience feels something for the characters. It is the death scene in Romeo and Juliet, it is the cry of anguish over the fallen friend in the war movie, it is the rock ballad, and it is ‘and they lived happily ever after’ at the end of the fairy tale; all of the scenes are there to pull the strings of your emotions. 
 
I recently watched an anime where two orphan boys are separated by fate, they had lived their entire lives together and were separated for the first time. Little more than slaves, one of the boys is handpicked to play the body double to the king and pays the ultimate price, dying in his brothers’ arms. As his brother died there you see the character cry out in such anguish it’s a shock to the system, as he tries to comprehend the magnitude of his pain he repeatedly slams his head into the ground to make it all go away; it was one of the most emotionally charged moments I have ever witnessed in an anime and it moved me exactly as it was supposed to.
 
They say the difference between extraordinary and ordinary is the failure to believe that it can be done. Until recently romance and even emotions in video games, the idea that you could make characters interesting enough that gamers would want to see them fall in love or feel sadness when they died, was unheard of. It has only been in the last decade and a half or so that gamers have signaled that they enjoy the journey. It’s a risk of course, emotion is not a science it’s an art form what brings emotion to one person might bring an entirely different emotion to another person; you can never be quite sure how your audience will react to you. With respect to Shakespeare we don’t do cue cards to tell the audience it’s ok to laugh or cry.
 
I remember when I was playing The Old Republic, and the Sith warrior class. The first companion you get is a smart mouthed pirate/thief with a heart of gold. When I first started that character I fully intended to play it like a young Anakin Skywalker, otherwise known as Darth Vader, but Vette was so interesting. She had grown up as a slave taken away from her mother and sister and having thought that her childhood friend had been killed years ago. In a moment my carefully laid plans of galaxy wide domination were brought to their knees. I found myself thinking what would Vette want my character to do; sometimes I would have my character do acts of kindness just to see what she’d say.
 
There was another moment, in Mass Effect 2 I had been romancing Miranda on my MaleShep, and I had just gotten Tali a few missions before, she said something that completing blew my mind, intimating how she had been carrying a flame for my character. Tali, was one of the few crew member who didn’t think my working-for-Cerberus MaleShep had meant that he had gone to the dark side. I appreciated that in a world that had gotten markedly darker since the death and resurrection of my character, you were made to hold on to the few people who weren’t all too ready to throw you under the bus. Even the conversation you have with Ashley/Kaiden on Horizon, when your Shepherd is angry at how they view you after just two years’ time, evokes emotion. You can hear the anger and hurt emanating from Shepherd as she says ‘I’ve had enough of this planet’.
 
For me very few things evoke emotion better or quicker than music. Perhaps because I played an instrument for many years or simply because I enjoy it greatly; music moves me like few things do. The song that opened up the last Star Trek movie or the music as the Enterprise rises out of the mist of Titan, the Halo music, the Final Fantasy Crystal music, the Mass Effect music as Shepherd gets spaced; there are so many great pieces of music in games.
 
It’s ironic really, in some ways the unique ability to evoke emotion is one of video games weak points, often times it’s this feature that allows politicians and scientists to posit that video game violence increases a person’s desire to perpetrate real life violence. The Supreme Court seems to have made it clear that without hard evidence they see any restriction of video games as censorship, a rather big no-no in the American Legal system. Still video games present an easy whipping boy, unlikely to anger the majority of any politicians constitutes. 
 
Video games are in a unique position to evoke emotion from the player. Because games are themselves activities that put you in control of the hero, they are closer to you than movies or books; especially when you can shape how the character looks, talks, and acts; it’s a heady experience. Often times when people talk about those characters in games like Mass Effect, TOR, or any number of similar series they say “My Shep” or “I did” as if the character and the player are one and the same. Emotions and the passions that derive from them are hard-won, they cannot be so easily produced but take time, sweat, and tears and yet the finished product is what makes a great game memorable. In the end the explosions fade, the music ends, and the game plays out; but our memories and the emotions that they trigger remain long after the last note is sung; they are the song in the void.

To Be Amazed

Posted by Segun777 Monday June 18 2012 at 6:26PM
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I love Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It was one of my favorite detective shows, Goren and Eames are a dynamite duo and just a lot of fun. I’ve watched a lot of detective shows, or procedurals as they’re called now, over the years and the truth be told I’m rarely surprised by the bad guy. Which isn’t to say that I’m any kind of savant; these shows run like clockwork.  If there is fifteen minutes left the guy the cops are questioning is unlikely to be the bad guy; I’m rarely amazed by a show anymore. In some ways the same could be said about when I play video games. Every now and then though, I find something so amazing or shockingly good that it simply makes my day.
 

I’m playing Dragon’s Dogma this week and for the foreseeable future really. The summer months belong to the movie industry, and this year is not going to be any different. You really can’t blame the gaming industry; there is a reason that the movie industry makes more than two times as much money as the gaming industry. I’ve been pacing myself so as to not have to go through a dry spell, but that also means I don’t play games as much as I would normally. Even so, every now and then I get that moment in Dragon’s Dogma which just blows me away and I love it.

You don’t always get that anymore, that feeling of amazement. Sure the law of diminishing returns has some play in that but as I get older I find myself getting less impressed by the big explosions and the cool cut scenes; I’d much rather sit back and ponder the great story I just finished. Be it books, movies, video games, or just life itself I’m always looking for that next moment of awe. Still even now some things still spark the feeling of amazement; slaying huge monsters, or sometimes small things that you didn’t see coming.

For instance while I was playing Max Payne 3, I ran across a neighbor, who had lived by Max in this dirt hole of an apartment. Armed men are storming the gates to cut Max down. In typical fashion Max has managed to kill the son of the local Crime Lord, and the father wants revenge. Max’s neighbor takes a look out his door yells at Max and runs toward these thugs talking about the cleansing fire right before he blows himself up killing them all. You find out that his neighbor is a tad bit crazy but he had been following Max’s exploits as a police officer and sensed a kindred soul. It’s a small scene in a crazy game filled with helicopter crashes, high speed boat chases and an overabundance of explosions, and yet this one small scene is the one that stuck with me the most. There was a moment in Mass Effect 3 when I realized I loved those characters and I didn’t want to see them go, or Final Fantasy XIII when I realized that Lightning was my favorite heroine from the series; I love being amazed.
 
We all try to find those small moments of awe and amazement wherever we can. Whether it is jumping out of a plane, reading a quiet book in front of the fireplace, or staring at a computer screen with a smile; those small moments are everything. When we leave this mortal coil they say all we have experienced will flash before our eyes one last time, what shall you see, will you be amazed?