Gaming Identity

Master of None

I’m usually trying to find a set arc of things to write about in every article, but this is also a personal “blog”, if I can call it that.  A lot of things here are based off of personal experience and opinions, but at the same time I want it to be worth reading and fun to read.

Sometimes I lament my lack of skill level in video games.  Granted, I think I am better than a casual player.  I think I am a little bit better than the average?  And yet, place anyone who has even the slightest bit more focus on a game or type of game that they like and I can assure you they will be better than me.  As I got older in high school I thought a lot about what makes my pride and identity as a video gamer important to me. The more I think about this, the more I realize there are certain things I want to be  part of me as a gamer, and some that I really don’t care about.

Socially, I used to be upset that I wasn’t as good as other gamers, but personally, why did that matter?  The joy people get from their competitive spirit is nothing bad, but to define myself and my value through someone else’s lens just wasn’t working out for me.  I think there are three main things I tend to focus and work on as a video gamer.


I value the history, diversity, and humanity in video games.  This is one of the driving forces behind me playing games that are perhaps more mediocre than others.  I want to see what makes games that aren’t the best still likable.  I want to see a development team improve over time.  I want to see the struggles of trying to make good game design decisions.  I love the stories of Iwata Satoru as he grew Nintendo, or the struggle of Eric Barone as he created Stardew Valley.  All of this included, I think I value my versatility and diversity in the games I play.

In terms of piracy, I am always on the front of anti-piracy, not for the sake of capitalism, but for the sake of morality and humanity.  Which is also why if it takes piracy to preserve history, I don’t necessarily discourage that side.  I think it is the moral responsibility for developers to preserve their games and the games’ history, and if they do not it may be up to the players.  This is the history side of my values.

Games that show humanity in their storylines and the poking at our lives to become better people are also very enjoyable.  Games don’t have to be deep to be good, but some games can be good because they are deep.  Undertale and some of the quests in Genshin Impact that really push what it means to be human and how we can improve are so valuable to me.  My siblings and I often poke at anime because they tend to hit the hardest notes in what makes us human.  I love the struggle between the self and what is right in Path of Exile’s implied lore.  “We see ourselves reflected in those facets, twisted beyond recognition.”  It remarks how people do not become mad in a single moment, but it is almost always a string of events unnoticed by those outside the mind.  And sometimes how certain things in their simplicity are what makes them impact how we feel and think, like in Alan Wake. I wrote an article about that.

I value the spread of knowledge that is good.  The only thing in the media industry I enjoy more than consuming is teaching about it.  I love talking about game design and helping new gamers find their place in the field.  I want them to discover what games really drive them to play.  Few things are as enjoyable as seeing a new gamer find out that they really love in a series or seeing their skill levels improve as they put in their efforts to be better at a game.  

I love seeing games as a diving board to raise interest in things.  I love studying, so learning new skills like lockpicking because of its universality in video games has been great.  Although, I’m still not as good as I’d like to be, trust me.  Learning about how politics and misuse affect the everyday lives of people in Deus Ex and relating that to real life.  Or other pokes like racism and refugee crises in Guild Wars 2.  To learn and see from outside my mind is good knowledge from video games.  

And bringing it back around, just people learning about the lore of worlds outside our own.  That excitement, the fandoms, the burning passion of it all.  These things are good knowledge because it brings people together and we carry joy together.  Just lore of games themselves, even if not as useful in real life, that is good knowledge that I love immensely.  

I value the relationship between myself and games.  This has been kind of talked about in my Breaking the Fourth Window article.  I value how games change how I treat others in positive ways.  Understanding communication and how to better be myself around others.  Setting boundaries and respecting boundaries.  I am not a social person, so all of this is a good thing.  I value how I feel about the characters and the worlds in these games.  When people cry over a beloved character’s death, and moreover why they were close to them in the first place.  Was it because they had a friend similar to them?  Was it because we loved or hated a similar situation?  Is it trauma?  …was it because they were hot?  Okay, that last one is not really something I could personally relate to, but to each their own in their video game relationships.

I think some people categorize my relationship with the game worlds as nearly as dangerous as what some…unhealthy fandoms do with characters, but I don’t relate to them in the same way.    It is a bond to strengthen my values and ties to everything around me.  I want to be with the hurt and misunderstood in games, to “talk” with them and interact and think about how I feel.  It has helped me relate to those who have been hurt in real life.  It is not that any of these relationships in our outside video games are fake, rather it is that they all uplift each other.  And in one full circle going back to my first point, it helps me become more human.


Is this all a bit cheese?  Maybe.  Does it feel a bit preachy?  Kinda.  But all in all, it’s what I pride myself in playing video games to be.  I think a lot of the reasons I play are for uplifting me and those around me.  I want to help people be more human, or even just have good fun.  Sorry if these rather personal posts are not as exciting as my other posts, but I just hope that we all have positive growth in ourselves by playing video games.  I want to prove that there is so much more to video games than just violently shooting at demons.    …although, that is fun too.

Stay safe, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Elise

Intentional Playing

Playing to work?  Or playing to play?

I’ve written about this in the past, but I feel like bringing it up again. I have an issue I’ve been working on the past year or two.  I am so caught up in being productive.  I have a job and my art production on the side.  While those occupy a lot of my time, the thing that really occupies my time is my interest in just about everything.  I know I have a limited amount of time here on Earth, but I’ve set all my productivity for eternity.  So my ideal is to act as if I would last forever. 

I love video games.  This site was originally not going to be called Game Praisers, but something more general.  I’ve spent so much time researching and learning things unrelated to games.  I have a good foundation of  biology, chemistry, and physics.  I’ve had my foray into business, programming, accounting, and a few other unrelated things.  Just because I’m very interested in all that.

However, being a jack of all trades is time consuming, and I’ve felt that the pressure to be productive as I try to continue this hugely lateral growth is seeping into everything I do.  And that includes video games.  I think it’s very probable that anyone who has a job or is trying to get a new skill can have that same issue start to pop up in their lives.  It doesn’t help that, contextually, we are in a covid-19 world where we spent a lot of time indoors.  I know that didn’t affect me too much, because I am not a social person, but I saw other people struggle with feeling productive being indoors all the time.

That need for productivity is now in a place where I feel like it shouldn’t belong.  Video games are meant to be fun.  I’m not very good at relaxing.  I’m always having to do something.  I hate naps.  I need to be doing something “productive”, which in this case has also come to mean that I must consume media at a desired rate as well.  That Assassin’s Creed year last year probably didn’t help either.  

So now, while I’m still trying to move around and get into all these games, I want to be more intentional with playing games . Playing games with the intention to have fun and the intention to relax.  I was advised to intentionally relax.  To have time set aside.  To do things knowing that the purpose is for me to relax or to enjoy my time.  This is why movies are a very good way for me to intentionally relax.  I get focused and that’s all I can think of.  The whole purpose of it is, well, it.  But with games, especially because we have to make efforts to do things, I kind of get the feeling of having to be productive again. 

I have to level this many times, I have to get this many resources, or I have to get this far into a level.  But all that really kills the joy of gaming.  Even if I’m playing with the intention of concentration like in cataclysm mode for Vermintide II, I have to really be focused on getting to that point to really get that flow and enjoyment.  

And now, just now, when I’m already at a veteran-ish age in the world of gaming, I need to re-learn how to sit down and play for the intention of playing. This sounds dumb.  I’m kind of repeating myself, but this is something that I think is important and something that I feel like might be unaware to some people.  I think it’s a mental health kind of thing as well.  I want people to recognize that our mental health will affect how we enjoy games.  It’s an important part of our bodies to take care of, and I want us to enjoy games to the fullest.

The internet was really bad this last week, and I couldn’t even turn the computer on due to network issues.  So I grabbed the Nintendo Switch and I booted up the random game I bought like, a year ago, and started playing.  It was Final Fantasy Adventure  in the Collection of Mana.  I remember stopping several times because of the archaic systems of direction in it, but I had nothing else to do.  I mean, I had other things to do.  I have plenty of backlog research I could do.  But I really just wanted to play a game, and this was one of my only options.

So I sat there and struggled, but then I decided to try and figure out this oldschool game.  I found myself getting really sucked into it.  Time flew by just like it did in my younger days.  I played because I intended to really just play a video game.  I sometimes lament this feeling of not having time to play games and then only playing thirty minutes to try and squeeze whatever I can before I have to get back into the grind of work, and I don’t enjoy it.

Sometimes circumstances make it really difficult, but I’m going to keep working on this idea of just playing purely for the game again.  Even if it’s just the thirty minutes I have left of the day, I’m just gonna let it happen.

I did that last night on Deep Rock Galactic.  Typing this now I just realized that.  I had thirty minutes left, and I just went all in.  I planned for one game, but I committed fully to just getting into it.  I suppose I’ve come pretty far in this long journey of enjoying games again.

One last thing, for some of you, gaming might even have to take a backseat.  It might be another activity that is more relaxing.   Regardless, be intentional with your time to relax.  It’s hard and, no matter how dumb it sounds, you might have to work at being able to relax.  Keep at it though.  Ultimately, our physical and mental health is pretty important. 

So take care of yourself, stay safe, and let’s enjoy video games again.  See you next time.

  • Elise

Thoughts on Back 4 Blood: Tunnels of Terror

Contains Both Tunnels and Terror

Well, what I wrote in the subtitle explains it all.  The end.

Just kidding.  I’ve been playing Back 4 Blood since…December, I think.  And like similar intense co-op games like this, we blasted through it in like three days.  It was fun, and then that was it.  Back 4 Blood also brings with it unlockable things to keep me coming back: Cards can be unlocked.  You use the cards to make decks and you draw those cards as you play through the levels.  The cards are always in the order you set them in the deck to be, so that’s nice.  It makes playthroughs a little different every time.  You can also unlock skins.  If you know me, I’m definitely a girl who really likes making her characters look the way she wants them to.  And then there are weapon skins, which I also am a great fan of.

The characters are pretty likable..  The variance in their lines is not as diverse as Left 4 Blood, but they’re still fun to hear.  I admit it took me a little bit to like the characters, but by the end of the Recruit difficulty it was all good.  Oh, that’s right.  Then we worked our way through Veteran difficulty with only two players, because by that time most of the group stopped playing.  And then we tried Nightmare and we got slaughtered.  The most recent update made it a little easier, but we still get slaughtered and I am just not going to play with randos.

Alright, let’s get to Tunnels of Terror.

Is it worth it?  Kinda?  Let’s talk about the different things and then you can determine for yourself, because we likely have different interests.

Tunnels/Hives:

So you can go into Ridden Hives that randomly spawn in the levels.  And these hives are actual entire levels you get to play in.  The way they’re attached to the main campaign instead of their own levels reminds me a lot of Path of Exile’s content additions.  And I love that.  I love it in Path of Exile because they keep adding more stuff and that means more chaos and unexpected occurrences.  I love that kind of chaos.  But that also means you will not be choosing hives as levels to play through.  Even when you’re playing through the campaign, they’re not guaranteed to spawn.  …at least from what I’ve seen.

The hives themselves are really fun to play.  Even though their designs are mostly just slimy tunnels, there’s something about venturing through them that makes the gameplay of them really fun, if not better than most of the levels in the campaign.  Sometimes they’re fairly straight forward, and other times they feel like mazes.  In both senses they have been really fun for me and my ally to play in.  We love them.  While in these hives you can open warped chests which drop a bunch of good loot at the expense of some negative effect like everyone in the team taking trauma damage after opening it.  Which leads me to…

Legendary Weapons:

You can find these in warped chests.  I love the legendary weapons.  They are exactly what I want from such things: unique look, flavor text, and some fancy effect.  These are unmoddable weapons that do special effects like adding burning damage to an AA-12 while giving the wielder immunity to fire damage.  I like to open warped chests just to try and find these weapons, because they’re so fun to use.  They’re a very refreshing effect to the usual guns we wield.  You can also find unique, named mods that have crazy effects like 100% recoil reduction, but lose a ton of movement speed while shooting.  Those are also really fun and great.  Also in the hives we can find…

Skull Totems/Skins:

To be clear, skull totems are not skins, but they’re related to them.  In hives you can find up to three skull totems.  They’re a melee weapon that you have to actively hold.  Switching to any other item will make you drop the totem.  Each totem can be combined with the next to make it stronger (and slower in attack speed).  This allows for convenient travel with multiple totems, uh, in one totem!  That way only one person needs to carry it if need be.  If you’re using a melee build, these skull totems are great!  If you’re not, they’re not great!  It’s annoying to have to drop it just to switch to a ranged weapon if there are sleepers on the walls, and then pick them back up again.  But if you manage to escape the hive with the skull totems, you can spend them at the convoy to get other unlockables.  Like skins!

The new outfits are great, but there are not that many new skins.  I honestly expected a little more out of something they deemed an “expansion”.  The character skins are fun, but it’s the weapon skins that I’m kind of disappointed in.  Most of them are the same style on every gun.  A new biohazard skin?  A ton of them have that same yellow-black styling.  A new hot rod skin?  It’s on a lot of them as well.  None of the skins are unique to any type of gun, and I don’t really like that.  I like it when the skins are unique to the guns.  I don’t mind if there are a few repeats, like in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but when it’s always repeated, it doesn’t feel great.  It’s just a mixed bag for me on this one. 

Some of the new talents and cards and stuff are really great though.  I’ve yet to be disappointed in the cards.  Some can seem kind of plain, but are still important for creating variety in decks, and I’m very okay with that.

Characters:

I’m glad there is another Asian.  I’m super biased about that, but I’m glad.  Heng is a new cleaner who has more utility in accessory items.  There usually isn’t a huge feeling of difference between characters in Back 4 Blood.  Even with other characters abilities and damage buffs, to be honest they tend to feel mostly the same.  I’m honestly okay with that, but so far Heng is just another cleaner to play as.  If you like to combo accessory effects though, he’s definitely someone to try out.  I like trying to make items be reusable or drop/spawn as frequently as possible and he’s just the person for that.

However, Sharice makes the game feel very different.  Sharice makes it so armor plates can be found in the maps.  Armor plates will take a heavy hit for you, and you can equip multiple.  Shooting off armor from enemies will also have a chance of dropping armor plates.  These things can make a huge difference.  Just imagine having any of the accessory items not spawn because one of the team members isn’t using a character.  I mean, that’s how big of a deal she is.  Well, quite literally, that’s the difference.  She also gives increased max temp health for the team, which is also really nice if you like gulping down meds or are using cards to get temp health.

Mutations and Monsters:

The new variations of ridden are really fun to play with.  The tallboy variant Ripper can slam the ground and send spikes through the ground as it does so, making it a ranged tank.  The reeker variant is the Shredder, which pulls people towards it.  Instead of bursting in gross goo, the Shredder’s head just pops and just kinda spews it out in a small area of effect near it.  The stinger variant is the Urchin, which shoots spiky mines.  

Parting Words:

As a last note, only one player needs Tunnels of Terror for everyone to experience hives.  Skull totems and their associated skins can be earned even if you don’t have the expansion.  Characters can be unlocked in PvP by playing PvP, but to use them in PvE you need to have the expansion.  The expansion by itself is $14.99 right now.  If it’s just the hive content you’re wanting to play, it’s not a bad price for the content for a party.  I’m still pretty mixed about how I feel about the package as a whole, but I will not deny that I enjoy my time with Back 4 Blood and the new content is a welcome experience. 

With most co-op games, how fun it is really depends on who you’re playing with, and even though there is only one other person in my party left, we have a really good time with the game.  I hope there can be more improvements at the next expansion.  

I don’t really give number ratings for games, but that was my experience.  Some people express their concern that I am fairly positive about everything in games, but this does not make this thought process for naught.  I’m sure there are things about the game that I said that you might think, “Oh, I don’t really like that,” or maybe, “I don’t think this is enough content for me.”  And if any of my words help clarify any of those thoughts, then I believe myself to have succeeded.  I just want you all to be able to find the fun in games wherever you can, and if you can’t find it here in the Tunnels of Terror expansion, that’s okay!

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time~

Elise

The Big DLC

The Great Paywall

Sometimes I think about gaming and how expensive it is.  Although it’s not necessarily required to get a gaming computer because there are plenty of good low-end PC games that are super fun, usually gamers will get a gaming device.  That could be a used 3DS for like $200 or less.  Or it could be something more expensive like a Playstation 5 for like, $500 (or more unfortunately).  Or it is a gaming computer for $900+.  And then you gotta buy the games.  And deal with the pains of learning accessories and whatnot.

And it can get expensive…most of the time.  There are so many good, free to play, major games like Path of Exile, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft II, Warframe, all of the free battle royales, and many more.  And then there are giveaways all the dang time.  Epic Store has been giving away major games every week for the past like, I don’t even remember anymore.  Two years?  So maybe getting the games part isn’t expensive.  There is, however, the major and valid hurdle of what kind of games you like.  So I’ll have to leave that up to you and the availability of games that you like.

So what is this big DLC I’m talking about then?  I’m talking about life.

Life has the most DLC out of any game.  You think about other hobbies that involve standard real life applications, and you are going to be spending cash on every single little thing.  Need a small part for your car you’re working on?  DLC.  Need to get some more paint to replenish your “mana”, by which I mean your oil paints for your canvas?  Pay to win.  Want to travel?  Dang, you’re gonna be paying hundreds of dollars, and you don’t even get the DLC permanently, because you’ll be back home.  I hate to say it, but games have very little DLC compared to standard hobbies.

The difference is that most of the time you can apply those other hobbies to being “productive”.  Everything is seen as more productive than playing video games.  Let’s be honest, the stereotype that gamers are trolls in the basement is still a thing.  Unless you’re rich, attractive, or famous.  Apparently they get a pass.

Maybe it’s about getting our money’s worth?  Learning how to cook a new recipe always costs a lot, but it always comes with the bonuses of eating good food, sharing with family and friends, and upping your cooking skill.  I’m not hating on games or anything.  Come on, this is Game Praisers.  But the weird thing is that game DLC is both really great and not great at the same time.  My new adventures in the snow for Monster Hunter don’t teach me anything about survival in the snow, but I get to go to lands I never would see in real life.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I am so grateful for media.  I am grateful for content.  Because this huge world that pummels us with unwarranted updates like Covid and hate is also the same one that demands us pay for DLC whether we want it or not.  Let’s be real, that’s a low standard to be pitting video games against.  That’s even lower than comparing gaming to other hobbies and their expenses and rewards.  But… I’m at least grateful for it.  

Rarely would I get free food just because, like I can do on Epic Games.  Never could I travel so easily to foreign lands and learn cool lore.  Never could I have met friends as a cool engineer character I’m totally not like in real life other than personality.  And also, rarely could I do the same in reverse.  I’m so glad I bought those ingredients to make a cool recipe in real life to make for my family.  I’m so grateful that the darn cleaning product worked in the bathroom when I cleaned it again.  

I’m so grateful for content in both worlds.  

…but sometimes it still gets so darn expensive.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

Lone Wanderers Together

Single Player Co-op

I’m definitely a single player gamer.  If it has to be multiplayer it better be cooperative play, and even then I might just play through the whole thing by myself.  For example, The Division series I played 98% by myself.  I like taking things at my own pace and style.  My playstyle tends to conflict with a lot of my friends’ styles so I’d rather just not be a burden on the whole group.  

I love being a long wanderer.  I have a harder time with games where you need to control a squad unless it’s a top down view like an RTS or MOBA game.  In the Fallout series I never travel with a companion unless I need to for a quest.  Same goes for the Elder Scrolls series.  Sometimes I’ll still have to go through it though, like in Baldur’s Gate or Mass Effect, but I can grit my teeth and “get along” with people.  Perhaps I’m just not a people person.

After all is said and done, one of my favorite things to do with single player games is to talk with other players who have finished it and hear their sides of the story.  What choices did they make that differ from me?  In my previous article I talked about how I tend to make choices that are more like myself, and that also means not experiencing a lot of things that other people chose.  I love to see why people choose different choices especially concerning factional, emotional, or moral matters.

I also like to hear where they wandered off to and what side areas and quests I didn’t see.  I purposely only do quests and side quests I truly run into on my own to make it more of a personal experience (unless I desperately need an upgrade or something), and so hearing of other’s exploits and adventures makes theirs even more unique.  Like, hearing a friend run into a legendary monster that I never knew about is so cool.  Them talking about some secret loot from it and what it was like is such a fun experience.  We’ve both played the game, but their treasures are all different.

This is a little harder to do with open world games where quests and areas are more laid out for you.   In Assassin’s Creed: Origins I ended up going to nearly, if not all, the markers on the map.  It didn’t feel very unique.  I was just checking off a list of things to do.  Every once in a while I’d run into something unique that made me smile, laugh, or be in awe.  I found the things that really hit that single player adventure spot were those few things that I ran into that were unmarked, or events that happened due to certain sandbox-based natural events.  

Guild Wars 2 kind of hits that same note, even though it’s an MMO.  MMOs are a little less like the nature of long wanderers together because of obvious reasons.  However, the way the game’s event based quests and renown hearts work, you can always just run into people and work together to fight some map boss or help a town of NPCs out.  Immediately after, we say thanks or share a cheer, and then off we are back again on our own adventures.  

Single player games offer that weird feeling of being back at base, and everyone shares their experiences and loot.  I hear their stories and I get amped up to go on another adventure.  In a weird way, I don’t feel alone in a single player experience, because we’re all on this smattering of timelines in our own worlds and I can hear what happened with them.  I know this is ironic because I don’t talk to a lot of people in general, but still.  All of this becomes more and more exciting as system based games like Dishonored and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild take shape.  They need not be super open world, but their dynamic systems allow for unique experiences that I continue to be amazed at or laugh at.  

It reminds me of times being united with gamers playing Super Mario World or other older single player games of the olden days.  We were all together because we all went on the same adventure, but when we reunite we all tell differing tales.  

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

To Play a Game

Getting lost in getting lost

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m going to try and post more regularly now, but the posts will focus less on game design and more like a blog for me as a gamer.  I understand if this is less interesting or too different and if you don’t want to continue following that is fine.  Okay, on to the article.

There were a couple times in the past year where I realized I wasn’t really having fun playing a game.  I lost the whole point of playing games.  I wasn’t enjoying my time.  

There are a lot of different reasons to play video games, and honestly, I don’t think joy has to be one of them, but I wasn’t feeling any of those good reasons.  Due to mental health, sometimes I just play because I want to zone out or fend off some ill feelings.  Sometimes I am trying to get an achievement, and it’s not surprising that times like that are actually more frustrating than enjoyable, but it has a good purpose.  Sometimes I am just hanging out with friends while other times I want something where I can put my all, like Cataclysm mode in Warhammer: Vermintide II.  

And then there are times where I’m playing and I’m thinking, “Why am I doing this at all?”  Why am I spending time gathering herbs or searching for resources that I will then deposit into my bank and I will never ever use them because I am a hoarder?  I sometimes think of the lapse of time that goes through as I do menial tasks.   I admit I also find myself skeletonizing my tasks and thinking, is this all a waste of time?  It feels like the same thing as “game x”.  This can occur  on some of my favorite games as well.

Perhaps it’s my depression, or I really am just out of it, because those same moments can be reversed.  The best cure I’ve found for these moments is just…to stop caring about time.  I have such a hard time relaxing.  It really seems like a skill for me because I always have to think about progress or productivity.  I miss the days when I could sit on a chair in Maplestory and just chat with friends about random stuff.

Not too long ago I was playing Fallout 4 and I kept glancing at my phone because I had an early work meeting and all I could think of was, “Am I going to get enough sleep?  How much more can I squeeze in?”  Going through a tower full of raiders was not as exciting as it was when all I could think of was being productive with my time in a game that is known for being a time sink.  It took a while but I had to really let myself go and not think about time.  And soon I was  just having fun mowing down raiders.  It is really unfortunate that the culture of productivity dug its claws so deep into my life that it entered into the realm of my video game experience.  I would not be surprised if you, as a gamer, have felt that same dreadful feeling.

I find that not only do I perform well, but I also enjoy myself more when I let go of time.  The same kind of fun I had when I was a tiny child playing Goldeneye 007 on the N64 and we just…straight up played.  Sitting on the ground or a couch playing Super Mario World over and over and over again.  Or when I spent so much time just wandering around in Morrowind, sometimes just to see the sights.  I miss those times, and I feel the closest thing I can do to bringing back those times I played just to play is to stop worrying about time.  Either that or play with close friends or siblings.  Those times can get rambunctious and super fun.  

However, these days most of the time I play single player games, and because I spread my interests so thin, I always believe I need to be productive with my time.  In the end, I think the most productive and best use of my time is to just…play for fun again.  Not to worry about time and just…do what you’re supposed to do when you play a game and just get into it.  I hope that we don’t forget that passion that we had as gamers when we just played for fun or without regard to time.  We just let ourselves get lost in a different world.  And it was good.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

Breaking The Fourth Window

SPOILERS FOR VARIOUS GAMES AHEAD

Note: This is a little bit rant-ish.

I have a very hard time with fourth wall breaking moments in games.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but that’s not the reason why it bothers me.  It really bothers me because it’s almost always assumed to be a “Hi, I got you there, didn’t I?”  in a world where…you’re not allowed to be…not gotten.


I developed a thought pattern in my younger years that was meant to discipline myself into doing the right thing whether or not someone is looking.  That was the goal.  The goal is to become a better person.  And this eventually passed down to my games and my art.  I never treat characters as characters, I always treat them like people.  Does this mean some of my decisions in choice based games are boring?  Yes, I think more often than not it does end up being like that, because I care about how they feel and how I feel about them.  

Sometimes there are choices that have minimal consequence other than getting a rise out of someone or a joke.  And yet, I still refuse to make those jokes.  I’m looking at you Traveler from Genshin Impact.  I’m fairly consistent in that I want the choices I make in games to be as close to the good choices I can make in real life.

I’ve lost so many lives trying to see if I could save someone that did not have a trigger to save them. I’ve lost so many rounds and lives in games because I felt I had to go back to save the AI ally.  In real life, if we’re just talking about real life, this would’ve literally been a waste of time.  There would be so little consequence if I just finished the level without them.   So when times appear that it turns out I could save them and I just assumed the game wouldn’t let me, I feel cheated.   When a character comes along and does the fourth wall breaking thing in a game, I actually feel cheated, because in games, you’re not always allowed to do the right thing.


Sometimes doing the right thing is much more difficult.  In Assassin’s Creed: Origins there were many assassination targets I wanted to leave alive, and yet no matter how hard I tried, they would still end up somehow dying due to a cutscene or force.  I put forth extra effort, only to be punished by the system.

Oppositely, when a game like Undertale comes along where I realized I could just be nice to all the enemies, I did that.  Except…at the last battle where you have to bring Asgore to low health.  I refused to even attack.  I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what I did wrong and why I couldn’t get past him.  I can’t tell you how many times he nodded, noting that we have fought a billion times with me dying.  After spending so darn long on it, I decided to give in and look up what I had to do.  I had to hit him, and once again I felt punished for trying to execute my “thinking outside the box” fourth wall-ism that these games try to employ.

It doesn’t matter if I follow the rules where games don’t let you do much, or do my best to be my best regardless of those rules, I will be punished by the choice-based games.  I never felt like the argument of “getting caught off guard” by a game’s fourth wall breaking to be valid because I am almost always punished for my choices either way.  What’s the point of getting “caught off guard” if the consequence is the same?

It used to be naivete, but after counseling and therapy, I understand better my relationship with these characters in video games.   It’s not okay to make fun of them just because they’re in a game or that they can’t see me.  Just like how I strive myself to not be like that or talk badly of other people behind their backs.  But what about the discomfort I feel?  


I’m not saying I’m immune to the feeling of fear and juxtaposition when a character, especially those with ill intentions, notices me as a player.  I’m scared of a lot of things, haha, and that is definitely not an exception.  But I also feel terribly shaken because I’m sad.

I’m sad that this character, even if they’re doing something wrong, has to resort to breaking into another world just to feel better about themselves.  I feel sad that I could not provide more for them.  I feel sad that I have to let them make their own choices, and even perhaps that some are programmed to be something they’d rather not want to be.  I feel sad that Monika in Doki Doki Literature Club had to resort to such extremes to feel comfort.  I feel sad that the evil characters in Undertale feel like their life disasters justified them to make those wrong choices.  All those characters that had to make a choice between bad or worse because of what choices I made or the things I had to do in a game affect me. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t blame the player, but I’d at least want them to know how I feel.

I feel bad because I have gone through the same forks in the road in life and I understand those justifications.  I’m sure, or rather I at least hope, that you as a reader also understand the difference between being bitter or better from life’s trials.  Sometimes in our anger and with unwanted results choosing to stay strong is difficult and the other route totally seems justified.  Sometimes I feel like it’s justified because the creators of their world didn’t inform visitor’s like me that I could even do things that could help them out.  

I know these characters are programmed a certain way.  

These feelings don’t make the wrong things these characters have done the right thing, but it does make them understood, and only through understanding can these people have any chance of getting better.  

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
Elise


– Yes, I know.  People always tell me that I waste so much time and am a dork for doing things like this, but I really want what’s best for the characters even outside of this whole meta of games.  And yes, like an emotionally and psychologically healthy relationship with anyone, I do set boundaries with characters. I’ll be okay.

Why I Love: Celeste

Humble Beginnings, Humble Endings

My Introduction to Indie and Thanks to Maddy Thorson

Sorry for the hiatus.  I had an unfortunate episode with something, but now I am back and hopefully that doesn’t happen again.

The origins for me loving Celeste go all the way back to when I was young and indie games were a super niche thing.  My family didn’t have a lot of money, so games were a special occasion.  However, I began to wander the internets for more games that I could get for free and stumbled upon indie games.  The ones that really stuck to me were a group of developers that seemed to be connected.  A lot of them proved to be so in a website that, unfortunately, no longer operates today: the eo community.  Then from there my interest in indie skyrocketed.

One game I obsessed over was released a couple months before I got into all of it: Jumper 2.  I was tired of the glitchy platformers that inhabited many indie websites, but when I found Jumper I was so excited because platformer games were the thing back then.  The graphics were great and the game wasn’t glitchy.  The main character is a failed experiment named Ogmo, who looks like a red block with legs.  Ogmo is adorable and I love him so much. I bet I can find sketches of him in the margins of old school notebooks if I somehow have not thrown them away yet.

And that was it.  I was sucked into the world of indie games.  I made levels in the editor all the time.  I wasn’t super good at platformers, but I think I managed to make it an okay distance through the game while not being pro.  I have followed Maddy Thorson’s career ever since.  I even got my friends to play Jumper: Redux on LAN.   I’ve seen how Thorson grew over time in their designs and it has been an incredible journey.

And then Celeste was released and it took me a long while to play that one.  I was bogged down in everything in life.   Eventually Celeste was being given for free on Epic Games Store.  It brought a renewal of attention, so I decided I would finally play it.  I am immensely grateful for this game.

Why I Love Celeste

Celeste is not an easy game, and it is not a hard game either.  In fact, I don’t know what to say about difficulty in Celeste.  For me, the difficulty curve is the prime example of well done difficulty curves.  And yet, I can say that it was not easy.  

Good video game design usually involves teaching the player without having them read blocks of texts or having them look at a video.  But I would like to propose the idea that Celeste takes good design one step further than pretty much any other game I’ve ever played so far.  The game is humble.  This is not because the game is modest in content or gameplay or anything.  The movement designed in the game is insanely well done.  No, this game is humble because it feels more like a teacher and it feels more like a human, than any game that attempted psychological strategies (or even tricks in the case of some horror games) that I’ve ever played.

Celeste already does the established good designs with good level layouts and quick respawn with little consequence.  Through the game’s story and mood, the game helps you with one more thing that so few games do: it wants you to improve and it makes that clear.  I’ve recently finished Dark Souls 1, and while the game has many good designs in it, the whole attitude and system it has encourages a strong culture of gatekeeping, which is a definite no-no.  There’s always the “You’re Not Good Enough, Scrub” attitude.  I said that it encourages, not creates.  While the culture definitely surrounds it, and I found friends whom I didn’t expect to be enveloped in it too, it does not create it.  Because of the universal struggle in the game, there have been good experiences with other players as well.  But I just can’t say that the culture of the game is good.  It unfortunately, just isn’t.  It wasn’t a good experience, but I’ll talk more about Dark Souls in its own “Why I Love.”  (So at least I still love it.)

Celeste successfully brings difficulty without that kind of attitude.  It shows its tough side with extra objectives and B-Sides to stages for those who want to push themselves to breaking limits, but it does all this with the note saying “You can do it,” or “If you want to.”  I don’t feel like this aspect is “weak” in any way.  In fact, I think it shows that it knows the player, or rather I should say, the person.  

The best professionals and inspirational people in my life are always the humble ones.  The ones that made it through without becoming hardened.  The ones that chose to stay soft so that they can truly uplift.  It is never the easier choice.  These are the kinds of people that when they teach, they teach with heart because they still choose to remember what it was like to struggle not only with the limited skill set of someone just beginning, but also the limited knowledge as well.  

The honor of their prestige is based on being able to share their experiences rather than boast about how others cannot get them.  I think this is what Celeste embodies, in both story and gameplay.  This is why I love Celeste.  The game is no slouch.  It will push you, but in a way that allows oneself to commit to learning and becoming better.  It teaches the player to push themselves more than the game pushes them.  That’s what I’m all about, I’m sure you know.  It is something that I hope that schools one day better integrate into their systems.  It is the optimistic hope that humans can be like that to help each other, because let’s face it, life is not easy alone.  

Celeste is #9 on the ULTRA.  Thanks for reading.  Stay safe out there.  I hope that we all can stay humble, remember to stay soft, and remember that it is not a weakness to help others.


– Elise

Nintendo Games Can Be Difficult

Remember the Struggle

I was ignorant in gaming for a long time.  I don’t mean racist or a straight-up gatekeeper or anything, but like a….kind of almost ignorant gatekeeper?  I hate when people say Nintendo games are for kids.  They are fit for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re designed solely for them.  It’s the same way how some animations are really well written and they’re for kids, but adults can definitely enjoy them.  I think a lot of the time, they’re even better as adults.

So, I grew up with the SNES and Nintendo 64.  Platforming games were the thing back then, so I played a lot of Mario, Kirby, and Donkey Kong games.  I think it was just a ton of privilege and I am very grateful for that.  Fast-forward to Super Mario Maker 2, and I was making levels that I felt were fit for the audience, only to find out that the success rate was pretty low on the level.  Now, I’m not a pro at platforming games or anything.  I am not that, but my vision of what a platforming game player was skewed.  And that’s when I realized I am super privileged when it comes to most Nintendo games.

Most people who are playing Nintendo games are younger, and most Nintendo games are platforming games.  I have yet to see a young gamer who, having received a present from their parents, do what I believed to be “well” on a new Nintendo game.  In fact, I remember being young and not being able to make it past certain worlds.  As I got older, the amount of worlds I would get to would go further and further.  I wouldn’t actually finish a Mario game until like, middle school or high school.  You know, the age when kids think they’re so cool and Nintendo is done and away with.

That’s the first set of audience, and the second is adults who want to start to play platforming games.  Introducing people to games or the genre has made me feel so ignorant.  I mean, I’ve done that a lot, but I never realized what a terrible teacher I was.  I believe I’m pretty good at teaching, but for some reason I never applied the proper teaching skills I used before on what I loved the most.  I am patient with the person, but I was just so ignorant.  New gamers don’t know what they can and can’t do.  That’s something that when you play as a younger gamer, you just kind of leap over because you’re a kid and you’ve got time and audacity in your hands.  

Especially for adults, they’re hesitant on what they believe they can do and move like.  Looking back I feel so dumb for not opening that door for them.  Not only that, but then there is the huge gap of just spending time to get better that I don’t really have to worry about anymore because I’ve played so many games when I was younger.  So, I think you get the point.  I just really had to check my privilege here.  But it’s also made me very grateful for opening my eyes to this understanding, and makes me grateful for how well Nintendo designs their games to be enjoyable even when you’re past these stages.  

I think in a way I was kind of soft-gatekeeping people by placing my expectations way high.  I never got upset at them, but in my mind I would still set that expectation, and I would rather I root that out than let it grow into something negative.  I want to be welcoming to all levels of gaming.  The best people in any profession always seem to be the ones that still remember what it was like to struggle, because they’re the ones that are the best at helping people.  Like my entire life with things I study, I want games to be a positive impact on my life, so I will do my best to keep humbling myself and remember the struggle.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you next time.

The Blessed State of Gaming

I feel like now of all times should be a time of being grateful for the games we play and for the communities the video gaming industry has allowed us to be in.  I’m talking about the communities that are welcoming and good.  The ones that help us feel safe and well when we are, in physicality, alone.

The state of gaming qualitatively is always fluctuating, but the people we love, the characters we’ve bonded with, and the adventures we’ve had are usually good ones.  And more so the shared experience we’ve had as gamers and as friends are pretty much always good. Most hobby communities have fallen under or have struggled, but during these times, video gamers can be strengthened.  We have more opportunities to uplift each other through video games.  This is the medium that we proclaim to be such a great purveyor of happiness to us.

Digital downloads and streaming systems have allowed us safety from the outside world during a tumultuous time.  I don’t think it is the norm, at least where I am, to play video games for long periods of time each day.  Conservatively, video games are an extra activity that males tend to do.  Usually a Call of Duty here or there.  Maybe some Grand Theft Auto.  From my local community they tend not to be gaming every day anyway.  

But any of you who would like to call yourselves gamers, and in almost all cases you are the judge of that, we have our sanctuary.  The video game industry and world has driven us to the point of such relative safety and I am extremely grateful for that.  Of course the industry has also brought along its own faults, but what industry has not done that?  In a strange way the growth of the industry is like a relationship that is tarnished and rebuilt over and over again by the developers and the audience.  I think at all points, both sides have contributed both positively and negatively to it.  

We’re still here though, and I would like to express my appreciation for the fact that we have survived this long as an industry and audience that we can ask a friend if they want to play some Borderlands, and that we can chat using programs like Discord.  The current disasters of the world, although of still great concern, do not touch our bubbles of comfort.  That is what makes this current state of gaming so great.  I would that we could all pitch in for the troubled state of the world, and also have a place of safety to return to when we are weary and are in need of recharging.

We DO have a place to return to that is unharmed, and that is a blessing to which I say,
“Thank you.”

I’ll see you soon.

– Elise