The Restricted Audience

Ratings for you, not the game

I think it’s easy to forget how restricted rating systems in games work.  In North America we tend to see the Entertainment Software Rating Board / ESRB ratings.  And in Europe you tend to see Pan-European Game Information / PEGI ratings.  In Japan it’s the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization / CERO.  I’m not going to list all of the audience ratings, but those are the three most common ones around me.

And I did say audience ratings.  I think people misunderstand that the ratings are not necessarily about dangerous content.  It’s about content that is dangerous if handled immaturely.  Nearly every single type of restricted content in video games is dangerous if approached incorrectly.  We’re saying rated M for mature audiences, because if you are playing this content you should be mature about it.  

Foul language is something that most people speak, but it’s a matter of when we say it and when it’s appropriate.  If you stub your toe and swear, alright.  But if you’re in a church or in an interview maybe don’t swear outright.  For this one, it’s about reading the context, but that requires some amount of maturity. 

Every time we move further down the list with things like gambling, violence, nudity, and discrimination, each subject must be approached with maturity.  And the truth is that most people who play mature rated or PEGI 18 games aren’t really that mature.  I’ve gotten the response that it’s about whether or not you can “handle” that amount of violence.  I don’t think it’s about “handling” violence.  It’s about how we approach, treat, and respect the events.  People are not mature for watching ultra violence or looking at sexual content, especially if they give the same immature approach to similar situations in real life.  

One thing I found very interesting is that the PEGI ratings have “Discrimination” as one of the factors and it’s noted as a PEGI 18 rating.  I think ethics are something very important in video games.  I mean, we’ve noted how a lot of character development is literally about growth and ethics, and people are not without them in real life.  Some people say that because it’s just a game you can just ignore everything, but that’s not true.  If that were true, trauma wouldn’t happen to people.  Trauma is when unexpected events shatter paradigms and the securities of someone’s life.  You can’t just undo an experience.  Unless there is some sort of brain damage or memory loss involved, what you experience, watch, and play in video games will affect you.  

This is not to deny the studies that people who play violent video games become violent, but it can still affect you if not taken maturely.  Again, it is whether or not you let that become an enabling factor.  Some people use video games as a way to let off steam.  To yell and have a safe place to trash talk and banter.  And that’s okay, because they’re using it as a way to ameliorate the stress and anger.  But I also know people who, when playing video games, become violent.  Most of the time they already are, but enabling them or enticing this kind of temperament is also not okay.

There are mature ways to approach sexual content, and all of them need to be approached maturely.  I don’t want rated M games to be like some sort of light to attract all the bug people who just want to objectify women.  I mean, unfortunately, there are games with that kind of approach in mind, and honestly I don’t find that for mature audiences at all when the whole set of creation is immature.  Perhaps, and this might be sharp to say but, there are some games that shouldn’t be played because the basis of the whole game is not conducive to proper behavior.  I’m not trying to be some sort of policing writer.  I’m just stating the reality that some things will affect people in a negative way and it’s not about being progressive or being “tough”, it’s about teaching people, not just kids, that some things need to be respected.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same people who sexually harrassed me at school are the same people who play those games that disrespect women.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people who say that video games don’t affect them are the same people bullying others.  We as the players are supposed to be mature about this all.  The people who know that the violence stays in the game.  The people who recognize that war and discrimination are real, terrible things.  The people that recognize that a character is a sex worker not because she is a bad person, but because she is having a hard time in life.  To learn this empathy, to learn this understanding, that’s what maturity is about.  

I’m not saying that we’re stiff and not having fun while shooting enemies and slicing baddies.  Rated M for Mature just means that when it gets down to it, we understand that we must treat these subjects with respect and understanding.

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

Elise

A Raft Made of Backlogs

Lost in the dream sea

The backlog list is so big.  I love media, but this is getting ridiculous.   Disney announced a ton of stuff, and now a gigantic swathe of games just popped up for Nintendo, SEGA, and Sony.  There is also that pile of books I should read as well.  But is this…bad?

Sometimes I think back on my teenage years when getting more than one game a year was like a miracle.  If you look back on play time for games in my teens, those games had hundreds of hours in them, mostly because they were the only thing for that year.  There are more games than I could ever play in multiple lifetimes now.  

Moreover, I don’t think I ever would’ve thought I would be able to play through the series that I’ve dreamed of, but that has become a reality.  Since I like playing things in chronological release order, some of these games either never get released in English or fade away to time and become very difficult to obtain.  Now, I’ve been able to play through all the Final Fantasy’s up to VII, and games like Yakuza have been entirely ported to PC.  I’ve been able to go back and go through all the Kirby games and with Return to Dreamland’s remake I can fill that hole that was left behind because that game got real expensive real quick.  

This is…the dream.  I’m so grateful for where gaming has gone right now.  I mean, I can choose to be a strong female character in my games.  I can customize the crap out of them as well.  Free games show up so often I could play those and never worry about it all.  Not only is this a good time to be a gamer, it is a good time to be a gamer who grew up in the 90s and 2000s.  Being able to play the games I thought would be lost to me is very much a dream come true for me.

I know there are still things to hash out with the gaming community and how Nintendo games aren’t well preserved to be played again.  There will always be a few things here and there that go unaccomplished for now, but still.  Things are so wonderful now and I am very happy with the games being released. 

Are there any games that you were able to play that you thought you wouldn’t get to growing up?  Or games you feel like you missed out on due to the passage of time? I’m very content with the idea that I am lost in the sea now, because this raft of games that I’ve made was the dream cruise I was thinking of when I was younger. I am so grateful to be lost at sea on a raft made of backlogged games.

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again.

Elise

There is No Status Quo

Glow in the dark

There are going to be a fair bit of spoilers for these titles: 
Parks and Recreation, the TV show: major spoilers
Super Mario RPG: Major spoilers
Marvel Cinematic Universe Infinity Saga: Major spoilers
Final Fantasy VIII: First 13 hours spoilers

Although I spoil things, I am still purposely very vague.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t spoilery though, so be warned.

Long article time!

Character development works in the same way that people develop.  Whether you like it or not, that’s how some of the best character development works.  And a more turbulent thing that is also true is that it is almost always cheesy.  It’s the cheesy stuff that are the real lessons in life.  When writing character development, it’s important to recognize how and when paradigm shifts in perspective happen.  And we can also, again, skeletonize it to cheesy things, but we’re going to keep it at a complicated level for the sake of showing the individuality of developments.


First I’m going to establish the basic point that my title has made.  There is no status quo.  Characters are like glow sticks, they won’t really shine until you break them.  In Parks and Recreation the character Andy has one of the best developments because the events that happen to him actually change and cause him to grow.  It’s very simple and logical stuff.  Most people know that, but actually having that implemented is a different thing.  He actually does change as his love for April grows.  He really does learn from his time at community college.  He really does start finding footing for where he feels comfortable in his place in society.  These things are actually happening to him and the show acts like it.  This doesn’t mean he can’t be the same goofy character, but it means that he will not return to the original goofy character before.  You cannot return to the status quo, else it seems like nothing significant happened at all.

This happens in all sorts of TV shows where things return completely to normal.  I’m not saying that this is bad, because it fits some shows very well that things always return to normal.  Sometimes these kinds of series will do major shifts to show that something has changed.  This can be something that happens at the end of a season or in preparation for a change of casting.  Super Mario RPG’s Mallow has an identity crisis because he thinks he is a frog.  I’m…pretty sure we all can recognize that he is totally not.  Some character developments happen in drastic shifts like this.  This happens in real life as well, so it makes sense.  

What’s interesting about Mallow’s shift is that he doesn’t really change much, except for his self-confidence, which was an issue for a while.  He doesn’t really mind that he thought he was a frog this whole time.  The big shift wasn’t the fact that he was having an identity crisis, but rather that he needed to come to terms with how he feels about himself.  These aren’t huge lines in the story by the way.  Mallow doesn’t always talk about this, but it feels significant enough.  


Here’s one that I have thought a lot about from the Infinity Saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically Thor.  Thor’s development is mostly about who he believes he is and his worthiness.  He goes through a lot of this and it develops on itself multiple times.  In Thor: Ragnarok, he really comes to terms with himself after his father’s “passing”.  Now normally this is it.  But after his failure to kill Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, he actually returns to what he was previously where he didn’t believe in himself.  This is not a return to the status quo.  This is usually only obtainable through story writing that is extended over time.  I think this is a rare opportunity to recognize how some people struggle to change over time.  He had such a big revelation in Thor: Ragnarok and now he is back to where he was before because of yet another shift.  This new development is no longer about coming to terms with himself, it is about the failure of doing so in a difficult time.  I love the writing of this because sometimes we have big life events happen to us and when it gets hard we do fall back down and we do struggle.


Lastly, Final Fantasy VIII.  Just to be clear, this isn’t a comprehensive list of all the different kinds of development.  Final Fantasy VIII just happens to be the final one on this list.  I love Final Fantasy to death, so maybe I’m a bit biased.  I haven’t finished VIII yet, so this is just what I know so far from the game.  I’ve played 13-ish hours.

Most of the game’s characters are teenagers, and I think it’s a very good opportunity to talk about the small world of the mind.  There are a lot of times where the main character, Squall, says some really angsty stuff.  Same with Rinoa.  There are tons of times where you could ask why the world they make the choices they make or how something they said was ridiculous or immature, but that’s just it.  They’re teenagers.  I think one of the more difficult parts of writing is not only understanding how much your character’s know, but also how much they can interpret.  When Squall is threatened by death he does the most teenager thing and runs away.  I’m not saying all teeangers do this, but it’s been established that he is an angsty teen, so what he is doing is in line with that.  He is so determined to not be something left in the past because someone he is close with may have died.

Having death hit you at such a young age affects you differently than if you were older.  This whole time Squall has set up a tough exterior, but it really breaks when he just runs.   His paradigm has shifted, and he has to come to terms with it.  This doesn’t fully absolve itself immediately though, which I like.  Rinoa also goes through a series of similar rash actions where she wants to try and suppress the evil Sorceress on her own.  This seems so foolish, but remember that her world consists of living in rebellion.  She has been fighting government oppression her whole life and her relationship with her father is not great.  This is what her world consists of: fighting back, no matter how small you feel.  When she fails to suppress the Sorceress, she nearly dies.  

Squall and Rinoa both argue over how serious these missions are taken.  This back and forth starts pretty early on.  Both Squall and Rinoa’s growth intertwine when Rinoa realizes just how dangerous all of this is and Squall feels what the fear of death is like in someone else as Rinoa literally clings to him.  This is further emphasized when he sees how scared Irvine is moments later.  Their small worlds grow larger with every shift.  He is changing how he feels about death, his mission, and what to do.  You see this in how he tells Irvine that it’s going to be okay, no matter the results.

Remember when I said Squall hated that idea of death?  Well, at this point some time later, he fights the Sorceress for the sake of the people and …dies.  Now hold on, this is where I’m at in the story.  So, very likely he’s not actually dead, but the action of this is significant, because now his paradigm has completely shifted.  He has voluntarily given his life for the sake of the people.  The world of his mind has grown.  He is no longer Squall as he was…however many hours ago in the game.  Unfortunately, for the sake of story he is likely still alive, so that status quo is probably still here.  I…I can’t say for sure.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

Not all teenagers and people will develop like this.  That’s fine.  But each has their own views and shifts.  Squall’s tough exterior has been well established by this point, but it is so fluid in his change over time.  His is not an immediate change, and that’s why I really like his development so far.  His “death” could also be just his desire to fulfill objectives for his organization, but he ran away last time.  He literally ran, and now he died.


Maybe I’m getting this all totally wrong.  I could totally, totally be getting all of this wrong.  But I’m still very happy with how they show the perspective of the small worlds Squall and Rinoa both live in.  It’s easiest to see these kinds of things in the main character who starts in humble beginnings, except it’s usually more literal in that the world they fight for gets bigger and bigger as you explore more places.  But for what I can see in Squall and Rinoa right now, is the change in the mind, and I really, really like that.  

Why is this so important to me?  I mean, other than good character development, this helps me recognize people’s perspectives and how they see the world.  To be less at conflict with others, I need to be more understanding of their perspectives and what their mind-world’s look like.  What I look like in their world.  

Things are not always black and white, and seeing character growth like this is a good way to better understand how some people might make bad decisions when they’re just trying to be good people.

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

My Natural Attraction

No, I’m not talking about people.

I was thinking that with the ULTRA, I should be able to compile a list of what genres I tend to be attracted to.  After making an Excel sheet and messing around with stuff in there I created this table. 


Explanation from left to right: First Person Shooter (FPS), Third Person Shooter (TPS), Turn-based RPG (TBRPG), Turn-based Strategy (TBS), Real Time Strategy (RTS), Racing (RC), Action Adventure (AA), Classic Adventure (CA), Puzzle (PZ), Action RPG (ARPG), Platformer/Platforming (PLAT), MMORPG, Fighting (FG), Simulation (SIM), Survival (SURV), MOBA, Music (MUS), Metroidvania (VANIA).

Two notes:

  • I separated RPGs and Shooters in general to create large, chunked versions to compare those two genres because I knew they would be the highest numbers.  
  • And through this second, improved version (I had another excel sheet that was not as good), I was able to have games count as multiple genres.

The lowest count genres are Turn-Based Strategy, Real Time Strategy, MMORPGS, and music.  Even combining strategy genres, it still isn’t that much of a count.  I grew up in the era when strategy games were huge, and now, other than a couple of grand strategy games, it really has dwindled.  It’s being kept alive by things like Civilization, Total War, and maybe Age of Empires II and IV.  It’s really sad.  Starcraft and Starcraft II still live on for me though.  Very typically Asian of me.

MMORPGs are low count because it takes so long to invest in one to really recognize whether or not it’s a good MMO, so that would explain that.  I have played a ton of MMOs though, and let’s be honest the era of 2000s for MMOs were not that great.  It was ruled by like…World of Warcraft and Maplestory.  Most everything else was mediocre or way too filled with pay to win elements, which is what Maplestory has become now.

Unfortunately, Classic Adventure games are also low in count, but those have been some really great experiences, and I feel like they’re kind of niche even now.  Yet today there are some really good classic adventure releases that have dominated charts: games like Norco, Disco Elysium, and Kentucky Route Zero.  And I’ve only played one of those!

I was originally surprised by the amount of Fighting Games on there but then I realized half of them are probably Super Smash Bros.  Haha!  Puzzle games are also pretty low on the list, probably because I’m…not very good at them.  Oh wait, I realize I’m not good at fighting games or puzzle games, so that explains both!

I think Shooter games are so high on the list because I grew up with my brothers playing first person shooters a lot, so I’ve inherited a lot of that, and there are a lot of platforming games as well because I grew up with the SNES and the N64.  It also helps that those are the two genres I’m most proficient at, so of course I can enjoy them well.

RPGs are in such a large amount likely because of how emotional they tend to be.  They usually have good writing, or at least fun writing.  I also like games that tend to have political commentary on the sad state of things like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or Path of Exile.  These games point out how grey the spectrum of human morality can be.  Sometimes there are no good choices and sometimes good people get caught up in bad things.  Some people really just want to be bad, but there are some people who just want to do good.  And some people in between, like in Baldur’s Gate or Mass Effect.  Oh darn it, I just chose two Bioware titles.  Okay, um, Guild Wars 2.   I love storylines that get caught up in the small nuances in life as well as the real and cheesy lessons.  I’ve stated before and I’ll say it again, the important lessons in life tend to be cheesy.  Games like Genshin Impact, Kentucky Route Zero, or Final Fantasy VI have these elements and help me reflect on myself.  

The final two reasons are very polar.  I like games that I have an emotional connection to.  I love Control, Perfect Dark, and Celeste.  I also love games that are extremely well designed.  Games like Dishonored 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest, and Hollow Knight.  This isn’t to say I have no emotional connection to them, but a huge chunk of the enjoyment I received in addition to my personal experience was because of how well they were made.  The disparity between emotion and technical don’t negatively affect each other, but the objective difference is huge.  

Enough about me.  What genres do you lean towards?  And what are some examples from those genres that you really like?  Are there any games that helped you become a better person or helped you get through a difficult time in life?

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you find more games to put into your lists of favorites!

Elise

Note: My work will continue to be pretty intense so my posts will be scarce until about September 12th.  I will still try to post at least once a week, but we’ll see. 

Genshin Impact: 2 Years

Cultural Impact…for better or worse?

Warning: This is a bit rantish and raw.  

Wow.  It has already been two years since Genshin Impact was released.  Time flies, but life hasn’t been really fun.  Luckily, Genshin has been.

I’m just going to take this time to talk about a couple of things in my experiences of Genshin Impact.  

Point 1: The Mobile Game

Genshin Impact changed my view of the mobile game.  I think I became looser about how I feel about games that eat time and demand.  I’m still, like, super upset that things like dailies and stuff vie for my time, but underneath all that junk is a really good game.  And the more I think about it, the more I realize that a lot of mobile games are like that.  The okay junk, like dailies, show up in other games too.  I guess that doesn’t make it that much better.  And the advanced junk like gacha mechanics are still just that: junk.

But good mobile games are out there, and the artists and programmers really just want it to be good.  I can definitely say that with Genshin Impact.  The music is phenomenal.  The gameplay is great fun.  I love the lore!  This is just something that I feel like really…impacted my view.  

Point 2: Representation

I’m not talking about the representation of the people in the game and how each region in the world of Teyvat kind of represents a place on Earth.  I mean just the representation of Chinese video game development.  It has been up and down.  It’s been up because people can see that Chinese developers can make something original.  Down, because there is still a lot of ignorance in some of the ways they represent some peoples.  I don’t just mean stereotypes.  I mean like how in the new region coming out today, Sumeru, the people…really should have darker skin.  

Nontraditional story arcs or character developments are also something that you see.  A lot of Chinese stories end unfairly and things don’t have a happy ending.  A bit of a spoiler, but some arcs don’t end in a resolution.  They always say “to be continued”, so eventually I’m sure they’ll do something, but to have an entire series of quests just end, that’s normal.  Tragic endings that feel like they’re unnecessary are rooted in real life problems.  Sometimes people make bad choices when there are obviously good ones.  Sometimes time takes its toll on people and there won’t be a good ending.  Even the way certain jokes present themselves feels more familiar to me.  Several times these came up as negative points for my United States acquaintances.  (I’m not going to say friends.)  This kind of brings me to my last point.

Point 3: Racism

Uh oh.  Yeah, I bring this up a lot, for obvious reasons.  Perhaps I’m putting myself at risk for this, but…I have to say something. I really thought that having Chinese names in the game would help people be a little more understanding.  And while this has brought a lot of people more willing to be more respectful to things like names and stuff, it also has revealed how some of the people who are my…”acquaintances” just don’t really care about their approach to my, or maybe any, culture.  Ah, scratch that.   In this anime context, it’s mine specifically.

There is a subcategory of racism as a Chinese person that you realize growing up in a place that isn’t Chinese.  If you’re not one of the “popular” or even unfortunately, “fetishized” categories of Asian, then you’re not “as good”.   If you’re not Korean or Japanese.  I can’t tell you how awkward it is to have people be disappointed because they found out I wasn’t either of the two.  And yet, somehow we’re praised on very specific things about our culture: things like martial arts, being studious, and our cuisine.  It just makes us feel very exoticized.  The moment it encroaches on things like anime, suddenly we have to be separated.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to anime fans about Chinese anime, and they absolutely must point out that it’s not anime, it’s donghua.  Or how they just need to play Genshin or watch anime in Japanese because they can’t bear the Chinese.  According to them, they’re not racist or anything.  Sure.  Keep in mind these are not people that understand Japanese.  They just need Japanese over Chinese.  

I’ve experienced a lot of mispronunciation of names in my lifetime, and seeing it happen in Genshin is kind of a bummer.  I was with a group of Genshin players chatting around and they would use some nickname or joke name for the Liyue characters, but when someone pronounced one of the Inazuma character’s name wrong, they were corrected and taught how to say it correctly.  Why the double standard?  It always reminds me of that kids book, That’s Not My Name!, I see on Instagram by Anoosha Syed.  Now, maybe people think, well we don’t even say Chinese names often, that’s why!  Well, if you never try in the first place, how are you ever going to get to the point of often?  

Do you want to know what the saddest part is?  Even the Hoyoverse, the developers, know all this Chinese-Japanese stuff.  They always state the Japanese voice actors/actresses for the English audience.  They know that feeling like a Japanese game is part of its selling point.  You could say it’s “just marketing”, but that’s also saying “that’s the current reality and I don’t want to deal with it.”  That’s just the hard truth.  And unfortunately I don’t have the choice of not dealing with it.  



Sorry.  Well, I really shouldn’t have to say sorry at all actually.  After all these years of playing video games I was just hoping that for once something would go right for Chinese-based things without exoticisms, colonialism, or that kind of stuff.  Maybe I expected too much of the community, which is a really sad thing to say.  

But.  The few individuals that I meet that have changed because of this…  maybe it makes it all worth it?  I’ve left all the Genshin groups that I was a part of, and I have once again become a hermit after trying to join a community.  Burn all the bridges.  This happens all the time.  So I’m pretty certain to some extent, it’s just me.  A lot of the negative is probably just me, right?  But when I walk out of the virtual door and into the community I think, it can’t just be me.

Genshin Impact.  You’re a really great game.  But for this person who lives under a rock, I guess it is too much to wish for a community I didn’t feel like I have to walk away from for the most unfortunate of reasons.  Once again, I’ll be playing solo.


Sorry.  I had to say something.  These next two or three weeks will have work getting intense, so forgive me if I don’t pop in as I usually do.  And thanks for enduring all that.  Keep in mind that I do have severe anxiety and depression, so perhaps this is just a side effect of my mind against the community, but writing it off because of that doesn’t really seem like the healthy or right thing to do either.  

If I haven’t run you off, thanks for staying.  I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

The Many Curious Ways for Developers to Siphon Your Money

Battle Passing the Baton

Okay, I know that a lot of the actual developers are not trying to siphon your money…it’s the people at the top.

Remarks aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the gaming world has changed the way we approach our video games monetarily.  I grew up seeing nearly the entire spectrum of what it is like paying for your games, and it’s very interesting to see younger gamers and their perspectives when they’re born into, or at least in the changing tides of it, things like live service games and DLC.  So let’s take a trip through time and see how gaming has set up the ways that they determine how much our money will be worth.  Just to let you know now, it’s a long trip.


Classic Retail

A long, long time ago games were just bought as physical productions.  Oh wait!  If you’re a console gamer this is probably still the case (mostly)!  Get it, the case?  I remember the era of the SNES and N64 where we had definite boxes with games, manuals, and sometimes other goodies inside.  I loved the flavor of the manuals and how some of them are written in ways that already feel like the game itself.  I miss manuals sometimes.  While classic retail style games did feel great, remember that if we head way back the prices adjusted for inflation would be really high.  And all of that for a pixelated Atari.  Well, graphics always seemed great for whatever generation they’re in, so I can’t really blame us there!

I think there seems to be a lot of gamers (or perhaps just loud gamers) who whinge about how games were already complete back then, and that is mostly valid.  Some games even in this age did need day one fixes.  This might’ve been worse, because then you’d have to physically send in your game for rewriting, and that would take a while.  Or worse, you just got a broken version of the game.  For glitchers and speedrunners, maybe this was alright, but if a game was bad back then, it had a very small chance of actually getting fixed.  However, the pressure of getting it right the first time is a very good thing to have on the companies, but remember that this didn’t solve everything.  We still had a ton of janky releases by developers who didn’t know what they were doing or were just seeking to nab the cash in your wallet.  Oh man, the transition to 3D.  Remember that?  *shudders*

Expansions and Level Packs

Expansions are still some of my favorite forms of continued development.  In a way, you can say these were the first DLCs, but expansions were consistently large chunks of content that tended to change the way the game was played.  I’m talking about things like Starcraft: Brood War, Medal of Honor: Spearhead, and any of the Guild Wars 1 expansions.  These were exciting bundles where you knew there was a good amount of content in them. 

But again, we can’t assume that this didn’t all just feel like DLC.  There were some things like Level Packs that really felt like DLC.  New levels are great, but these tended to not add any brand new content to the games.  Back then this could’ve been enough though, especially for those who were solely focused on those games.  Speaking of which, id just updated their level packs for their old series like DOOM and Quake, so that the games come bundled with them in a less confusing way.  Now they’re, like, giant versions of their old selves!  An old family photo if you will.

Mods and Indie Games

Let’s take a detour to mods and indie games.  I’m going to just put these here.  Even though these are free, they were a huge way to access new content for those who didn’t have the money, also known as me.  Mods are the way some games are born like Counter-Strike and sometimes entire genres like DayZ.  Modding your games, especially those from Source engine games, are good fun.  I mean, as long as no one is just using it as a way to steal content.  That’s…  yeah.

Indie games were my jam.  After taking an oath to solidify my approach to video games and also being poor, I turned to indie games.  I remember back then when indie games were super shaky.  The quality was usually not the best and you had to really search for good stuff.  I talked about some of this in my Celeste article.  Indie games taught me how to look for information about games on the web.  Now indie games are usually like normal games, but bite-sized.  

One more thing is a shout out to flash games on all those websites.  Mmm, some good times there.  Some of them have evolved and are now continued as normal games on Steam, like the Bloons TD series.  There are a ton of free games out there to play, and with things like Epic Games giving games out every week and free services such as Fall Guys, you don’t even have to pay any money to be a gamer at all!  Except for the gaming device. Which is a lot.  Sorry, I lied there.

Digital Storefront

Steam was slow to go into the household.  I was still young-ish and my parents did not trust these digital stores.  But I still somehow remember the old, super chunky, off-green UI.  Now, digital is like one of the main, if not the main storefront for gamers.  It’s so strange that it has been entirely converted in the past few decades.  Waaaait a minute, did I just say past few decades?  That makes me feel old.

Downloadable Content/DLC, and Cosmetics

This is the one I remember the huge controversy about.  Two words: Horse Armor.  Back in 2006 when one of the first major DLCs came out for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion people were not happy.  I’m sure there is something out there that already had DLC, but this was the big one that really pushed DLC to be real.  Now DLC is everywhere.  It can be content that is as small as a new shirt for your character to wear, to something as big as an expansion.

Kind of in a similar way, cosmetics have also taken over the games industry.  I mean, we even have cosmetics for single player games.  Do I totally fall for these kinds of things?  Yes.  This is how I dress up since I don’t go outside and am a pale vampire.  I won’t really argue that cosmetics and DLC are evil or anything.  Some people are really happy with their purchases.  Which brings me to something a bit more …questionable.

Lootboxes, Mobile Game Leeches

Remember when lootboxes were actual, like, treasure chests in a game?  And now when you say lootbox people think of the gambling thing.  Lootboxes are a problem because they are predatory.  A lot of games set it up in that way, and let’s be honest not all gamers are ready or able to fight against that dope rush of opening this thing only to get…that duplicate item you already have.  I don’t really feel like lootboxes that are unbuyable are bad.  Those are no different from normal boxes.  They’re just presented differently.  But nowadays it’s always buyable stuff.  

Some people say that cosmetic only, buyable lootboxes are fine, but remember that it still involves the buyable gambling aspect and that can pose a risk for some gamers.  As long as we can feed money into the loop, it can be harmful.  I don’t care that I have worked on myself enough to the point where I don’t do that stuff anymore.  I don’t care that I can work myself to that point.  It’s the fact that there are some people still within that struggle who may not be successful.  We don’t know what is going on in their lives that is leading them to that, and I don’t want people to have to struggle with those unhealthy situations.  

Mobile games also prey in the same way.  They want you to just try one more time.  They want you to have to use that one cash item that will let you beat the level, or even…might beat the level.  I’m looking at you Candy Crush and all related situations.  These kinds of things can lead to insane amounts of profits, but it’s all feeding on people who shouldn’t have to suffer those kinds of things.  

It’s possible to argue otherwise, but I think these two things should go away.  I mean, lootboxes in their original forms of just treasure boxes in games can stay, but goodness, some of these things are horrifying.

Subscriptions and Game/Battle Passes

I put these two in the same category because they feast on the same thing: time.  You have already paid for your content and now it’s up to you to make use of it.  It’s almost like a, “it’s out of our hands” kind of approach.  I think these kinds of payments are great for those who focus solely on one game.  Those people will likely get the things they want out of it.  Let’s be honest, those free tiers on the battle pass are way less exciting though.  

I have some negative feelings about these because time is not something I have.  I’m always jumping around to different games and it’s hard to make me feel like I’m making good time.  Battle passes are cruel for me because they usually have such shiny, beautiful cosmetics.  There are some Battle Passes where you can earn some of the payment back in some…non-cash form such as getting the next pass free.  I think Warzone and Fortnite do this.  But that usually obliges you further to need to play the game.  And when playing becomes something that is against your choice, it’s very easy for the game to feel like a chore.  

It’s a weird thing when the company wants you to pay so that you might like their game less.  It’s even more awkward when people who play games for a living through things like Twitch show off the battle pass, because they play games for a living.  Of course the battle pass will be worth it for them.  But what about that woman who is working in the office and comes home exhausted some days because people are sexist and they really just want to be a blob on the couch?  Or a stay-at-home dad who is helping out the kids with…oh my goodness, whatever apocalypses kids create.  Maybe they can’t even play the game when kids are around because it’s too violent.  I mean, I’m kind of just spouting stuff, but these are also real situations for people where time consuming things like this just don’t feel as worth it.  And I would say that if we can’t pay with time we can pay with cash, but we’re literally paying with both of these things in this situation, so…  yeah.


And that’s it.  Well, I’m sure there are other things out there, but that’s most of it.  Thanks for taking this exhausting trip with me.  I like to be all happy and chummy with video games and the industry, but I have to also remember that sometimes the people leading the charge, like the execs, just want to make money.  And here we see the river of pain that flows through developers, artists, and then to the gamers.

I think in some ways, we’ve got a lot of good stuff going now.  Live service means a lot of free and fixed content.  It also means content can eventually feel ruined by a developer’s changing ideals. We get some really good deals on digital storefronts today that no one would’ve even dreamed of with physical stores, but a lot of the novelty is gone and now we have some suspicious ways of companies setting things up for money.  

I hope that didn’t make you feel too depressed!  Sometimes you have to take care of real life, your real self.  We’re gonna get through whatever else they throw at us (and maybe throw some things back).  So keep that money secure.  Take a deep breath and a step back.  Let’s focus on enjoying the game for ourselves.
I’ll see you again soon!
Elise

Advanced Boredom

Forest of the Mind

I’ve been writing articles, and I will write the whole thing thinking it was great.  I do the proofreading and realize…this article is not great.  I’ve done that a couple times now, and I guess I’m just not feeling it.  All the articles I’ve written were not cutting it.

But I also want to post more, so I will probably be posting more personal, normal stuff like this.  And don’t worry, they’re still mostly related to video games.  And maybe some other media.  The more I think about it, the more I realize how much design works with all media.  The same choice and consequence in designing a film or video game works in other places as well.  So I may be writing a little more on that as well.


So, Advanced Boredom is a state I’m in where I’m so bored that I can’t even choose to do the thing I want to do for fun.  I will switch shows, games, or books that I’m consuming every ten minutes.  It’s the worst.  It may be related to guilt or it may be related to …guilt except from lack of productivity.  Actually, it’s probably related to guilt.  It is not ADD or ADHD, because that seems to have been ruled out by the psychiatrist.  I do have attention problems, but, curiously enough, it is neither of those.  

In the state of Advanced Boredom, I do not feel productive with my time, especially in the consumption of entertainment, and I seek this out by traveling through the different layers of games to try and fulfill that.  Not fulfilling that means continuing the cycle.  And I finally found one of the ways to break that.  It is not always successful, and that usually means that the current boredom or stillness I’m in is not from guilt.

Oh, which brings to mind a point: Advanced Boredom is more like stillness.  I do not mean peace.  I mean stillness.  Like…an empty indoor pool.  Maybe you can hear muffled cars honking outside, and also the dripping of some water from somewhere.  The dull lights humming just enough that you can notice it.  This isn’t a fancy pool.  There is cement everywhere and very little glass.  No jacuzzi.

What do I do to get myself out of advanced boredom?  I have to consume or study something that is new.  I have to play a game I haven’t played or read a book I haven’t read.  I can’t play that MMO that I have a thousand hours in.  I can’t play the game I want to play for the 24th time.  I need to play something new.  I think part of it is bringing myself to focus on something that isn’t myself.  Not that I am thinking about myself all the time, but because the guilt is associated with myself.  It is getting into that flow of something I don’t know.

And that’s difficult.  It is so easy to pop back into an old game.  It is so easy to let the guilt consume me as I play Hearthstone even though I know I don’t want to be doing that.  It is a dangerous spiral.  I think this is a remnant from the productivity thing.  I still feel guilt over things like that.  I still don’t feel like I’ve succeeded in life to demand any sort of relief.  I feel guilty for being allowed to do the things that I want.  

Ultimately, I feel that perhaps this isn’t as healthy as I think.  I am still satisfying that guilt.  And while I really do feel great for doing something new, I need myself to come to terms with the fact that I should not be consuming any media out of guilt.  I should not be doing things because of guilt.  Guilt can be used as a way to motivate myself, but I feel like it’s doing harm in the realm of how “productive” my fun time can be.  Maybe if I’m at work, but not here.  I don’t think it’s healthy if it’s here in my entertainment space.

The mind is a forest that is extremely difficult to understand.  We can map it out, but becoming a navigator is much more difficult.  I never thought that playing games would be so complicated and mentally exhausting, but this is reality.  I want to grow as a person, as a video gamer, and I will need to manage these things if I am to do so.  Although I long for the simpler times of just playing games because I love games, I also enjoy this exploration of the self that helps me be a healthier me. 

Thanks for listening to my ramblings, and I hope that you can find healthy ways to navigate the forest of the mind.   

If all goes as planned, I will see you again later this week!

Elise

Why I Love: Subnautica

Fear and Fun

Subnautica is sci-fi, exploration-survival at its best.  Let’s dive right into it.  Er… sorry.

Subnautica is a survival game where you crash land on an ocean planet.  The normal survival mechanics exist where you have to manage hunger and thirst.  You’ll have to manage your oxygen as you dive into the depths.  You can scan objects and creatures to learn more about them and the absolutely rich ecosystem in the game.  You can build bases to expand your exploration prowess.  Subnautica excels at providing a beautiful ocean of creatures that gives you an amazing sense of wonder.  

I’m not exactly the keenest on survival mechanics.  They tend to get really annoying at some point.  I don’t want to have to find more food to eat.  I just want to explore, and while that option is available as a way to play the game, I definitely would not recommend it.  One of the difficult things about survival games is designing how the player manages their progression.  How do we make it so food is a challenge, but not annoying?  Should we make it so tools break?  And how do we design tiered tools?  Subnautica smooths out those experiences so these things rarely are an issue.  If you’re continuously doing your gameplay loop of survival, I feel like these things don’t ever feel like much of a problem in this game, but they receive just enough attention to make it still feel like you’re surviving on an alien planet.

This brings me to the thing that I enjoy so much: you don’t really have a weapon.  Okay, you get a knife early on, but that thing is puny.  It is clear in the game that you are a guest in a foreign world.  Creature designs are beautiful, strange, and sometimes dangerous.  The world is hand-crafted, so everything has its set place and I think that was the better way to go here.  Every time I stumble on a new area my mouth is agape.  I’ve really never felt such excitement and joy from exploring a new world as I do in Subnautica.  However, this may be a bit of a bias having studied biology as a focus in school.  I love learning about the physiological properties of creatures when I scan them.  I just…I need to scan them.  I need to know more.  If biological lore is a thing for you, then you’re playing the right game.  Or maybe you just like codices.

I’m also…incredibly scared of this game.  There is a story in the game and it is a game you can finish.  I love stories in games, but it’s also frightening that, in order to progress, sometimes you have to go into huge spaces of open water.  Maybe that’s also what makes Subnautica exploration so invigorating is that while there is a sense of awe upon finding a new biome or area, there is also fear.  You are a small human in a big ocean.  Sometimes all you can see is darkness or foggy water.  The fear is so natural.  It’s not like there is going to be a person with a pyramid head or a zombie leaping at you.  It is just…water.  I admit it, there have been times I swam forward and had my eyes half closed…maybe, maybe fully closed.  But I think this fear of the unknown is done very well here and is a core part of Subnautica.

Oxygen.  I’m going to say one thing that I think is both frightening and so visceral that I really love in Subnautica.  It’s getting lost in an underwater cave.  Perhaps you’ve heard this from divers or instructors before.  In real life, underwater caves are extremely dangerous to dive in.  If you don’t have a guide or a line to keep yourself in check, even experienced divers can die from lack of oxygen.  And all these things are definitely felt in Subnautica.  I think the intense panic I’ve had knowing my oxygen was running out and being completely disoriented from the multiple dimensions of being underwater is some of the best panic I’ve felt in video games.  Frantically and desperately swimming around hoping that I remembered things right.  It’s a rush.  I know I’ve run out of oxygen before in video games, but I think it’s the whole mise en scène and maybe claustrophobia of it all that makes it such a great underwater experience.  I mean, it is called Subnautica after all.

I hate spoilers, and definitely won’t ruin the game’s story here.  It is a good story though, and it is well worth your time, or at least I like it.  But like most things as games, it has to hold up well as an experience, and I don’t know if I’d play through the story if the way you move through the story wasn’t as well done.  I think in survival games, story tends to be pretty minimal.  I mean, actual survival games, I don’t mean open world games with survival elements.  Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are open world games with survival elements.  You do have to “survive”, but you can also get stronger and survival kind of gets cast to the wayside.  That first area with the plateau in Breath of the Wild is the survival part, the rest is exploration.  Mostly.  In Subnautica, you’re always just trying to survive.

I think the biggest factor of all these things is just awe.  It is a game that puts my feeling of how much I love exploring the world of video games into overdrive.  But even if this is so great, don’t go forcing yourself to like something if exploration is not your thing.  Perhaps you may find a certain aspect of it exciting enough, like creature design.  No matter how much I can praise a game on its strengths, if they’re not to your liking, it may be an unnecessary playthrough.  While I won’t deny those strengths are there, I would like to remind everyone that your opinions on what games to play are always valid.  Just remember that there may also be a new thing to love if you’re willing to give it a go.

Subnautica is a game that brings me back to childhood exploring Super Mario 64’s levels again.  And for a game that is good enough for making me want to keep playing even though I’m so scared of open water, it is #29 on the ULTRA.

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again!
Elise

Note: If you’re feeling woozy because of being in the water and going around disorienting caves, try adjusting things like motion blur (…if the game has them I don’t remember because I always go straight to options to turn this off) and the field of view.  If you feel like puking, adjusting the field of view almost always seems to do the trick.

Slave to the Game

Deadly Dailies

I find it very interesting that the format that most mobile games use is that you have to come back every day.  They usually also give you a daily thing to do as well, to keep you there so that you’ll hopefully spend money on stuff that you want.  Now, you likely already know that I am one of those people that like to spend money on random stuff I want in a game.  So…this isn’t great.


It’s different when something is subscription based, and that’s all there is to it.  Ultimately, if I cannot play for the day, that is fine.  Sure, I didn’t use that one day I paid for a subscription, but I’m not going to tear myself apart for it.  There are also weekly dungeons and stuff in games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, or Final Fantasy XIV.  But again, less pressure because it’s a weekly thing.  

Games that are free like Genshin Impact or Hearthstone have dailies that they give you.  And while Hearthstone’s piles up to three at a time, Genshin’s dailies are extremely important.  I’ve actually decided to stop playing Genshin, which is a huge thing for me, because it has a strong cultural impact and I want to support Chinese games.  They deserve better love.  But all these games that want daily things done for them are starting to eat into my time.  By the time I have finished all the dailies for my games, I have no free time left.  That’s just it.  There’s no more of the day left after I get back from work, and it’s really cutting into my single player gaming time.

Not to mention the stress of it all.  Knowing that primogems from the dailies in Genshin were my only access to getting more characters, going in every day was a must.  Guild Wars 2 gives you two pieces of gold and achievement points, of which the latter is harder to come by.  However, both of those are still not a huge deal.  They’re important, but I’m not kicking myself for missing a day or three.  I think part of the stress of Genshin was that I started on Day 1 and I didn’t want to lose that streak.  

And now that I’ve stopped…it’s been extremely relieving.  This actually happened with Fire Emblem Heroes as well.  I don’t regret any of my time in both games.  I enjoyed them a lot, especially Genshin Impact.  But I can’t keep up with the time I have left in my day.  I spread myself thin trying to go to work, practice art, keep up with entertainment media, and do chores.  I usually paraphrase the line from Bill Watterson: “There’s not enough time to do all the nothing in the world.”  

I get myself so worked up about getting skins in games where I don’t play with people.  I usually play solo, even in multiplayer games.  I think for me it’s more of a “dress up” thing than it is presenting myself to people.  This means I still care about doing the time-limited stuff.  It still eats at me now, that I’m missing out on stuff in Genshin Impact and I have to push myself out of that mindset.  I guess the feeling of missing out is very real.  Worse even, Genshin Impact’s events also include lore and story elements, so if you miss out on that, you’ll never get to play that story.

However, I just can’t commit to this sort of binding anymore (says the person who plays Final Fantasy XIV).  I think it really started eating at me when I was looking at my subscriptions for streaming services and realizing how unsustainable it was getting.  I’m not “financially successful”, so I probably shouldn’t be writing about video games or something.  I’m starting to cut down on streaming services and other subscriptions because I can’t afford it anymore.  It goes both ways.  In a way, subscriptions really aren’t that much money.  Like, an hour’s worth of work, but many subscriptions start piling quick.  Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Discovery+, HBOMax, Humble Bundle, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and so many other possibilities almost without notice.  It ends up becoming several days worth of work.  I don’t have all those, thank goodness, but look how fast it happens.  And don’t forget the subscription to life, like food and other monthly paid services.  Even if some streaming services are shared in a group it still is so much money in the long run.

It really is that feeling that I might not have the means to play catch up and be with the crowd, but I also would like to not be homeless.  Also, ironically, all this talk about subscription and demanded time makes me realize mobile games really should not be isolated for this.  Many games are like this and we should stop stigmatizing that only to mobile/free-to-play games.  I always mention how we should be healthy about our approach to video games and life, and yet here I was slaving away my time.  I’m glad I noticed, because the stress relief has been very helpful during a stressful time outside of video gaming.  Playing what I want to play has been so cathartic, and it makes me wonder what other underlying stress comes from me restricting myself.


I feel like all this focus on fomo really diverts people’s gaming away from fun.  Fun almost always requires that you’re not worried about time and meta-efficiency.  Until time begins its stretch into the eternities, we mortals have to make sure that we’re not burying ourselves in the chains that we believed bound us to our passions.  

Stay safe out there, I’ll see you next time!
Elise