Posts tagged video games and gaming

Not Dead Yet, But That B*tch Sure Is!

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I am not dead yet, I promise :-) As we are exiting the busy part of fall semester (job search time for our graduate students) I am finally finding time to write something other than letters of recommendation and that includes finally coming back to the blog. I love the blog…I am often unfaithful with Facebook or Twitter, but I keep coming back to the blog. It doesn’t suck my in like Facebook and give me videos on demand, chat, and Flash based build your own farm/restaurant/zoo/fill-in-the-blank games, but it is comforting like homemade mac n’ cheese or wool handknits. I am all in favor of the creature comforts and after 10+ years of blogging it has become one of those creature comforts.

That being said I can tell you about something I’ve been playing….Red Dead Redemption. I was good, I was patient, I was frugal…I didn’t buy this game at launch like I wanted to. I put it in my game rental queue and hoped for the best. I didn’t even rush out and buy it when the kids in my virtual worlds seminar were raving about it. I resisted. And then, it came. I sent back Super Mario Wii and RDR came. I stayed up past my bedtime after everyone was asleep and I popped it in. I resisted the urge to splurge and buy the zombie DLC and just played original. Let me just say that while I was disturbed by the opening cinematic I powered on…the look on John Marston’s face at least let me know that I wasn’t the only one disgusted by the Kill the Indian, Save the Man religious rhetoric.

I found the game mechanics interesting. It was very GTA-esque. For the same reasons that I suck at driving cars in GTA I suck at riding a horse and driving a stage coach in RDR. But you know what? That’s okay, I accepted it a long time ago. There were subsequent problematic moments in the game, but the moment that made me stop playing all together came about an hour or so in when I was walking around town picking up missions. Now understand there is a lot of talking in this game…too much talking at times. There are inane conversations going on all around you all of the time…even when you are riding on horseback and there is nothing that you can do except listen. And (ever the good student) I always feel the need to pay attention lest I miss something important. But I digress. So as I am walking through town listening to the ambient noise I hear “*smack, smack, scream* Shut up b*tch before I cut you a new hole” Ok, you got my attention. I run around like a made woman (or man since I can only play John Marston) until I see a man raping/stabbing/otherwise violating a woman in the street. He runs off before I gather my senses and make it there. His business is done and lying in the street is a dead, bloodied prostitute. I guess she didn’t shut up quickly enough. I am nauseated. I shut the whole console off and went to bed.

When I went back to class on Monday I had to ask folks about the prostitute. Now I know that this was another GTA-like game and that there would be lots of violence and profanity so I was prepared for what I thought was coming. But clearly I wasn’t. While I have to admit that I have enjoyed my share of beating up and robbing prostitutes in GTA, but this was different. There was a kind of violence that was in your face and misogynistic. This we worse than the GTA hookers. What was even more surprising was that I was the only in class (of those who had played the game) who was as pissed off and sickened as I was. Then I began to question if I have actually reached the point when I am too old to play games?? Are the younger folks who have grown up in the age of GTA, in some cases these games have been around for literally half of their lives and in all cases for the entirety of their adult lives. I don’t have any answers for this. I’m not even at a place that I can theorize about this yet, but I can vent about it, right? Oh well, for now the game is still sitting on top of my console waiting for me to just give up and send it back since I really can’t bring myself to play it again. Luckily I did play through enough of the game to make it useful for my book project.

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Mama, Gamer, Soldier, Spy

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I have been thinking about how being a parent has change me as a gamer for some time (2 years and 2 months to be exact) and every time I turn around I find another way that parenthood has changed my gamerhood. Now I finally find the chance to put some of these thoughts into words so that they can perhaps be reflected on more extensively at some point. So here goes!

1. This is the most obvious. Parenthood really cuts down on the amount of time that you have to play games. As Peanut gets older I find that I have a little more time since she sleeps through the night and can occasionally be distracted enough to let me do a little bit of gaming while she is awake. Now when she was younger and have acid reflux there was almost no gaming going on sans the little bit of handheld gaming that I could sneak in when I was supposed to be sleeping when she slept. I was too afraid to actually play games at enough volume to awaken a sleeping baby back in those days. I am a gamer, but I am not under any circumstances crazy.

2. While the old elementary school teacher in me (I used to teach elementary school, I’m not channeling an elderly teacher) often cringes when folks tell me what their young kids are playing. Don’t get me wrong I am not a prude and I know that some kids are more mature than others, but there are some games that are disturbing enough to me as an adults who supposedly understands the medium and the situations reflected in the games that I can’t see how a child could even remotely begin to fully process them. Hey, but don’t get me wrong…maybe your kid is a genius (mine is).

3. Situations with children in them in games are pretty difficult for me. 3 of the most notable cases for me have been Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Heavy Rain. When I played through Bioshock there was no way that I could bring myself to harvest little sisters (yep, it’s as bad as it sounds) even if it could make my gaming life a little bit easier. I just sucked it up and played through as a mama of a little girl. When the trailer came out for Bioshock 2 came out it freaked me out enough to make me never want to play the game! The molestation undertones were just too much for me! Check out the video

[Spoiler Alert: There is a description of two chapters of Heavy Rain in the next 2 paragraphs. If you don’t want to see it, skip them :-) ]

And because I had a chance to see the trailer before I bought the game I was able to avoid a lot of emotional stress. And lest I think that there might not have been any real emotional stress and/or physical effect one me I have to think about Heavy Rain. The first night that I played Heavy Rain I actually had to stop playing after one chapter and go to bed because the game gave me a damned headache. After a particularly violent “boss fight” involving several men in my apartment (as I was dressed in my underwear) and a metaphorical rape scene my head was pounding and I had to go to bed.

Surprisingly, this was after the early child death scene. You know, while I enjoy a good “Jason!!” joke (and parody song) as well as the next gamer I really didn’t appreciate having my son Jason killed off at the beginning of the game (or having my younger son snatched by a serial killer a few chapters later). Good lord, this game made me the worst parent on the face of the planet. And besides feeling extreme guilt for the clear neglect of my virtual children it made me question/reflect upon what I would feel if this happened to Pea.That kind of thing makes me physically sick to my stomach.

Has parenthood turned me into such a wimp that I am going to be tossing my cookies every time some kid is collateral damage in a military shooter (I had no problem wiping out an airport full of innocent folks in another FPS…in fact I rather enjoyed it), gets lost in an action/adventure game, or gets snatched to advance a narrative? Are games getting too good at immersion? Am I getting too old to play? What the heck is going on?

4. Why is parenthood so hot in games right now? And why is it generally fathers? Big Daddies in Bioshock, Nier, the father saving the ailing daughter in Nier, Ethan, the father (albeit an ineffectual one), in Heavy Rain, Fable III where the main character is the child of your Fable II character who has become a ruler who has been wronged by his/her other kid.

Ok, that’s all I have for now. I have to go and make sure that I have all of the games and consoles that I need for my Writing and Virtual Worlds class tomorrow morning and a little bit of sleep would be nice after 3 days of a sleepless baby cutting 2 year molars. Why doesn’t someone make a game about that? They could call it Sleep Deprivation and it would reflect the levels of madness that one descends into when babies take over your house. I think that everyone should be forced to play (and complete) that game before becoming parents!!

Fallen from Grace: Or; What Video Games Can Teach Us About Religion

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So I’ve been playing a lot of tutorials and first levels of games lately…definitely difficult to stop on some of the better games, but if I ever hope to make any progress in the research I am going to have to show a little restraint…right? With today being the last work day before Hell Week (aka New GTA Orientation) starts and I am fighting a cold and I already had one hell of a week I decided to stay home and do some games research today. No really, the research part and not just playing CoD or Alan Wake for 8 hours. Well I ended up working from Barnes & Noble instead so I was limited to handheld games today.

It was a slow start because I had to find new notebooks to replace the one that was “lost” with my iPad case, DSi, and favorite pens. I did manage to also replace the DSi, pens, and migraine meds this week as well. So now I am almost feeling like I can move past it. Having that bag taken was definitely a violation. Now I am definitely more careful. I don’t leave my bag anywhere unattended for any amount of time (not even to get a coffee refill or to run to the bathroom (definitely an inconvenience). Oh well….

After all of the time I spent getting my notes transferred into the proper notebooks I only got around to playing one game this afternoon and that game was Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. Now here we have a game that is steeped in Judeo-Christian belief system and not just any JC belief system, but the good old fashioned, pre-Martin Luther indulgence selling, purgatory dwelling, earn your way to heaven with good works (even if done so begrudgingly) Christianity. I won’t tell you too much about it because I don’t want to spoil the game for you :-) I have to say that so far the game play is pretty darn good. More than the simple and repetitive turn based fighting of the previous DQ games that I have played this one feels a bit more adventure game-like. Here is another game that seems to be throwing the old genres out of the window to build something new and more engaging.

Well that’s about it for now. I can’t decide if I’m gonna try to squeeze in a little more DQ for fun before bedtime or if I am going to get back to work and play the tutorial and first level of the copy of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story that came with my new DSi.

Planning for Fall Already?

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While I was driving home from Indy today I was actually brainstorming my Fall seminar: Writing in Virtual Worlds. The current course description reads:

680V is a graduate seminar that traces the use of virtual worlds as productive writing spaces from building “MOOsays”, conferencing, and holding discussions in the text based MOO/MUD through networking and ethos building in Linden Labs’ Second Life and writing possibilities in Massively Multiplayer Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (WoW) and Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO). Not only have these spaces proven to engage writing students, but they have proven to be generative writing spaces for students interested in both professional writing and ethos building and analysis, research, and ethnographic writing.

This graduate seminar will take a historical look at the theories that have been used in the teaching of virtual worlds based course. Readings will include texts such as High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs by Cynthia Ann Haynes and Jan Rune Holmevik, New Worlds, New Words: Exploring Pathways for Writing About and in Electronic Environments ed. by John F. Barber and Dene Grigar, Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture by T. L. Taylor, The State of Play: Law, Games, and Virtual Worlds by Jack Balkin and Beth Noveck, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games by Edward Castronova, and The Warcraft Civilization Social Science in a Virtual World byWilliam Sims Bainbridge.

I have decided to break the course into three parts:

I. Writing in Virtual Worlds: Here we will look at the writing/composing that makes up the virtual space. Here is might be the narrative of the game, the code of the MOO, the composition of the world itself, or anything else that comes to mind.

II. Writing with Virtual Worlds: Here we will look at how virtual worlds can be used in the writing classroom. As with the preceding section we’ll start historically and move forward. We’ll read about how virtual worlds have been used in the writing/composition classroom and then move forward to how they are being used now and where we can go from here.

III: Writing about Virtual Worlds: Here be the research component. We’ll look at the research that is done on virtual worlds per se. We can talk about the difference between narratology and ludology and everything in between. Here we can look at rhetoric, process, programming, procedure, etc. and the value that these things have on their own or as a smaller component of something else.

Required games to play (Choose one from each category)

MOOs/MUDs: Lambda, MediaMOO, narrative based MUD (like the Lord of the Rings one)

MMORPGs: WoW, LoTHRO, City of Heroes/City of Villians, Everquest

RPGs/RPG elements: Oblivion, Fallout 3, Heavy Rain (PS3), BioShock, Alan Wake, Mass Effect, (Super)Paper Mario, Hotel Dusk (DS), Again (DS), Dragon Age: Origins, Torchlight (PC or Mac), Final Fantasy (all on all platforms), Animal Crossing (DS or Wii)

Others: Scribblenauts (DS), Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (DS), Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS), Lego Batman, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Star Wars, Fat Princess, Braid, The Mis-Adventures of P.B. Winterbottom, New Super Mario Brothers Wii

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