Monday, September 10, 2012

A (not so) Simple Gaming History

The purpose of this blog post will be to provide a(n extremely) rough overview/summary of my PS3 gaming up to the point I started this blog. This will be far less detailed and representative of the auto-ethnographic entries that will populate my blog from this point going forward (beginning with the next post), but I still think it’s necessary to cover the historical background of my venture into the world of gaming.

As I said in my last entry, I bought my PS3 in the summer of 2010 when D came back from SD for the summer. We lived together in my small one-bedroom apartment that summer and spent a lot of time using his PS3 (which he had brought back with him from school). Because of this, we decided that I should get one too, so that we could continue to play together once he moved back to SD in the Fall. However, I bought it before he left and for a brief period of time we had two PS3s hooked up in my apartment, and began experimenting with the types of games we would be playing LD.

The first of which was Fat Princess. Sidenote: I acknowledge the troubling anti-fat premise, but (oh god, am I really one of those gamers?) by and large our enjoyment of this game had little to do with fattening the princess. At any rate, what was fun about this game were the customizable characters (in a rare moment, I was actually satisfied with the ‘female’ options) and snarky commentary, the humorous ways to kill one another, and, of course, the online multi-player options. There are multiple modes of gameplay – our favorites being “Snatch’n Grab”, resembling a capture the flag set-up but with the opposing team’s princess, and “Invasion”, in which you attempt to take over and hold on to more outposts than the other team. 

FP end game screen shot - Source:

FP Character classes - Source:

 We played this game separately so that we each had a full screen to ourselves, because playing on a split screen obstructed our views and made playing more difficult. (Which we’ve discovered about quite a few different local multi-player games.) We eventually stopped playing this game because the other people who played online stopped playing the actual games and just slaughtered everyone on the other teams without any strategy. We have found other games like this that we like and play – about which I will not go into specific detail – but I feel like this one is particularly representative of the early stages of our PS3 gaming.

We have also played different trivia games online – including Buzz! Quiz World. This is a game we had a lot of fun with for several different reasons – including the fact that we could play online with one another and other online players, and both download user-generated and make our own quizzes. The host, Buzz, was also hilarious and sarcastic – but then annoyingly repetitive. 
Buzz with the Buzz! buzzer, used for gameplay - Source:
More recently we’ve been playing You Don’t Know Jack – another trivia game we can play together online, with an even more hilarious and snarky host, Cookie Masterson, and much more adult-themed quips and questions. YDKJ has been featured on this blog previously (and used to be the inspiration for my blog title) because this is a game we still play somewhat regularly on our standing Gaming-Date Nights (GDN). 

A similar game (or set of games) that could somewhat fall under this same game ‘type’ are the Hasbro Family Game Night games (there are four different versions out at this point) which we have played both on the Wii and the PS3, both together and apart. This is actually a game that made an appearance in our GDNs from almost the beginning and up to now. However, the AI is a notorious cheater and often the games are hard to play fairly even with the two of us – leading to a great deal of frustration. Along this same line is Monopoly Streets, which we also played online for a significant period of time, and quit playing for almost the same reason – a notoriously horrible and frustrating cheater AI.

But, one of the platforms we used the most after I got a PS3 and D returned to California was definitely PlayStation Home (“Home” from here on out). This is a social gaming platform developed for PS3 owners and PSN members (it requires a strong Internet connection) which (from my limited experience with SL) seems to be similar to Second Life. 
One of my Home Spaces, the two black rectangles are photos of D and I, but didn't screen capture.
D and I at one of his Home Spaces - one of the better glimpses of our avatars.

 As Home has continued to expand, it has become an incredibly cool virtual world. D and I each created as lifelike avatars as we could with the available options, and have invested money into creating our own environments and Home gaming content. For quite a long time (until my weakening Internet connection made it too difficult), we had weekly dates in Home where we could see one another (via Avatars) and hang out while talking on either the Home voice chat function or on the phone while we played. I won’t go into too great of detail about Home in this blog, because I will be doing an entire blog dedicated to Home, next. (Which I just decided as I was trying to briefly explain how we use(d) Home.)

Other games we’ve spent time playing online include the different variations of the Magic the Gathering online version of the card game (which we spent a lot of time playing together in person). I get somewhat of a temper when I play this game because I’m new to it and D has been playing for most of his life, so I can only handle it in bursts and prefer to physical card game. But we do return to this from time to time. We also played DC Universe Online (a MMORPG) for a significant period of time, but I didn’t have the time (or energy) to dedicate to it that was necessary for it to be worth its membership price (not to mention the fact that my lack of time spent in the game left me waaay behind in levels and experience to be competitive with other players) and I eventually stopped playing. Without me, D lost interest (not really by choice) and stopped as well.

At this point it feels like this blog could become a neverending list of games, but I’ll wrap up soon so as to move on to more timely blogging. It’s just that looking back on the games we’ve played together while in a LDR, I have so many fond memories that I don’t want to forget anything we’ve played or forget to mention it because that feels like forsaking important experiences (shout out to Castle Crashers, Journey, and Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure, which will pop up later anyway). The last game I’ll discuss before I actually wrap up is Portal 2
Main character, Chell, whom you never actually see, and antagonist super-computer, GLaDOS - Source:

Co-op characters, ATLAS and P-body - Source:
We played this bother together in co-op mode and separately while on the phone. Portal 2 is a puzzle-platform game that is insanely hard to describe and confused the hell out of me for a decent amount of time when D was describing it to me and even after I bought it and had been playing it. So, I won’t really describe it. If you’ve heard of it and/or played it, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t, look it up and buy the shit out of that game, because it’s amazing and funny and so, so fun. My fondest memory of playing this game was one weekend in late May, 2011, when D and I stayed up all night playing it so that we could see the apocalypse if that crazy church was right. They weren’t, of course, and it was a great (somewhat darkly comedic) night.

In addition to the above types of games we played, we also spent time talking on the phone while individually playing other one-player games. One such game was Costume Quest, which we played around Halloween 2011. 
So freaking fun! Source:
Unlike the other solo games that we play while on the phone (like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), we attempted to match up our game play so that we were essentially playing through the same game at the same time. However, I played as the female character, while he played through as the male (siblings). There was only a slight variation to the gameplay based on the character chosen. We did not play the entire game this way, but this was a lot of fun, and I wish we could play more games like this – but they tend to be slightly more involved. Skyrim is a game we currently play solo, but while talking on the phone both about it and whatever else pops up. Blogs from this point forward will likely feature some discussion of this game, so I will not go into more detail now. Also a game we currently play is Gotham City Imposters, a first-person shooter (FPS, which I normally stay away from) game that we can play together online which consists of misfit Batman and Joker vigilantes. This will also pop up in future blogs.

Whoo, so there you have it! An extremely abbreviated (if you can believe it) history of our (mostly) PS3 gaming experiences up to the present moment. After the Home blog, I will be entirely caught up with where we are with our LDGR at this point in time. *Sigh* This blog has made me extremely nostalgic for some of these old games… perhaps I’ll go play something now.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

History of the World: Part II

It's been a long time since I've actually posted anything to this blog... I regret that very much. I often feel like my blog takes on its own persona when I think about how much I've neglected it. Like, despite how young our relationship is, it still has the power to guilt me like an old friend I've lost touch with. Our conversations often go like this...

Hello, Blog! Long time no see. How have you been?
Oh, right, like you really care.
No, seriously, I'm genuinely interested.
You know, you'd actually know how I am if you put forth a little effort to find out. Just thinking about me does very little to maintain a connection.
I know, I'm really sorry. I've been pretty busy with school and teaching...
Oh! And I don't get busy! Seriously, you can be such a ----

And then I usually try to snap out of it and realize my blog isn't a person. In an attempt to get back into the swing of things, I'll be finishing the history of my voyage into a long distance relationship with D, before dedicating future blogs to more current issues. I plan to include a summary gaming blog entry before I move on to my real time gaming blogging. So, without further ado...

I left off with my last historical blog right about the time D left for his doctoral program in San Diego, Fall 2009. As I said, we had spent the previous year and a half+ playing games together on his Nintendo Wii and I bought one (off his parents, actually) so that we could continue to play games together over wifi. Unfortunately, Nintendo doesn't have a great deal of games that can be played together using a wifi connection, and the ones that were available to us were often hard to play because I had a very crappy Internet connection. Eventually we devised a way to play offline games together, while Skypeing.

Our favorite game to play was Wii Sports Resort, more specifically the bowling games. We really enjoyed bowling together in real life (IRL), actually one of our favorite date night activities, so this was a natural extension of that. We each set up our laptops near our TVs so that it appeared as if we were facing one another while we played. We'd select a one-player game and then take turns - calling out our scores as we went along. My absolute favorite version of this game is 100-pin bowling. It's just so fun! 

As we do IRL, we also drink beer while we play - and we've come up with a pretty specific set of drinking game rules to accompany this game. For the most part, when we play video games together, we maintain as close a resemblance to our in-person gaming experiences as we can. 

Other Wii games we experimented with over the course of that first year include the disc-based Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and virtual console games Uno, Phase 10, TV Show King, and other trivia-based games. We would also spend time playing different games simultaneously while talking on the phone. 

During D's first semester at San Diego, he purchased a Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) - which would up changing the entire course of our Long Distance Gaming Relationship (LDGR). In addition to having early Nintendo systems while I was growing up, I also had an original Playstation and had always been a fan (on the fringe) of that system. When I visited him over winter break we took turns playing the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which at the time I found incredibly difficult. For the remainder of that academic year, we continued to play games utilizing the Wii, but always suffered from the crappy and unreliable wifi connection and selection of games that effectively used it.

D returned to Ohio the summer between his first and second years (2010), bringing with him his PS3. We used it so much that summer that I eventually bought my own so that we could continue to use this system to play games together once he returned to SD. To this day, this remains our 'chosen system' when it comes to game play. We've transitioned through a great many games while playing together on this system - which will be the subject of my next blog!

Until then...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

IGN discussion of Saints Row: The Third

This is a pretty interesting article about Saints Row: The Third that addresses the pure ridiculousness of the game and over-the-top portrayal of sex and sexism of both men and women. 

I'm planning on renting the game and playing it --- then I will report back! Look out reader(s), haha.

I also have a blog post coming that will respond to my last discussion, about Dead Island and the potential sexism that was allegedly associated with its characters and gameplay.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Long time no... anything

As I said in my last entry, I'm going to continue talking about the stages of my relationship with D that led up to this project - and really my ability to claim even semi "gamer" status. But first, I'd like to share a few things.

I should probably quickly mention, though, that despite the fact that it's been some time since my last post - this blog has been on my mind a lot. I see a lot every day that I want to post or talk about and I somehow never make my way here to do it. I've never kept a blog or a diary or a journal of any kind before, and D has me convinced that's why I'm struggling with this: I'm not very good at talking about myself. And, if I'm going to be blogging about my relationship, then talking about myself is inevitable. Perhaps that's why I've been avoiding it...

I have been collecting articles to share on here and I will start with a couple that peaked my interest early on in this project, so as not to just link-dump all over this entry.

The following two articles (additional links to supporting information are littered throughout, but my main focus is on the two articles discussed in this paragraph) are about the game Dead Island, with which I have been slightly interested in since seeing some early promos online (probably on IGN, but I could be wrong), and, to be completely honest, am still kind of interested in despite this. Basically, according to Eykemans' article, someone got the game, ripped into the source code a found that a skill called "Feminist Whore" previously existed for one of the female characters. There's really no additional information other than it could have evolved into something called "Gender Wars" which gives that same female character a 15% damage bonus against men (Eykemans). However, according to Crecente, "Feminist Whore" was indeed the original name for the female character's existing skill "Gender Wars". A brand manager with the development company called the code "highly inappropriate", said that it was "inexcusably overlooked", that it was "considered a private joke" by the programmer, and apologized several times (Crecente). As usual, the real meat (and incredible sexism) is in the comments' sections of both articles. Plenty of "this is hilarious", "now I want the game more", "women/feminists/bitches/whores need to stop complaining and get back to the kitchen" to go around. I like the article the most, I think, because there is one commenter trying to genuinely have a discussion about an underlying issue and no one will take them seriously.

A couple images and some background:
 This is the coverart (above) for the PS3 version (although, I'm pretty sure this is the cover art for every version) and a promotional still (below). The game itself is about basically what you would think from looking at it: zombies... and an island. Four characters on a fictional paradise-like island have to survive an apocalyptic zombie attack of which they seem to be the only non-infected/non-afflicted/non-dead (DeadIslandgame). I've never actually played the game and have only seen promos and game stills, but it looks pretty interesting... If you're into that sort of thing. Which I am. A trailer the DeadIslandgame YouTube Channel is below.

As stated above, there are four playable characters in this game - two of which are female, two of which are male. They're pictured above, back-to-back, in the middle of an assault. Starting with the female character in white (also pictured in the promotional still above) is Xian Mei - originally from China, she is an employee at the fictional resort on the fictional island, and described as "a fast learner, intelligent, and... quick on her feet" (DeadIslandgame). While this hero is not quite dressed to kill (zombies) she's at least slightly more clothed than a lot of female video game characters I've seen (which, I suppose, is something). All of the following character images (except Alice) come directly from the DeadIslandgame Character pages.
The male character next to her in the original character photo above is Sam B. Described as a "one-hit-wonder rap star of fading fame", this hero character was also an employee of the fictional resort (for one gig, at least) (DeadIslandgame). From his appearance and character bio, this character, in my opinion, is the embodiment of a stereotype - from the gold "B" chain to the low-rise jeans to the "history of drug and alcohol abuse" (DeadIslandgame). I'm hoping there's much more to his character than that...
Next to Sam B, is the second female hero character, and the one discussed in both of the articles that inspired this post, Purna. Purna was previously a police officer in Sydney who was fired for killing a wealthy and connected child molester (very SVU) and then became a bodyguard for VIPs (DeadIslandgame). It doesn't say who she was protecting, but I'm going to venture to say it was a guest at the fictional resort. I loved her character description immediately, not so much her attire (however, her accessories do make her look pretty badass, and she's finally not violating my very picky shoe rule*. She also looks strikingly similar to Alice from the first Resident Evil movie).
 *Shoe Rule: No woman (read: NO! NONE! NEVER!) would ever run or battle zombies or aliens or monsters or freaking Decepticons (You hear me, Michael Bay??) in high heels or platform heels or spike-heeled boots or anything similar. It's completely impractical, illogical, irrational... and a total safety hazard. Nothing about women in action roles bothers me more than that. Which is what I like most about Purna (above) and Alice (below). Totally appropriate for ass kicking.
The final hero character, the second male, is Logan. He's described as a "former American football star" who's spoiled and egotistical, but also bitter and in despair after a reckless car accident that ended both his football career and the life of his female passenger (DeadIslandgame). He is a guest at the fictional resort, trying to relax. I find his appearance the least offensive of them all, as I could conceivably see a person wanting to be more in this type of zombie-fighting attire than any other pictured above.
So, what's the point of this post? Well, this is partially to give me an opportunity to work through my feelings about the game, the characters, and that tiny piece of code. Since, again, I have not played it, and with the understanding that many first-person action/adventure games have great stories with a lot of character development, I cannot completely dismiss these characters for their face value. While they each embody an obvious stereotype, that could very well be the point... And, while the code was very offensive and absolutely does speak to the way in which women are viewed, treated, and dismissed every day. I have to say that I do see both sides of the issue.

The first being how offensive these female (and male!) characters appear to be and how ridiculously awful it is that "Feminist Whore" could ever be considered a "private joke" that was not only mentioned (surely) but actually written into a game. And also how insanely offensive many of the comments are to both articles - which only supports the argument about the treatment of women. The second that the company apologized and claimed to be holding the programmer responsible "for violating the professional standards and beliefs" of the company (Crecente). In addition to that, I'm actually just totally blown away by the fact that there are two playable female heroes built into the game. I've seen a lot of highly promoted games where the "heroes" are all male, or at least the default ones featured in the trailers and stills are. This game was compared to one in the Fallout by an IGN reviewer, who literally called it "Fallout 3 with zombies" (Miller). And, while I enjoy this franchise (almost exclusively from a spectator's perspective), for the most part it is promoted as if played only by a male character. You can, in fact, play as a female character and you often interact with strong female non-playable characters (NPC) - but you wouldn't really know that without owning (or renting or borrowing, etc.) the game and actually playing it. So, the highly publicized female characters from Dead Island excite me and make me want to play the game, more than some a-hole programmer's idea of "humor" makes me want to boycott it.

But, hey, I could be alone in that - any thoughts?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I should be grading...

But I'm just too excited to focus right now. Plus, this is technically "work", isn't it?

It's Thursday, which is the night D (my partner) and I set aside for playing games and hanging out. That's just the arrangement for this semester - we've had a lot of other schedules for when we would hang out during the school semester, most of which have been far from "scheduled". So, before I start actually blogging about my experiences with these date nights, I thought I would start at the beginning and explain how our relationship has evolved from geographically close to geographically distant to virtual and where it is today.

When D and I started dating, we were both attending the same university and working on our MAs. One of the first nights we ever hung out, he bought Guitar Hero for himself as a birthday present and we played it for several hours. [Sidenote: Although D grew up playing computer and video games (mostly Nintendo systems), he had been "off" of them for a year or so before that night. In his previous relationship, his girlfriend didn't quite share these interests (putting it nicely) and he sort of purged it from his lifestyle. Buying Guitar Hero was a video game awakening for him, as well.] Over the course of the next couple of years, we played a lot of games together, mostly on the Nintendo Wii or one of the changing versions of the Nintendo DS. I had had a sporadic, tenuous relationship with gaming up until this point. Sure, I grew up playing video games (e.g., the original Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for Playstation 1 were my games), but when I moved away from home for college the systems stayed at my parents' house with my siblings and I couldn't afford one for myself. So the new(er) world of gaming that D introduced me to hooked me pretty quickly. Some entire weekends we would spend completely in front of his TV playing Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King or Animal Crossing or some other more demanding games whose names completely escape me at the moment. We also made up several drinking games to accompany Friday or Saturday night dates. I can say that, right? I mean we were well over the legal drinking age...

At any rate, when D introduced the idea of going out of state for a doctoral program I was immediately super emotional and sad. I had no idea what a long distance relationship was like, how it would function, what to even do to maintain any semblance of the relationship we currently had... Clearly I'm good at handling change. Of his original options, one of them was New York, which would have at least left us the option of weekend drives to see one another. But it ultimately became a decision between two programs in California, and San Diego triumphed.

So then we were left with a future full of distances that included three hours in time and about 2500 in miles, and an accumulation of student loan and credit card debt to support air travel. We also had a summer to figure out what was going on with us before it all began.

I'm not here to talk about the horrors and triumphs of long distance relationships, by any means. But, I do feel it's at least important to give you some background information about what happened next and why it had such a profound impact on our relationship, my research interests, and the reason I'm involved in this project.

So that summer, the summer before D moved to San Diego, I bought a Wii. The summer after that, I bought a PS3. These two consoles have played a major role in the shape our LDR (long distance relationship) has taken. In both gaming and non-gaming related ways. I'll explain each of these in more detail in another post, because the 'preview' of this one has shown me it's incredibly long.

To be continued...