Why play online games?

If you love playing games like Dragon Age and World of Warcraft, it’s no wonder you found us here at Comunita. Online gaming is becoming more and more popular these days, with people logging into their favorite gaming portals and linking up with their friends for a few Call of Duty sessions.

There are various devices which enable you to play online, from the humble PC to the swanky new PS Vita. In addition, there are so many online games to choose from which makes it a gamer’s paradise. So after a session of World of Warcraft, you could take a break by playing anything from online chess and sudoku, to partypoker and Black Jack. The world of online gaming is huge, so you’re guaranteed to find something you enjoy.

One of the great things about online gaming is that it is free! Normally you have to sign up to the website, but after that you’re entitled to unlimited free gaming. This is great if you are on a budget – you do not have to buy games or worry about losing them because everything is saved online. Plus, online games are much more accessible to play when you’re out and about. Gamers do not need to carry around their gaming devices with them because you can simply access online games on your cell phone.

Believe it or not, it is thought that playing games can help to improve your reactions and your multitasking skills. In addition, playing games helps to stimulate the brain by keeping it active and alert. It is far more stimulating than watching TV for hours on end. Some games like Dragon Age and Call of Duty require tactics which gets you thinking, as well as encouraging you to work in teams.

Another advantage of online gaming is that it gives you much more of a challenge. You could be up against another player from the other side of the world who is much better than you. You are sure to find it more of a challenge than just playing friendly games against your friends. 

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What Are You Playing Wednesday

Shun Akiyama from Yakuza 4.

It is Wednesday, so let’s kick back with our usual questions:

  • What games have you been playing lately?
  • Are there any you would recommend to other Border House readers?
  • Are there games that have you ranting or raving?
  • Are there any games that you played and want to see covered on the site?

 

I have been playing a lot of Yakuza 4 recently. I am about to finish the section of the game with the first character, Shun Akiyama. As I play the game I realize that the reason I enjoyed Yakuza 3 so much was the relationship between Kazuma Kiryu and the children in his orphanage. I am very much looking forward to playing his segment of the story soon.

 

So, what have you been playing?

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MOM is Watching: A new kind of dystopia

The following is a guest post from Jillian Scharr:

Jillian Scharr is a recent graduate of Vassar College and a lifelong daydreamer. She floats between jobs and cafes in the greater NYC area, writing about videogames and computers and fictional characters.

1984’s Big Brother. Brave New World’s Mustapha Mond. The Matrix’s Architect. Always our dystopian future overlords are overwhelmingly male. If feminine imagery shows up at all in these ravaged political landscapes, it’s as an agent of chaos that operates in reaction to the masculine hegemony.

That’s why I was particularly interested in Mind of Man, a quirky and frankly creepy smartphone app. It’s sort of a game, and sort of a really well-designed Twitter aggregator, so it’s a little hard to talk about. There is a narrative and a game world; tweets are presented as the primary means by which an entity called MOM (Mind Of Man) enforces social control. The aesthetic is a 50s-style blend of wry and kitschy: cracked cement walls, posters with block letters and solid colors, and propaganda scrawled over every digital surface.

Mind of Man assesses your Tweets and creates a visual output of the sentiments expressed in them, as with Lady Gaga’s “MindPrint,” above

And this narrative persists even through the Terms of Use contract you have to approve to let the app have access to your Twitter feed, with declarations like “Knowledge is power. And MOM never shares power,” and “This software may be used for Good and Mayhem. MOM appreciates both, but prefers the latter.”

Basically, what it does is read public Twitter feeds and perform something called “sentiment analysis.” It rates users’ tweets based on a variety of factors and then synthesizes a “MindPrint,” your personal equivalent of an ID number in MOM’s surveillance regime.

By making the means of our oppression a personalized emotion-based MindPrint instead of a number or an invasive procedure, Mind of Man’s feminine overlord does incorporate some of the traditional tropes of the gender it presents. However, it completely avoids the trope of making a powerful woman’s sexuality the seat of her authority. MOM does not have a body–MOM is never referred to by a gender-specific pronoun. For an otherwise extremely Orwellian app, Mind of Man completely lacks the gendered power play that defined 1984 and its Big Brother figure.

All in all, is this a big deal? Probably not. Mind of Man is a little app, and what attention it’s received is due not to its narrative of maternal overlordship, but rather to the A.I. that powers it. An article on Gamasutra a few weeks ago, for example, discussed the ways that Mind of Man’s complex moral spectrum algorithms could bring more nuanced and personalized choices to traditional RPGs.

Still, I liked the app’s tongue-in-cheek presentation of the omniscient and ominously benevolent MOM. It got me started on thinking about presentations of dystopia, and how they usually come in a paternal or fraternal vessel instead of a maternal one. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on MOM–and I know MOM will be keeping an eye on me.

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Feminism 101: Offensive Language and Dismissal of Responsibility

Welcome to another day in which a games journalist dismisses the criticism of many gamers and misses the point completely.  This article at IGN by Colin Moriarty shows exactly why gaming culture is what it is, and why it’s so difficult to make any real change.

Backstory: Borderlands 2 Lead Designer Hemingway refers to the game’s “easy mode” as the Girlfriend mode, which we covered.  Many game critics erupted in upset over yet another example where women are stereotyped into byproducts of the gaming industry without the skill required to play games as they’re designed.  Now, this IGN article has decided to counter the criticism and put us in our place.  Us being anyone with a single fuck to give about sensitive language and inclusivity in games, that is.

Let me lay just a little bit of Feminism 101 on you (which also equates to “being a decent person 101″):

1. If you are not offended, it doesn’t mean what was said wasn’t offensive.

Here’s the thing, we all have different perspectives in life.  I’m personally an able-bodied woman, and I recognize that privilege.  I am not going to be personally offended by ableist terms, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know it’s wrong to say them.  I still have empathy for the people whom I am potentially offending.  I check my privilege when I speak, and make sure that I’m not being dismissive of concerns that are very real and very personal for people.

There is just about nothing in the world that is universally offensive to every person.  That’s not how offense works.  You don’t get a free pass to say whatever you want because you’re not personally affected by it.

Moriarty states:

Remember, Mr. Hemingway didn’t actually say anything offensive. People wanting to be offended are simply looking for anything to jump on, consequences for anyone and anything be damned.

Because Moriarty isn’t offended, that makes the phrase perfectly okay to say.  Never mind the feelings of other people.  And, it’s no surprise whatsoever that Moriarty is male, speaking up for the women (the “girlfriends”) who are stating that they’re personally offended by what Hemingway said.  Don’t worry, ladies, this guy’s got it under control.  We should all stop getting so hysterical over this tiny, minor injustice in the world that doesn’t mean a thing.  Except that it does.

I think it’s even worse to understand that people are offended yet belittle and shit upon their feelings than it is to say the offensive slur in the first place.

2. You don’t have to be racist to say racist things.  You don’t have to be sexist to say sexist phrases.

This is one of the most common dismissals that occurs.  Sometimes it manifests as “I have a gay friend” and other times it’s “but, I’m not racist.  I love black people!”

Someone who is a wonderful person can say offensive things, and they can offend people.  Someone who isn’t racist can not only say incredibly racist things (perhaps without realizing it) but can also assist on a day-by-day basis with perpetuating the larger culture of racism that exists today.  A person who has no personal issues with LGBT individuals can say things that other, disrespect, and shit upon gay people.  You don’t have to be a terrible person to be uneducated about offensive language and therefore use it without realizing who you are hurting in the process.  But when you DO end up hurting someone, that’s your opportunity to realize what you have done and own up to the mistake.  The fact that so many are quick to blame the person for being offended instead of checking their own privilege is a major cultural problem that perpetuates all of the issues that exist with intersectionality.

3.  Saying that you didn’t intend to offend someone does not erase the fact that you did.

Like above, if you claim to be a great person who isn’t sexist yet you use a sexist phrase, you better be prepared to apologize and learn from your mistake when you’re called on it.  If you say “I’m not sexist and I didn’t mean that to be a sexist phrase” does not correct your mistake.  It only hurts your argument if you continue to argue that what you said wasn’t meant to hurt people.  The fact is, it did.  Own up.

There are words, and there is intent behind them.  In many cases, the intent doesn’t matter.  You used the offensive phrase, and the damage was done.  Educate yourself and don’t use offensive phrases, and you’ll find yourself being a much more decent human being.

Finally, I just want to comment on the last bit here:

So expect to hear a lot less from developers in the future because of episodes like this, and a lot more canned responses from PR as a result.

Excuse me while I pick my jaw up from the floor.  If developers can’t speak about their games without offending people, I’d *rather* hear from PR.  I know that as a game journalist in the competitive field of scooping other media for the story you are most interested in hearing something sensational that will get you web hits.   But I’d rather just hear about the games and the features in a way that doesn’t make me feel like an outsider. Never in my life did I think I’d hear the argument “if we call someone out for being offensive, we’re going to hear a lot less from them.”  Shame on us for being critical of what a representative of a company has to say.   Shame on us for being so sensitive and trying to pick fights.

Thank goodness this IGN piece says “Opinion” right in the title, because I’m going to set it aside and call it one person’s very privileged and dismissing viewpoint.

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Medal of Honor: Warfighter Partnering With Weapons Manufacturers

The header for the Medal of Honor partners page, it reads AUTHENTIC GAME. AUTHENTIC BRANDS. Medal of Honor is proud to partner with the following brands. Check back each week for more partners.

Just last week, friend of the blog Kris Ligman completed a three-part series of posts detailing the major problems with E3. In part 3, which you can read at Gameranx, she explains what she means when she says that E3 is a “technosexual military fetish orgy”:

From military research we arrived at the first computers, and from these emerged the first war games, thus creating a continuous narrative of combat and contest that stretches from Space War to Spec Ops: The Line. If the latter recapitulates the war gaming genre in a more critical light, it does so in the same ways that corporate marketing cynically adopts anti-corporate imagery. And for every The Line, there are a dozen Modern Warfares and Homefronts, all gleefully reproducing the tropes of warmongering military-funded Hollywood blockbusters. It’s to these we give our accolades, not whatever is the equivalent of a Hurt Locker or an Apocalypse Now. It’s to this kind of gory yet clinically disaffected, unrepentent violence that we stage a three-day summer fertility festival each year.

(That is just one paragraph; you should definitely read the whole thing.)

I was immediately reminded of this piece today when I read this article by Ryan Smith at Gameological pointing out that EA has partnered with a number of gun manufacturers for Medal of Honor: Warfighter:

But EA takes the realism factor further by allowing players to test out a photorealistic replica of, for example, the TAC-300 sniper rifle. Like the way the gun drops terrorists or racks up headshots in multiplayer? Feel free to visit Warfighter’s official website and click on a sponsored link that will take you to McMillan, the manufacturer of the gun. There you may purchase a real-life TAC-300 to your own specification (night-vision kit is optional!) and have it shipped to your local federally licensed gun dealer for pickup.

Looking at the partners page, there are spaces for sixteen total companies, with eleven currently revealed. Each space includes the company’s tagline, featuring delightful slogans such as “The Dead Center of Precision” and “Speed is Fine, Accuracy is Final,” just in case you thought these guns were just for the shooting range. The page also links to each blog post announcing the partnership and talking about the company and its products.

I am honestly at a loss for words except to say that this is disturbing.

Smith relates the story of how his nephew, a 13-year-old Call of Duty fan, got caught bringing a BB gun to school, and concludes:

I can’t say for certain whether or not my nephew would have brought a gun to school without the role of military video games, nor can I say if gun sales will increase because of Medal Of Honor: Warfighter. But if we want the vicarious thrills of violent video games to remain morally justifiable, we need to protect the fourth wall between the first-person shooter and real life. EA’s willingness to make a connection between a video game gun and an actual firearm is the strongest evidence yet that we’ve already let the wall crumble too much.

Yeah.

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Should game developers avoid triggering players’ PTSD?

This post might contain triggers due to discussions of PTSD.

Photograph of an orange sky with dark clouds covering the sun and a flock of birds flying away.

It’s nice on a blog like this to be able to see a trigger warning and then make an informed decision about whether or not to read on. Edge magazine doesn’t give you the same luxury, instead in this month’s issue plunging you feet first into a graphic description of the Lara Croft sexual assault scene right at the start of the article. It’s a writing strategy perhaps intended to intrigue the reader and make them want to read on. Instead it caused me to curse loudly on a crowded train and then angrily throw the magazine on the floor in a kind of post-traumatic hulk smash reflex.

I want to pose a question. It’s not something I want to attempt to answer on my own, but it’s something I want to talk about.

The discussion about rape in games took an interesting turn when someone very generously wrote a difficult and emotional post for The Escapist explaining to the unaware what it feels like to hear the rape discourse in and around games if you are a rape survivor suffering from PTSD.

The writer didn’t say that game developers should avoid triggering his PTSD, rather that there should be a greater awareness of what rape survival is like, and a greater sensitivity in the wider gaming community about possible harm caused to the invisible masses of survivors.

Still, it’s worth considering the question: should game developers – and other media producers for that matter – be more careful to avoid triggering PTSD in their audience?

Black and white photograph of Loch Cluanie in Scotland. The lake appears to be black. Huge boulders are piled up in the foreground. There is no vegetation. The sky is heavily overcast, and dark mountains loom on the horizon.

This isn’t just about offending some players, as the anonymous Escapist writer points out – triggers cause a person genuine pain and harm, not just for the duration of the initial response (panic attack, anxiety, depressive mood) but sometimes for days afterwards, as the trigger opens a Pandora’s box of fear, self-doubt and anger. Triggers send you to a black pit of molten tar deep inside your psyche; it’s a dark place that you usually manage to avoid, but the ground there is so sticky and rotten that once you enter, it can take a very long time to wade back out again.

It’s lucky that there are so many PTSD-aware writers online now critiquing games that sufferers are able to find fair warning before a game unexpectedly throws them into the tar pit. But it’s frustrating to learn that a game much-hyped for its cinematic storytelling achievements might make you feel unwell. Insensitive use of traumatic content limits access to cultural products to only those people privileged enough not to suffer from mental health risks.

Is this fair or right? If a game developer makes the decision to include triggering content, knowing that it will cause a portion of the audience significant distress and pain, can that ever be an ethical decision?

Well, maybe. I don’t believe it’s as simple as do-no-harm. Will Luton argued a while ago that games should be able to explore difficult topics, and that any obstruction of this is against creative freedom. I’m inclined to at least partly agree with him.

It’s not reasonable to expect someone to recognise and remove any and all content that could serve as a trigger. The majority of triggers are nobody’s fault. Nobody did anything wrong or meant any maliciousness, they just unknowingly pushed an emotional button and left another person in a terrible state. It could be a particular facial expression, as mentioned in the Escapist post, or it could be a scene that the writer considered to be tender and romantic or graphically inexplicit but the viewer reads in a different way. Sensitivity on the part of writers can only help to an extent.

Screenshot of Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones TV show. Close-up of her face as she looks deeply unhappy and troubled.

Also, a story can contain triggers and still be a worthwhile journey. Certain Game of Thrones scenes unquestionably contain triggers, but I’ve been pretty satisfied with the show for dealing intelligently with questions of aggression, consent and agency. Getting through certain episodes of the show can be extremely challenging, but in the end I felt like I experienced some catharsis, because the show makes an effort to give a complex and difficult account of survival.

A good rule of thumb may be to include trigger flags alongside other content warnings on games. But content warnings can be so vague and all-encompassing that if you were to allow them to filter your media consumption you’d have little left to play with.

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is how the unique qualities of video games affect this problem. If the entirely passive experience of watching Game of Thrones can deal complexly with traumatic issues, then there is far more scope for similar complexity and perhaps even authenticity in more interactive media. Maybe a medium that ordinarily gives the consumer an unprecedented level of agency can deal most intelligently with situations where agency and autonomy are cruelly and mercilessly taken away. Video games could even raise awareness by simulating in the player-character the physical effects of the same post-traumatic symptoms they have in the past callously triggered.

Again, I don’t want to propose an answer to this problem. I’d rather have a discussion about it. But I’m left wondering if maybe the key question when dealing with traumatic content that could cause people pain is, ‘is it worth it?’ Does the triggering content in question achieve enough that it is worth paying the price of hurting people?

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Stop calling it “Girlfriend Mode”

A clubhouse with 2 boys and a sign out front reading "No Girls".

Dear video games industry, please stop calling easy modes in games “Girlfriend mode”, even in jest. It is sexist, dismissive, and uncreative.

In a recent interview with Eurogamer, it was revealed that Borderlands 2 will have a DLC class tree created for inexperienced players. This is wonderful news! I wish that this was included in the game at launch. Many people play video games, and making them as inclusive as possible is always a positive. So, why are some people upset with Gearbox Software? The lead designer of the game, Hemingway, explained this skill tree as a girlfriend mode.

Hemingway said http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-08-13-borderlands-2-gearbox-reveals-the-mechromancers-girlfriend-mode:

“The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.”

So he used a phrase similar to Girlfriend Mode in the interview because of a ‘lack of a better term’? I disagree with Hemingway on this point. This phrase implies that women don’t play video games and therefore the easiest modes in a game exist so that they can play a game with their boyfriends or significant others. It is heteronormative and sexist in its roots. The industry keeps using the term as if its prevalence makes it okay. Whether it is used one or one thousand times, it is problematic.

They mean to say something akin to “New Player Mode”. It is a difficulty setting that is welcoming to players who are new to the genre, players who may be new to gaming in general, or who simply do not want to play a punishing game for a myriad of reasons.

But instead of using a term that doesn’t alienate women and paint them as the lesser players, some gamers and the industry itself continue to use “Girlfriend Mode”. Every time it is used we are putting out a sign on the clubhouse door that says “No Girls Allowed”. It is one of many subtle indicators that video games are made ONLY FOR men. If women play games they are viewed as interlopers. They are the girlfriends dragged to the media by their partners. They are not there because of their own desires and interests. They are deemed Girlfriends, not Gamers.

Randy Pitchford (the President of Gearbox Software) has defended Hemingway on Twitter saying:

“There is no universe where Hemingway is a sexist – all the women at Gearbox would beat his and anyone else’s ass.”

I don’t know Hemingway, I cannot say if he is sexist. But, what we can say definitely is that the term itself is sexist. In order for the term to make sense it requires the assumption that girlfriends/women cannot play video games and therefore require an easier mode. So let’s just stop using the term.

Varied difficulty settings add to the inclusion of gaming. They allow more people to access the media. Yet, when these setting get sexist names applied to them they become tainted. They act as another way to tell women that they don’t really belong in the clubhouse. The term “Girlfriend Mode” is exclusionary yet it is meant to describe something inclusive. Is that what we really want to do as an industry?

Let’s be creative. Let’s come up with a term that actually reflects the true meaning of this type of difficulty setting. I suggested “New Player Mode” earlier but that isn’t entirely correct. Some people play these difficulty settings to see the story or game assets without the greater challenge of Hard or Normal difficulty. So perhaps, “Story Mode” or “Anti-Stress Mode” might be more appropriate. Let’s come up with some possible names that DON’T lean on sexism for their definition.  Let’s get rid of the sexist and uncreative “Girlfriend Mode” term from now on.

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What Are You Playing Wednesday

A screenshot from Quest for Glory 4 Shadows of darkness shows the head and torso of a woman wearing a cloak, dress, and corset. The dialogue box reads Oh by the way, my name is Katrina. I hope we meet again sometime. Farewell.

It is mid-week question time again:

  • What games have you been playing lately?
  • Are there any you would recommend to other Border House readers?
  • Are there games that have you ranting or raving?
  • Are there any games that you played and want to see covered on the site?

I’m filling in for Gunthera this week. Hello! This week I started Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the Vita. It’s Uncharted plus a lot of touch screen hijinks, some better (touching ledges to climb cliffs, holding a parchment up to the light to reveal secret writing) than others (having to stop while walking on a log to do a stupid “balance” check by tilting the Vita, wiping dirt off of things). I’ve also been continuing my playthrough of the Quest for Glory series, and as you can tell from the header image there I’ve reached Shadows of Darkness. Fun fact: Katrina is voiced by Jennifer Hale, the voice of Commander Shepard and about a million other characters from games and cartoons.

And what have you all been playing?

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Recommended Reading (And Watching)

Part of the cover of Issue 8 of Ctrl Alt Defeat. It has the name of the magazine and a fingerpaint illustration of stick figures in a rainbow of colors.

Got a lot of good things to read on the internet, stranger!

Issue 8 – Ctrl+Alt+Defeat. Our own editor, Gunthera, guest edited this month’s issue of Ctrl+Alt+Defeat, which focuses on diversity issues. A number of Border House authors (including yours truly) contributed to this issue, and it also includes a few classic TBH posts. Definitely check it out.

Courtney on Cosplay – Courtney Stoker at From Austin to A&M. I wrote about cosplay and diversity 101 for Ctrl+Alt+Defeat, but I didn’t get a chance to link Stoker’s great cosplay research, so check it out here.

For Women Like You – Patricia Hernandez at Bit Creature. Trigger warning on this one. Patricia takes a powerful and personal look at Lollipop Chainsaw, sexual assault, and eating disorders.

Men in Games – Deirdra Kiai at No Show Conference. The reason for the “watching” addendum to this edition of Recommended Reading, TBH author (and claymation musical video game developer) Deirdra Kiai gave a talk at last month’s No Show Conference in Boston. It begins as hilarious satire and then turns into so much more. (While you’re there, also check out Naomi Clark’s comprehensive keynote.)

Guest Post: Joe Peacock’s Misguided Fake Female Geek Crusade – Alli Thresher at Think Progress. Thresher deftly explains just how terrible the whole “fake geek girl” bullshit is.

It’s been a while since the last RR–what other good reads (and watches) have you come across, folks?

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Signal Boosting: Pamplemousse

Deirdra Kiai, one of the authors here at The Border House, has started a fundraising campaign for Dominique Pamplemousse in It’s All Over Once The Fat Lady Sings!

A screenshot from Pamplemousse: A clay person stands in a rundown office. The scene is in monochromatic colours.

Now, how to define Pamplemousse? I guess it would be best to call it a point-and-click musical adventure game featuring an ambigiously gendered protagonist. Yes, you did not read that wrong. It is a musical which you can play! Don’t believe it? Go watch the video on the game’s Indiegogo page. In fact, you can read more about it there.

Deirdra Kiai is well known for Life Flashes By (in which their musical talents were demonstrated) and The Play (which won third place in 2011′s Interactive Fiction Competition).

Related link: Life Flashes By: A Conversation — Interview with Deirdra Kiai on The Border House

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