Category Archives: Culture

Support the troops, send your games to Iraq

Got a few good games sitting unplayed and gathering dust on your bookshelf? On June 9, the first official game convention in Iraq will take place–it’s called Ziggurat Con, and the organizers are looking for help in providing roleplaying games to be played and handed out to the troops as prizes. More details here:

The largest problem with running a Con in Iraq, of course, is that there are no local stores or game publishers, and few game books on the post. Even dice are in short supply, with many soldiers breaking the unwritten taboo held by many gamers and sharing dice. Thankfully, many game publishers have also lent their support. […] But Amberson indicated that the soldiers could definitely use more.

“This convention is currently in drastic need of prizes and giveaways for the troops,” he said. “Everything donated will go directly to the troops, or to MWR to use as loaner books for the soldiers.”

What a great way to lend some moral support to the troops. Consider gathering up a few games and shipping them out in time for the convention! The post linked above has a list of specific games they’re after, but it sounds like they’ll welcome most any sort of gaming material you can send. I’ve been looking to trim down my game collection anyway–this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

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Leave me alone–I'm playing Nethack

AngbandThis link is for my old pal pcg, who I believe loves Nethack and other roguelike games even more than I do: Roguelike Magazine, a magazine devoted to discussion of the roguelike genre. What a fun idea for a magazine–and the first issue is quite promising, especially the article about interface concepts.

If you’ve never played any of the roguelike family of games, you’re really missing out on one of the great gaming experiences; Nethack and its ilk are living proof that pure gameplay can make even the crudest graphics acceptable. My personal roguelike game of choice has always been Angband–I guess I like the (very, very loose) Tolkien connection–but they’re all good in my book.

At any rate, I hope the magazine does well, and that the roguelike community embraces it.

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The superstitions of MMORPG players

Do you keep a rabbit’s foot in your Warcraft character’s inventory in the hopes that it will bring you better loot? Do you believe that facing a certain cardinal direction while crafting an item in Final Fantasy will improve the quality of the object you’re creating? If so, you share in some of the many player superstitions common in massively-multiplayer online games. The Daedalus Project has done some research about superstitions held by players in online games.

Truly fascinating stuff–the superstitions range from the simple to the bizarre, and many persist even after game designers have specifically denied that they have any effect on gameplay.

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Best. games. ever?

OK, maybe not the best games, but the most important games. A panel of game industry luminaries has put together a list of the ten most important games of all time. The games are:

Spacewar! (1962), Star Raiders (1979), Zork (1980), Tetris (1985), SimCity (1989), Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990), Civilization I/II (1991), Doom (1993), Warcraft series (beginning 1994) and Sensible World of Soccer (1994).

Seems like a pretty reasonable list–it’s interesting to try and identify games that were really important in advancing new gameplay ideas, as opposed to just ranking them based on popularity or nostalgia. (Although obviously most of the important games also happened to be popular ones.)

I see two possible holes in the list, however. One is that there really isn’t a full-blown computer RPG represented on the list–you could say that RPGs grew out of the adventure genre, but the computer RPG genre of the mid-80s and later really evolved into something unique. I’d nominate Ultima IV for the list–not only was it an enormously important RPG, but it was also one of the first games to successfully incorporate a coherent moral worldview into gameplay.

Secondly, and more debatably, I wonder if there shouldn’t be a graphic adventure game on that list somewhere. Granted, they evolved out of text adventures as did RPGs, but their use of graphics to enhance otherwise typical adventure gameplay had a big impact on later games and genres. I’d probably nominate King’s Quest I for that honor.

(But then, I guess nobody really asked me, did they?)

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Tales of Gen Con

Here’s something interesting: a site devoted to the history of Gen Con, with a focus on personal stories from people who’ve attended during its 40-year history. It’s a cool idea. But how long must we wait before we get the sorts of stories we all really want to hear: the horror stories! It wouldn’t be a game convention if, in addition to all the fun stuff, you didn’t also have uncomfortably close encounters with guys dressed like Sailor Moon, or participate in roleplaying games with players whose grasp of the distinction between “player” and “character” is tenuous at best.

OK, I kid–actually, this little hobby could probably stand to focus a bit more on the many fun aspects of game conventions and a little less on the occasional scary parts. Either way, check out the Gen Con History site, and contribute a story of your own, if you’ve got one!

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Burning crusade… of nerds

Where were you at midnight on Monday night? If your answer is anything other than “standing outside the local Gamestop in freezing-cold weather waiting to pick up a copy of the World of Warcraft expansion,” you’re a better person than I. Behold:

The lucky few at the front of the line. You can’t see him very clearly, but the guy in the bottom left is, indeed, dressed like a Warcraft character:

From my vantage point, way toward the back of the line. Who knew that this mid-sized midwestern town was home to so many WoW fanatics?

Victory at last! My copy of The Burning Crusade in hand, I drive home to fire it up and create a hot female blood elf character.

The experience of standing in line in the snow did not quite match up to Gamestop’s enthusiastic description of the event as a “release party.” I, at least, spent more time shivering in the cold and questioning my own sanity than I did actually partying. Nevertheless, I had a good time; it was fun interacting a bit with some fellow nerds in a social environment where conversation filler consists of questions like “So, is your druid spec’ed out as a feral druid, or as a healer?” rather than “So, mighty crazy weather we’ve been having lately!”

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Violence and bloodshed and videogames, oh my

Good and thorough thoughts on video games and real-life violence over at the Empires of Steel developer’s diary. (A week or two ago, I was privileged to discuss this very topic with Mr. EoS Developer over a cup of coffee.) He’s tracked down some statistics about murder and other violent crime rates since Doom and its ilk kicked off the “violent video game” genre–go check it out. As they say, it’s hard to argue with the facts.

Video game violence and its relationship to real-world violence is a topic I feel strongly about, but I’ve resisted the urge to get on the soapbox here about it. This is a topic where I genuinely feel that people on both sides of the argument have something worthwhile to say–the relationship between game violence and real-life violence is correlative at best, but on the other hand there really is some disturbingly anti-social behavior depicted in games and I find it hard to believe that doesn’t affect our cultural soul, if not our crime rates.

But for over a decade now, the entire debate has been mired in the increasingly ridiculous debate over whether games “cause” real-life violence. Until we can get past this overly-simple idea, we’ll never have a meaningful discussion about the questions we should be asking, and which have a hope of leading to productive answers.

Why does gaming culture purchase and sometimes even celebrate games with extreme violence and anti-social content? Why does the gaming media often promote and review ultra-violent games without asking serious questions about their social value? What can the game community do to draw more attention to the many, many non-disturbingly-violent games out there? Can, and should, the game industry/community encourage developers to consider the social value of their games before making them? If gamers are willing to buy ultra-violent games, does mean that it’s morally acceptable to make those games, since developers are just meeting market demand? If parents are seemingly failing to perform due diligance when it comes to the violent video games their kids are playing, is it reasonable to ask the government to intervene? If violent video games do not cause crime, do they have any other negative societal impact?

Those are questions I’d like to see asked. But in the public/political sphere, at least, everybody seems to be content to have the same old “Video games turn your kids into killers!” “No they don’t!” “Yes they do!” argument. Wake me up in twenty years, when video games are either illegal, or we’ve progressed past this pointless bickering.

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This game is terrible (I play it every day)

A friend passed along a link to this amusing Wired piece on the whiners and complainers who populate game forums. It’s funny because it’s true–it’s really uncanny how many people spend their valuable time sitting in official game forums complaining about how much the game sucks. The offenses against which these forum warriors rage usually range from the petty to the insignificant to the outright delusional. If the game is that bad, I always wonder, surely there are better things to do with your life than rehash the point loudly in front of a bunch of strangers on an online forum? Clearly I’m missing something.

If you were to spend time at the World of Warcraft official forums (which I no longer do, for this very reason), you’d soon emerge with the impression that WoW is the worst-designed, most unplayable piece of trash ever to be released; and you’d almost forget that every day millions of people–including, most likely, the whiners–happily log in and have a good time playing it.

Whatever it is about the internet that fosters rampant and petty negativity is not confined merely to game forums, of course. It’s especially noticeable in gaming forums because the emotional investment of the whiners is so disproportionate to the real-life significance of the problems they’re griping about. There’s a good dissertation just waiting to be written on the Psychology of People Who Are Clearly Obsessed With Game X But Can’t Stop Talking About How Much They Hate It. And heaven help the PhD candidate who has to spend time in the forums doing research for that one.

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On the Minus World and the death of mystery

Ah, the Minus World. What teenage boy during the NES years didn’t spend countless hours of his life trying to unlock the secret entrance to that legendary, and possibly imaginary, hidden level in Super Mario Bros?

The internet, in its all-seeing wisdom, has of course laid bare the secrets of the Minus World. Enjoy watching somebody do what you never could: find that elusive spot at which a simple jump would teleport you to the forbidden halls of the Holy Grail of 8-bit gaming.

The Minus World–which actually turned out to be a simple glitch in the game, not a carefully-planted Easter Egg–has to be one of the earliest and most potent Gaming Urban Legends. Nobody you talked to had ever actually been to the Minus World, but everybody had a cousin whose neighbor had stumbled upon it on accident and knew the precise sequence of moves required to access it. I myself spent more than a few hours in front of the Nintendo with my friend Derrick in search of the Minus World. Scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper in our possession were instructions that claimed to describe the twisting path to the Minus World–I think Derrick transcribed the instructions, scribbling them down as a cousin or friend or babysitter or some other vague authority revealed them in a conspiratorial whisper.

But the instructions never worked. We never found the Minus World, although viewing the video above, I swear we got really, really close. If only….

It seems to me that the golden age of video game myths is over. Back then, there were no strategy guides or incredibly exhaustive online walkthroughs to reveal to you every corner, every secret, every Easter Egg to be found in a given video game. No, back then these things were mysteries–you heard about them second- or third-hand, then rushed home to try and find them yourself. The myths were usually wild goose chases… but they were true just often enough to keep you coming back for more.

I think the day of the Game Urban Legend lasted up to about the release of Doom and its sister games. Doom and its ilk featured countless hidden spaces and Easter Eggs, and I’m guessing that you, like I, spent at least some of your adolescence running alongside the walls of Doom levels hitting the spacebar in hopes of finding a secret door. But that was about when strategy guides were hitting game store shelves, and about the time that people were compiling their collective Doom knowledge on the fledgling internet.

Those strategy guides and walkthroughs gave us the hidden knowledge we sought… and they stripped the veil of mystery away from the games we played and loved. Suddenly, we knew everything–and this gamer at least, gazing into that abyss, longed for the bliss of ignorance, forever lost. Was the price we paid for our encyclopedic knowledge too high?

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