Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Gaming, Gates and Greenbacks


So there I was, perfectly happy sleeping in my Hall when I heard the rumble of something in the distance. Something Dark, Ugly and decidedly unholy. Something so Grievous I felt the need to comment on it.


Now, in fairness, the storm known as GamerGate has been going for weeks now and this is a decidedly tardy commentary but my general apathy towards Social Media has left me insulated from the worst of it. However it’s now beginning to leak into the mainstream media and giving ammunition to a whole new generation of Jack Thompson-esque censors who can ring their hands and cry out “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”.

Look, I’m not going to comment directly on the shocking levels of misogyny involved. People have literally fled their homes because douchebags on the internet decided to share personal data with a bunch of self-professed would-be rapists. Presumably ‘for the lulz’.

The world is a very sad place the day a Viking needs to tell you that threatening rape is not OK. Noone should need to be reminded that women have every right to work in one of the fastest growing tech industries on the planet free from harassment or threats.

McGruff the Crimedog here, reminding you to stop being an ass

No, what concerns me more is the moderate gamers who have been swept up into the howling vortex of the GamerGate ‘movement’. Somewhere, buried under all the vitriol, there is supposedly a grand point being made about journalistic integrity in Games Journalism. At the heart of it is a claim that Zoe Quinn used her feminine wiles to seduce various game reviewers and so boost the scores and coverage of her indie title Depression Quest (sadly the game title isn't the most depressing thing here).

Now, if this was true (the claims were made originally by her ex boyfriend, emphasis on the ex) it might be reason enough to look askance at any coverage of Depression Quest but as some kind of lowpoint in journalistic integrity? This barely registers.

Want to know the real corruption eating away at gaming media? I’ll give you a hint.


Money makes almost any claim of impartiality these days pretty laughable. Games journalism is still, at its heart, an extension of the marketing process for the big Publishers. The Publishers decide which games get shipped out for review, who gets copies (not to mention what 'bonuses' those copies come with) and when the reviews can appear. This creates an atmosphere where there’s a constant unspoken threat – say something we like or you won’t get to see our next AAA release. This in turn feeds into the average review score being heavily tilted to the positive end of any scale.

They’re able to have this level of control because, more then any other popular press, Games Journalism is an online phenomena. The majority of people read their reviews online and the biggest players are all websites (Kotaku, Polygon, EuroGamer, IGN etc). Because they’re web-based they rely mostly on Ad-revenue to pay staff and make a profit. Ad-Space that is bought predominantly by the big Publishers to advertise their next games, or even the game that is being reviewed. Furthermore, thanks to this model, if a Publisher doesn’t send you a copy of their latest AAA title, a title people are hungry to learn more about, you are literally losing money by not having any clickthroughs.

So we have a situation where the Publishers control the content available for review, the timeframe for those reviews and how much money the review sites will make from them. Yet these complaints have barely cropped up among the most vocal proponents of GamerGate who prefer to focus on Nepotism...which is easier to switch around to women using their natural assets to turn executive heads (To be fair, some commentators have spoken out about this but more on that later.).

Hey, but at least no one is getting fired right?  

Eidos here, reminding you to get back in your cage Peon

So to summarise, there is an issue with integrity in Games Journalism but it has nothing to do with those nasty women seducing all you innocent male bystanders with their irresistible wiles...No, it is much more to do with the far less sexy world of big business and profit.

Now, some people will no doubt claim that they are part of GamerGate to fight excactly these issues. Or perhaps they are retroactively supportive of Gamergate because of the massive backlash in various media outlets against Gamers (which even Forbes points out is a bit much). To be honest though, it doesn't matter:

As long as you are tied up in 'GamerGate' noone is hearing your legitimate concerns.
If you want to get heard, time to find a new home.

Or to put it another way, noone is watching the zookeeper when the monkeys start throwing their poo.

On that depressing note, let’s say Skol! And drink together.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

It's my Birthday and I'll plug if I want to

Yes dear readers, it is my birthday today. I'm once again slightly closer to 30 then I was the year before and by all appearances may be becoming a full grown adult...

...Ok, maybe not.

That right there is so far among my best Birthday presents ever and was painted by hand by my best friend, Ami. Therefore I am planning to use my tiny slice of the internet to shamelessly plug his artwork. If anyone is interested in something similar (or a 'Viking Batman' which was my other option)  then get in touch through the button on the right or in the comments and I'll see if I can twist his arm for monies.

Right! In other news, while I'm making merry and celebrating the biological achievement of existing there's also this brand spanking new Iron Man 3 trailer. Let's take a moment to drink it in.

So we have more of Tony Stark feeling sorry for himself, though at least this time achknowledging that he has no idea why (must be tough on his giant money bed). There's also an increasingly Authoritarianism vs. Terrorism streak starting to develop.

This has allready been touched on a bit in the earlier films with Tony acting as the Avatar of the military industrial complex while his foes go to increasingly elaborate, desperate or evil lengths to oppose him. The idea of a hardline Rumspheldtian President being able to use War Machine (Iron Patriot in the film) to further his case is kind of wonderful and incredibly terrifying, while Ben Kingsley continues to prove that he wasn't hugged enough as a child with what's shaping up to be another classic role as a villain.

Overall, pretty psyked for my birthday, my present and the new film!

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Morality in Games

Say what you will about Mass Effect or Infamous (and people will) but while the moral choice systems they introduced were integral to the plot, they were also somewhat lacklustre; with the most difficult choices sometimes being the metaphorical equivalent of 'Kick an adorable puppy' or 'Don't'.

Is this the games fault? No, not really, moral choice systems in Games almost always suck and have done for years. Of course, this shouldn't be suprising. After all, morality is one of the most challenging concepts the human race has created and it's one that major figures still struggle with today. The stark black and white choices in most games are simply an extension of this wider societal debate...and often the safest way to keep your game free of controversy.

This should be a button on Xbox Live.Source
Ironically, by trying to present things in as simple a form as possible Game Developers have actually managed to present the main camps of this complex debate in a handy bitesize format. So, like a Viking at a buffet, I'm here to gobble up the moral quandry and spit it back out into a diatribe of knowledge.

While you take in the imagery of that last sentence, I'll begin.

Viewpoint 1) Absolutism
Mass Effect 2

When you see people debating morality today, whether on the news or in a seedy internet forum, they will almost always fall into two camps. Since Absolutism has been around alot longer, it gets to go first.

Absolutism is, very basically, the belief in Truth with a capital 'T'. That is, the existance of a single, clear-cut standard of what is right and what is wrong. This is the version of morality that is most often linked to organised religion and,. in fairness, most games that present you with a moral choice system.

Mass Effect, and in particular Mass Effect 2, presented this in the simplest possible terms with quick time events that shifted you towards either 'Paragon' (Good Guy) or 'Renegade' (Bad Guy). The thing is, despite some pretty clear design choices (You glow when a Paragon, get Red Smoke and bitchin' scars as a Renegade) they decided to introduce a few of these events that were less clear cut.

Not only are you evil, but you're a damned Commie to boot!         Source
For example, during one mission you have to infiltrate a PMC (*sigh*) in order to reach 'ArchAngel' (He's a Paragon by the way) and stop said PMC from murdering him. On the way you can sabotage several systems they were attempting to use in order to make the fight more even. Finally, when you are nearly there you can head down an alley and find a mechanic working on a attack gunship.

Now, said mechanic starts merrily chatting away about how the gunship can really 'do some damage' a renegade flag pops up. What do you do oh evil one? Shoot him in the back? Knife him repeatedly and dance a merry jig in his organs?

No, you pick up a electric cable and shock him with it, knocking him out and helping to sabotage the gunship.

Now this is certainly not heroic, indeed it could be seen as kind of wussy, but by doing this you could be helping to save several lives. Certainly some people, who we'll get to later, would argue this was a just act.

Not Mass Effect.

Renegade! Bad, bad man!

This is the thing with Absolutism, by definition there is no Grey Area. You are either Right or you are Wrong. The problem with that should be self evident, but incase it's not then just imagine this. If you can be one of two things, will you always be the one you should be, even when it's hard, or will you be tempted to change the rules so that what you are is always Right...no matter what?

History suggests an answer.

2) Viewpoint 2: Relativism

In one of his defining moments of Pope-ness the former Pontiff warned about the 'Creeping Relativism' in Western Europe. Essentially, he claimed that the 'Truth' (noone should be shocked the Pope is an Absolutist) was being watered down by a society that consistently saw shades of grey (Not those Shades of Grey!).

Again, very basically, that's what Relativism is. The concept that truth along with concepts of right and wrong all depend upon where you're standing. To us Bin Laden was a mass-murderer, to a select few he was a heroic martyr. Based on this belief, it is impossible for us to declare an absolute right and wrong and can only act on what society can agree at the time.

To me, no Game better sums this up then GTA IV.

Niko Bellic: Shotgun Philosopher.Source
In GTA IV you play as Niko Bellic. Immigrant from a war torn Eastern European country who's hunting for the men who betrayed his unit and his (presumably ethnically cleansed) village. In the game you murder, deal drugs, help pimps and prostitutes and rob a bank with a group of Irish Mobsters who don't include Ben Affleck.

Yet while you do all of these things, you are still the hero. You don't question the things that happen in the missions because you know what Niko's goal is and you empathise with his character. Like Liam Neeson in Taken, he's been wronged and someone has to pay.

Again, the problem with this viewpoint should be self-evident. Niko cares so little for right and wrong that he leaves a body trail at least as long as the men who killed his village. In fact, even the game achknowledges how far he's come.

See, at one point you think that 'Florian', a man from your village living in Liberty City, may have been the traitor so you hunt him down and kick in his door.

Only to find that Florian had become...well, this:

Das Vadanya, SailorSource

Bertie Crane, happy and openly homosexual man. When Niko explains why he's there Bertie says something along the lines of:

'I'm sorry Niko, but it wasn't me. When the war ended I was upset, I came here and came out. I got over it'

Sort of seems like the healthier option really, but not, in GTAs world, the abjectively 'Right' one.

So, which of these systems is right? Well, neither. There's a reason I said all game morality systems suck, and it's the same one as why I think these predominant beliefs (in their most commonly spouted forms) also suck.

Human beings are incredibly complex creatures, and never more so then on issues of the soul, morality and sentience. The truth is that while there may not always be a 'Right' in every situation there may well be a 'Wrong' in that same situation.

The 'Truth' may not exist but the truth does, and sometimes is ignored when it should be spoken.

Or to put it more simply: If you find yourself in a situation where you are shooting a child, or detonating a explosive vest in a crowded public square...Then you're being a dick and should cut it out.

If you are preaching with all the fire of a Crusader against religion because it doesn't see your point of view, chances are you're also being a dick and should cut it out.

Alternatively, you could say  Skål! and drink your fill.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Technical Issues

I continue to be plagued by windows 8. While I work on it, enjoy some 13th Warrior...

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Cons, Things and the Group

As I mentioned previously (and with breathless excitement) I recently ended my embarrasing lack of Con experience by hitting up London Super Comic Con and had a great time. I talked briefly about how not having been to a Con was kind of weird for an internet 'Geek' commentator like myself and that, along with the experience myself, got me to thinking about Conventions and the central place they've come to occupy in the hearts and minds of Gamers, Comics-Lovers and other assorted brands of what we might call geekdom.

Lest we Forget...Source

The first things we'd probably recognise as 'Cons' started in the 30s, around the time that Science Fiction and Fantasy were starting to gain some ground as serious mediums rather then schlocky 'Genre Fiction' like John Carter (read the books, everyone is naked the whole time) or the stuff of childish fairy tales.

Don't get me wrong, 1930s New York and London weren't crawling with mustachioed men with funky outfits and Nerf Guns but the point of the Cons hasn't changed since these early meetings. It was, and still is, a profoundly liberating experience to gather together in one room with others who you knew, by their mere presence, appreciated the somewhat borderline things that you did.

This instant inclusion, the feeling of being at home, is a profound one; Particularly for those of us who grew up either hiding our obsessions or being bullied because here, possibly for the first time, you find yourself in the majority. This is a feeling we may not have experienced before.

Give me your Thors, Your Iron-Men and Huddled FanboysSource
 Inclusion is a powerful thing, speaking to something deep within us as Human Beings. It's why sports fans will scream themselves hoarse in the stands and in bars; why every major election is a pitched screaming match between party supporters and yes, sometimes it's why grown men dress up as Jayne Cobb and aim nerf guns at the camera.

I literally cannot thank my mother enough for that hat
I could talk all day about the whole warm feelings, lovey-dovey and generally hippyish feelings that I don't imagine I was alone at experiencing at my first Con but I'm going to do something better instead.

I'm gonna talk about Vikings.

More specifically, I'm going to talk about how they used this natural, all-too human need for inclusion to stop Iceland tearing itself apart. See, Dark-Age Iceland was a pretty hairy place to live (both literally and metaphorically...Vikings.) with Blood-Feuds, honour-killings and general nastiness going on often enough to fill several very readable Sagas.

The only thing keeping the whole place from descending into a massive Battle-Royale was the government of the time. Uniquely, it wasn't a particularly badass Viking Warlord who had final say. Instead, it was everyone.

For the last time, Han shot first! Drop it Thorvald!


See, while the Greeks are generally credited with introducing Democracy in the West its kind of a con. The Greek democracies were actually Oligarchies (rule by a small minority), run exclusively by old and extremely rich men while younger and poorer free citizens had absolutely no vote. In Iceland however, while the most powerful men could meet and set laws they were then presented to every single free man and woman in the country, all of whom came to the Thingvellir (Assembly Fields) to meet, hear the news and listen to legal cases.

If you broke a law in that time the worst punishment was to be declared 'Outlaw' (literally Outside-the-law) and therefore exempt from the protection or interest of the Althing. Basically, a walking target.

The Althing was often the only place Blood-Fueds could be settled with both sides still standing.

Yep, it could even stop Vikings from killing eachother.

Now, if that's not an argument in favour of heavyset, bearded men and women in chainmail all gathering together I just don't know what is.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål!and drink together

Monday, 25 February 2013

London Super Comic Con

I have sucessfully returned from the London Super Comic Convention (LSCC) which was, in a word, amazing. You see,while Conventions, or Cons, have been a mainstay of Geek and Gamer culture for a few decades, I myself had never been to one. Until now, that is, and may I just say that it was most definately worth the wait.

Myself, a few friends and may ever understanding wife got together and made our way up for the festivities on Friday. My wife had actually arranged the trip as an early birthday present for me, which should tell you everything you need to know about why I married her.

If I'm honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a sea of very vibrant, excited people talking about comics, films and all things Geek; usually while dressed as one of their favourite characters. The standard of costumes was incredible with representatives of Marvel, DC, a handful of Judge Dredd-style Judges and one or two characters who I completely failed to place.

I left with a boatload of Comics swag, and some pictures to share with you all...

Punisher Captain America...Apparently this is a thing that happened

Thanks to my buddy Ami and Joe from 3-Legged Sofa for some of the pics.

Until next time, Let us say Skål! and drink together

Friday, 22 February 2013

PS4 Announced

Well it was a press conference full of flash and low on substance, but Sony finally confirmed that a PS4 is nearly ready for release.

You'll probably have heard the basics by now but here were the main points that stuck out for me.
  • They confirmed nothing about the hardware spec, but were eager to compare it to a PC rig. This is a dumb road to go down in my opinion, as no console will keep up graphically with upgradeable PCs. Methinks the rumored SteamBox has them scared, and theyre positioning themselves to fight it.
  • Looks like there might be no backwards compatability. Lame, but not unexpected.
  • No price, eh? Either they're waiting to undercut Microsoft or they don't want it to kill the launch like the £600 PS3 pricetag did.
  • Like the recent Xbox rumours it seems that Sony are moving for a always on connection to limit the secondhand market. Advertising Diablo 3 as a launch title pretty much confirms that. I still think its a mistake.
That was the basics, sorry if this seems rushed but I'm in a car on the way to Londons Super Comicon. Pictures and post will follow on Monday!
Until next time friends, let us say Skal and drink together!