It’s my 21st birthday today and I’ve decided to do something a little different. I have 9 games and 1 game bundle to give away. For each of these games I have a question to be answered or a task to be performed. The first person to do so and post their Steam name will get the prize, although in the case of the bundle no Steam name is required, I’ll PM you what you need. It’s one game per person and usual forum policy applies so please don’t post here unless you want to talk about the giveaway or make your post to claim one of the games. Thanks.
So, you may or may not be aware that a Kickstarter page recently went up for “GaymerCon”, an LGBT-focused gaming convention that needed $25,000 to become a reality and already has the support of the likes of Ellen McLain of Half-Life, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 fame, TF2’s John Lowry, the folks behind one of my favourite web comics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and over 550 backers. Sadly, there has been a rather major negative reaction to this. Even in the face of what appeared to be a harmless event with harmless promotional material, some went into a blind rage, and even many of the calmer and level-headed people out there seemed to express an utter rejection of what I see as a perfectly reasonable event.
The most common of these arguments seem to be that this convention is “self-segregation”, that it's invalid because sexuality has nothing to do with video games, or that this is just “pointless”, but they’ve also ranged into the insulting notions that this is comparable to organising a straight gaming convention, that it’s some sort of disgusting attention grab, or that this is discrimination against straight people. I understand that not everyone out there questioning the need for this convention is attacking it, I think questioning is good, and “Why is a gay gaming convention important?” is a valid query. But while I can’t display what I’d call an exhaustive knowledge of LGBT culture, there seem to be so many people out there ready to immediately dismiss the idea of this convention for reasons which seem entirely flawed, or making downright ignorant statements regarding the LGBT community or their involvement in video games.
I can’t claim to know exactly how it feels to be in the minority when it comes to gender identity or sexual orientation, but one thing is clear; that many people who are have faced vilification, marginalisation, or have been treated as second class citizens. In large parts of the world they’re told that they’re “wrong” or “sick” for reasons beyond their control, they’re denied rights like marriage and adoption, or outright bullied.
That’s just the situation outside of the gaming community though. Within the gaming community games are aimed overwhelmingly towards the 18-35 heterosexual white male population, and they’re not afraid of showing it. The scantily-dressed, suggestively-posed women that are a common sight in games, and the outpouring of “booth babes” at conventions make it clear who they wish to cater to, and within video games we’re left with a great lack of LGBT characters. You can make whatever excuses you want for it, but none the less it’s there.
Online in general, many people also think nothing of throwing about homophobic slurs, while homophobic jokes and bullying are a sad reality. Even on this site I’ve seen people using slurs, making transphobic statements, and explaining why the use of slurs is entirely justified. When I’ve seen people speak up and say that games should better represent minority groups or that there’s something wrong with the way people often interact online, these ideas have been largely dismissed or been faced with outrage from the gaming community.
So for those saying this is comparable to a heterosexual gaming convention, it’s not, because the place that the LGBT community occupies within gaming and society as a whole is not the same one that heterosexuals do. Heterosexuals, or at least male heterosexuals, don’t require a games convention of their own as they’re already being largely catered to in a way non-heterosexuals are often not, and while I don’t agree that this is a form of segregation, I think the statement that this convention is self-marginalisation is ignoring the fact that people of certain sexual orientations or gender identities are often marginalised to begin with. Personally, I think the people behind GaymerCon have already made it pretty clear why such a convention is important; they want a place where those who enjoy video games can come together without fear of intolerance or discrimination, where people can be happy about who they are, where they can show that there is a strong LGBT element in the gaming community, and where people who may feel isolated can find out they’re not alone.
This is Not Segregation and This is Not "Showing Off"
Why do I not think this is a form of segregation? For a few reasons. Firstly, this is not a gay-only convention, and that’s not some obscure piece of information hidden off in the depths of one of the comments sections on Kickstarter; like other justifications for this event, it’s something they’ve mentioned upfront repeatedly, and yet some people seem to be ignoring it entirely. I quote, “We want to be clear this isn’t just for gay white dudes [...] We want all genders, races, and sexual identities including our straight friends and allies to come together”. There may be a focus on LGBT issues and community here, but look at that quote, in what way is that even close to segregation?
Secondly, even if you still consider this convention somehow separate from the rest of the gaming world, it isn’t as if LGBT gamers attending GaymerCon are setting down a big permanent divide between themselves and the rest of the gaming community. Heterosexual people are going to go to GaymerCon, non-heterosexual people (including those attending GaymerCon) are still going to go to other conventions, both are still going to play and talk about games together within the gaming community as a whole, and what’s more GaymerCon is just one convention.
Thirdly, I think a lot of the talk about “self-segregation” has been based around the false idea that “gaymers” can’t have events like this where they celebrate their own sub-culture and connect with people within their own minority, while still being equal to and included in the community as a whole. Everyone has both the right and the ability to celebrate their own culture, and meet with people of which they have something in common, while still being treated equally. If you wouldn't call gay pride parades self-segregation, then I certainly see no reason to call GaymerCon self-segregation.
Another common misconception seems to be that anyone within the gaming community expressing their identity, or celebrating part of their identity is “attention seeking”. This isn’t the least bit true and when I see this view brought up it’s very worrying. If you think it’s wrong whenever people express statements like the fact that they’re not heterosexual, or you become frustrated from seeing them do so, then it may be a good time to reassess your perspective on things. If we’re really starting to turn against people because they’re expressing or showing that they’re happy with the fact that they’re gay, bisexual, transsexual, or whatever else, then something is deeply wrong.
Being LGBT is Relevant
To those who say “Being LGBT has nothing to do with video games”, I have two answers. First, sexuality and gender identity have an overwhelming relevance to all art and entertainment. Where we fit in society and who we love or lust after are fundamental parts of who we are, and are ideas that have been embraced by just about every creative medium out there, it’s just they’re not something that video games have yet dealt with in much depth or with much variation. However, this sets up GaymerCon to be a great platform for discussing these matters and the organisers have said as much. It serves a greater purpose than just that though.
In some ways, yes, being LGBT really shouldn’t be a big issue, but certain people within the gaming community and the world as a whole have made it so, in a very bad way. I’m not saying every single LGBT person out there feels like they’re the victim of merciless discrimination and isolation, or anything like that, but in a situation where many people who are LGBT may have faced marginalisation and bullying in their lives, and where wanting to do something as simple as talking about and playing video games online can mean being prepared to face degrading language or even direct personal attacks, it seems perfectly reasonable that some LGBT people would want their own space where that wasn’t the case. Besides, what's wrong with wanting to use video games as a tool to bring people together?
In GaymerCon a few people decided that they wanted to organise an event where people, no matter their race, orientation, or other potentially dividing factors, could come together and enjoy video games in an environment where people would act like decent human beings, without needless insults and attacks. To me this doesn’t just seem reasonable, it seems like a noble goal, but a certain portion of the video game community have decided to turn around and tell them that they don’t get to have this, or that their cause is pointless or wrong. I find that sad, and I think ironically, the negative knee-jerk reactions to an event in the video game fandom that tried to reach out to LGBT people are a reflection of exactly why an event like GaymerCon is so important in the first place. Thanks for reading.
I’m sure many of you remember the 2010 action-adventure game Dante’s Inferno, based on the famous 14th century poem by Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy. The game generally received fairly good reviews, but a recurring criticism from fans of the original poem seemed to be that not only did Dante’s Inferno stray a fair bit from the original story, but also that it was a rather ridiculous and over-the-top interpretation of the original texts. For some, what was needed was a more subtle retelling of the original poem, but strangely enough the current-gen game to do that might have already come out, and weirder yet, the game I am talking about was a Halo title.
Not long after the release of Halo 3: ODST, various Bungie fans started picking its narrative and drawing parallels between that game and the Divine Comedy. Now this may start off sounding a little crazy, but I believe I can convince you that ODST does in fact make heavy reference to Alighieri’s work, so let’s sit back and take a look at the two of them side by side. Of course, major spoilers follow for Halo 3: ODST.
Halo is obviously no stranger to religious references, having made nods in the past to Greek mythology, Norse mythology, and most frequently the Bible. While the main story of the game does have some parallels with the Divine Comedy, most of the references to the poem seem to be found in the game’s audio logs; small story snippets that the protagonist of the game discovers as he makes his way through the city of New Mombasa. These logs are not dissimilar to the audio files which laid out a story in Halo 2’s I Love Bees ARG.
The logs relate to the story of a girl named Sadie Endesha and her escape from the city as it is attacked by the Covenant. Much like Dante is guided through hell in the Divine Comedy by the poet Virgil, Sadie is guided through New Mombasa by Vergil, a subroutine of the Superintendent AI which manages the city. The audio logs are divided up into 9 chapters which the game refers to as “circles”. Each of these appears to follow the theme of the 9 circles of hell laid out in the Divine Comedy, and in each of them, the people committing the outlined sin seem to receive some form of punishment.
The Divine Comedy opens with Dante “straying from the path” in his life, and eventually ending up in the first circle of hell, “Limbo”, which acts as home to those with false beliefs (i.e. Non-Christians). At the start of ODST’s first circle, Sadie tells Vergil that her train destination is going to be “Magongo if I don’t get caught... Hell if I do” and just as Dante wanders off his path, Vergil detours the train that Sadie is on. She later says to Vergil “Go to hell [...] Scratch that, hell just came here” as the Covenant begin their attack on the city. Much like in Dante’s first circle, the citizens of New Mombasa believe they are safe, but are shocked to find themselves in a hellish environment. Sadie also learns that her father is sheltering nine levels underground and decides to set out to save him.
The second circle of the Divine Comedy is “Lust”. In this circle in ODST, Sadie is seemingly rescued by Police Commissioner Kinsler, however, on their journey out of the city he tries to sexually assault her before being ejected from his own car.
In the third circle, “Gluttony”, Sadie encounters an incredibly overweight man, handing out kebabs to fleeing citizens. The man not only represents gluttony, but may also represent Ciacco, a gluttonous figure which Dante converses with in this circle. Unfortunately, due to his size, the man cannot make it out of the city.
In the fourth circle, “Greed”, Sadie encounters a woman who had spent 40 years of her life losing money at a casino. She ignores an incoming Covenant attack to get to a cash machine on the wall of the casino and try to steal the money inside. She detaches the cash machine from the wall, but is crushed by it, and tells an approaching Brute she will not share her money, before being shot and killed by it. There may also be a parallel to be found here in that as Virgil protects Dante from the figure of Pluto in the Divine Comedy, so the character of Mike (driver of the Commissioner’s car in Circle 2) returns to protect Sadie from a Brute who attempts to kill her.
In the Divine Comedy, the fifth circle, “Anger”, is where Dante crosses the River Styx and tries to gain entrance to the Walls of Dis which are guarded by fallen angels. He is also threatened by the Furies and Medusa, but an angel manages to speak out against them and secure him a passage through the wall. In ODST Sadie and Mike attempt to cross the bridge over the body of water dividing the two halves of Mombasa, with Sadie enraged at the crowd pushing against them.
As they struggle across the bridge a Pelican drop-ship descends with Commissioner Kinsler in it. Kinsler threatens them with a gun, with Sadie noting that their evasion from him must anger him. However, their guardian angel comes in the form of a rubbish truck controlled by Vergil that crashes into the Pelican and buries the Commissioner in rubbish. The truck then acts as a means across the bridge for them.
The sixth circle, “Heresy”, sees Dante encounter heretics encased in tombs of fire and meet with the Florentines Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti. While there seems to be no obvious person in ODST who represents the latter character, Sadie and Mike do meet a salesman called Tom Uberti who enters their rubbish truck.
The heresy theme comes into play when Sadie’s father reports back to her, after he has observed some Covenant Engineers. As the heretics are encased in tombs of fire, the Engineers are bound in harnesses with bombs attached. As part of a plot against their masters six Engineers remove the bomb from a seventh so that it can work on modifying the Superintendent, however, the six Engineers are killed by the bomb in this act of rebellion. Tom also arguably commits an act akin to heresy, deliberately surrendering to the Covenant from the truck and endangering Sadie and Mike, and in doing this he does of course die.
The seventh circle in the Divine Comedy is “Violence”, which is guarded by the Minotaur, and includes among other sinners, the murderers of the world. In the seventh circle of ODST, Sadie and Mike enter the Office of Naval Intelligence headquarters to try and reactivate the deactivated Superintendent, and find the lobby guarded by a crazed ex-police officer called Marshall who observes that it seems they’re all “going to hell today”. Marshall had murdered a number of officers in the lobby before they arrived and murders a former co-worker right in front of them. Eventually a SWAT team manage to gun down Marshall and save Mike and Sadie.
In the eighth circle, “Fraud”, we can see the ODST characters commit multiple acts of fraud. The first occurs after one ONI officer wishes to bring the Superintendent back online but has specific orders from Commissioner Kinsler not to do so. Sadie tries to convince the officer she has a gun pointed at her by holding a stapler under the jacket. Despite knowing that this is a trick, the officer pretends she is being held at gunpoint so she can reactivate the AI.
Mike later discovers that propaganda being broadcast into the crumbling New Mombasa is actually coming from within the police building. He finds an officer by the name of Stephen broadcasting false information about the officers in the lobby being gunned down by the Covenant and that people were saved by a citizen militia. He manages to coerce Mike into posing as a rising police commander and declaring that the fight against the Covenant is going successfully. Seeing through this facade, Kinsler contacts the building and tells them that if Sadie does not meet him alone, he will kill her father.
In the Divine Comedy the ninth circle is “Treachery”, where Dante finds the ultimate traitor, Satan. The ninth circle is also home to the frozen lake Cocytus and it is from here that Dante and Virgil ascend to purgatory. In ODST Sadie meets Kinsler, who is playing traitor to the citizens he was meant to protect, using his corrupt cops to keep a train out of New Mombasa for himself. One of the crowd can be heard telling Kinsler “Selfish devil! To hell with you!” At another point when Sadie is speaking with Kinsler, she asks “You ever worry there might really be a hell?” to hear him respond “Oh I know there is, my dear. And you and I are leaving it”.
Kinsler reveals to Sadie that her father is dead, killed when his men tripped the fire safety system in the Superintendent’s data centre, causing the ninth level to freeze over with her father inside. Eventually Vergil is able to save Sadie by opening the train doors, allowing the crowd to overwhelm Kinsler and rip him apart.
While Kinsler’s men did kill Sadie’s father, she decides to rescue Vergil, as her father thought him so important in stopping the Covenant. However, Vergil convinces her to leave without him and hints that the ODSTs will be able to save him. This does not seem to directly correspond to any part of Dante’s Inferno, but it may be reflective of the end of the second section of the poem, Purgatorio, where Virgil explains to Dante that he cannot ascend to heaven, due to his non-Christian beliefs and Dante goes on without him.
The Rookie’s Story
With the side story of ODST seeming to provide more confirmation that the game is indeed dealing in a partial retelling of the Divine Comedy, that leaves us free to look at the influence in the main storyline, for which parallels may be drawn but seem more sparse. It’s possible that the seeming references in the main story may just be a bi-product of it following on the back of Sadie’s Story, but there are some interesting similarities none the less.
In the main story you play as one of the titular Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, often known by the nickname “Helljumpers”, and bearing the motto of “Feet first into hell”. As the Divine Comedy opens with the lines “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost”, ODST opens with the protagonist, “The Rookie”, attempting to ride in a drop pod down onto a Covenant Carrier, but being knocked off course by a slipspace rupture and descending down into the city of New Mombasa, awakening there during the night.
New Mombasa seems to have a rather hellish quality with much of it being engulfed in flame, and it being referred to within the game as “Hell on Earth”, but just like Sadie the Rookie is also guided by Vergil, our stand-in for Dante’s Virgil.
At the end of the game The Rookie has to descend through the levels of the Superintendent’s data centre (with the levels seeming to be constructed in a circular shape), in a possible reference to Inferno, with the lowest levels still being frozen over, however, it also should be noted that The Rookie travels through the full ten levels of the data centre, instead of nine. It is possible that the data centre is in fact a reference to Dante’s Purgatorio which is composed of ten separate levels and would make everything up to that point a metaphor for Inferno.
The ending of the game may well be a metaphor for Dante’s ascension to Paradiso. As Virgil insists in the Divine Comedy that he cannot ascent to heaven, Vergil in ODST tries to resist being carried into the Phantom drop-ship, however, The Rookie and his team eventually ascend into the light of the drop-ship’s tractor beam and fly off into the sunrise, away from the burning city below.
Duder, It’s Over
All in all I think Halo 3: ODST is an undervalued Halo game. It never seems to spring to people’s minds when they think of Halo, but it used its film noir inspiration to provide an entirely new tone for the series, in its environment, story, and soundtrack, it introduced the series’ Firefight mode, and managed to have three difference story threads running concurrently.
On top of that I think the parallels it draws with Dante’s poem are a very interesting addition. It allows a story that is functional and palatable for everyone to retain a deeper meaning, and gave those who wanted to analyse something to find. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading.
The backlash against the Mass Effect 3 ending may have been the biggest fan outcry against a story in a video game to date. In some ways the bar was set impossibly high for the game, and even for a developer like Bioware closing out the series was never going to be an easy job. While in some cases the reaction did seem a little over-the-top, and many people were ignoring the genuinely amazing work that Bioware had done with Mass Effect to focus their attentions on the areas in which they’d fallen down, the fanbase had a point.
The problems with the Mass Effect 3 ending were numerous and impacting, and it was surprising to see something of such low quality coming from a series that been so well-done up to that point. Still, if there was a silver lining to the Mass Effect 3 ending rage, it was that all the emotion and the endless analysing reflected that people were becoming invested in a video game story like never before. While the medium often plays second-fiddle to books, TV, and films in the narrative department, Mass Effect 3 acted as an example of a game had managed to connect very deeply with thousands of people on a story level.
It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few months since all of that, but on June 26 EA and Bioware released their extended ending for Mass Effect 3. While it was stated outright that they knew they couldn’t please everyone, the effort had been made to try and address at least some of the fans concerns. I’ve played the DLC, read the discussions on it, gone back and looked at the original complaints of the game, and created a rundown of what the Extended Cut DLC has fixed, and what it hasn’t.
What Has Been Fixed
The Mysterious Crash of the Normandy
In the original ending the shockwave sent out by the synthesis and control choices hit the Normandy and caused it to crash-land on an unknown planet. There was really no logical reason this would have happened and Bioware has addressed this. In the new synthesis and control endings Joker tries to pilot away from the shockwave, he lands on the planet, but the Normandy doesn’t crash.
The Mysteriously Disappearing Squad Members
One of the most confusing things about the original Mass Effect 3 ending was the way your squad mates seemed to follow you on the charge towards the Citadel Beam, only to be mysteriously lost for whatever reason, and then be seen somehow exiting the Normandy onto the planet it crashed on. The Extended Cut manages to fill in this blank, showing Shepard saying a proper goodbye to his injured crew members before they are evacuated to the Normandy, giving a legitimate reason for why they ended up back on the ship.
The Lack of Closure
This may be the most important thing that the DLC does. In the original ending we knew little of what happened to the crew and what the world was like in the immediate wake of Shepard’s decision, an important part of the story considering Mass Effect’s emphasis on consequences for player actions. In the Extended Cut not only does Shepard get to say goodbye to his/her two squadmates, but the DLC also provides a touching end scene where the surviving crew members pay their respects to Shepard and Anderson, and some rather uplifting epilogue speeches. Some real kudos go out to Bioware for this addition to the game.
The Lack of Variation in the Endings
While at their core the previous endings had very different consequences for the galaxy, the events we got to see in them were essentially identical. Not only is there a little more variety in the events we see in Extended Cut, but again the post-game epilogue really helps out here and lets each ending feel more specific to the action you took.
The Lack of a Fourth Option
In the original ending Shepard was forced to choose between control, synthesis, or destruction, but there was really no reason this should have been the case. He/she should have logically had the choice to choose none of these. Personally I don’t see why you’d choose to let the entire universe die out like that but for those who want it, you can give the big “Fuck you” to the Catalyst and his solutions, and let the Reapers harvest the universe. It’s a grim choice, but it’s there.
What Hasn’t Been Fixed
The Deus Ex Machina
The endings still revolve around and are facilitated by a character and systems we discover at the eleventh hour. For all the troubles that Shepard overcomes with his/her own skills and co-operation with his/her crew, it’s a kind of “God of the Reapers” and three magic space machines that come out of nowhere at the last minute which solve everything.
Most of the Plot Holes
I won’t go into any great detail in this paragraph, but if you want to see a more in-depth look at the remaining plot holes I have written them out in the spoiler tag below. They include such key problems as Harbinger just flying away and leaving the Citadel Beam unprotected for seemingly no reason, the basics of the Catalyst’s “Reaper Solution” being flawed, and the fact that we still don’t really know what the synthesis ending does.
The sequence of events wherein various characters storm the Citadel Beam are still a bit strange. After Shepard is knocked out by the Reaper beam he wakes up to hear radio chatter reporting that all of the Hammer teams were decimated in the Reaper attack. It’s possible that maybe they just missed the fact Shepard and another soldier were left alive but it seems odd that Anderson is clearly alive (as you meet him later in the Citadel) and yet he’s nowhere to be seen after Shepard awakens. Where exactly Anderson went and why he was thought dead remains a mystery.
The real crazy bit that they left in is that as Shepard is waking up, he/she sees the Reaper guarding the beam just fly away for no easily discernible reason. It seems to either not care about the fact that Shepard and another soldier are alive, or actually believes everyone capable of getting to the beam is incapacitated or dead, and all it took to fool one of the smartest creatures in the universe was to “Play dead”. What’s more, it just flying away left the beam open to attack from any further forces. You’d think they’d try and protect the beam a little more carefully. It also remains strange that after this Hackett seems to get a report of someone making it to the beam, but not a second person. How did they figure out that Shepard made it to the beam but didn’t see Anderson follow him up?
The Catalyst and His Solution
I’m not trying to be mean to Bioware here but it’s hard to really know where to start picking apart the plot holes involving the child and the Reapers which still exist in the Extended Cut. To give a little sampling though:
The idea that synthetic beings always destroy their creators doesn’t seem to be backed up by any logic or evidence, why would synthetics inherently be so hostile? In fact a lot of Mass Effect 3 shows synthetics being very co-operative and organics even being the more dangerous beings.
If sentient beings which are created always rebel against their creators and destroy them, then the idea of the child creating the Reapers as “a solution” is flawed.
If Shepard is able to control the Reapers then that’s proof that synthetics and organics can co-exist peacefully and proof that the created don’t always rebel and destroy their creators.
It is never explained why Shepard’s presence in the area housing the Catalyst means the old solution can no longer work.
For an AI created by a highly advanced civilisation to manage the existence between organics and synthetics, stuffing all advanced organic life into a heartless shell and calling it a Reaper seems like a rather inelegant solution and one that has very little regard for organic life. Especially considering the child says his goal is to prevent “chaos”.
If the Reapers store organic life and not synthetic life, where are all the synthetics from previous cycles? Even if you assume the Reapers destroyed them both, why destroy both organics and synthetics when the desired goal could be achieved by only killing one off?
What’s more Shepard still accepts all of this as fact, questioning little that doesn’t make sense.
The Final Solutions
It still seems strange that the scientists of the galaxy were able to construct the Crucible from start to finish without even a vague idea to its intended function and that the Protheans didn’t leave even the slightest clue in their designs. The “Synthesis” ending in particular also retains its problems, with it not really even being clear what combining organic and synthetic DNA is meant to mean. DNA, no matter whether naturally or synthetically created can have many different combinations, what are we supposed to presume the Crucible technology does to it?
Additionally, in all of the endings the Mass Relays are destroyed. It was established in The Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2 that the destruction of a Mass Relay decimates entire star systems, yet no such thing seems to happen when all the Mass Relays are destroyed in the Mass Effect 3 ending. What’s more, most of what the Catalyst says contradicts what Reapers have said before.
The Rewriting of the Story
Most of what the Catalyst says contradicts what Reapers have said before. Depending on your perspective this may or may not be a plot hole, but I’m being generous and assuming it’s not here, and that the Reapers said what they said because they were being controlled by the Catalyst. None the less, that means that up to now what the Reapers have said largely means nothing and that the writers mislead us about a lot of key characteristics of the Reapers. Here are some of the things the Reapers claimed which conflict with what the Catalyst says:
The Geth have limited viability as material for Reapers (they in fact are not eligible to become Reapers at all).
All Reapers are independent beings acting for themselves.
The Reapers have always existed and always will.
The Reapers are the pinnacle of evolution (the Catalyst claims combined synthetic and organic lifeforms are the pinnacle of evolution).
That Reapers are “The end of everything”.
That Shepard could not comprehend the true purpose of the Reapers.
Choices Throughout the Games Are Not Recognised
Perhaps one of my biggest problems with the ending that remains is despite Mass Effect often being a game where your actions have consequences, and you’re given choices that mean something, your choices throughout the trilogy still have little bearing on the ending. The Galactic Readiness and EMS scores you have may unlock an extra ending, and apparently your decision to keep or destroy the Collector Base has some effect, but the score systems seems a shallow way of doing it, it’s not clear from playing the game how your choices factor into the ending, and beyond these things, the decisions made over the series or even in Mass Effect 3 really don’t count for anything.
Mass Effect 2 probably stands up as a better example of how to take into account player actions than 3 does, with who lives and who dies in the ending being dependent on who’s loyalty missions you completed, how you upgraded the Normandy, and what people you assigned to what tasks during the final mission. Mass Effect 3’s endings are still almost entirely about whether you picked A, B, C, or D at the last minute.
The Loose End
If there’s one thing the Extended Cut doesn’t give closure on it’s that “special” ending scene where a soldier with the N7 dog tags draped around them wakes up in the rubble, presumably this is Shepard awakening in the ruins of London. This scene doesn’t just show us that Shepard is probably alive but also raises the questions of how Shepard is alive and where exactly things go from that ending if the Shepard trilogy has ended. It is only a small chunk of the plot and I don’t think it’s the biggest problem, but none the less putting a cliffhanger at the end of a trilogy does seem like a bit of a writing misstep.
Duder, It’s Over
With the expectations for Mass Effect 3, disappointment of the original ending and all the ruckus surrounding the game it’s hard to form an opinion that feels entirely unbiased. In my personal opinion, I think the Mass Effect 3 ending still has more holes in it than some are giving it credit for. In an ideal world I would have much preferred to see them pick up and run with the fan’s indoctrination theory. It could have been a smarter and more surprising ending that didn’t have to resort to a deus ex machina, but I appreciate that developing such an ending under the conditions Bioware were creating the Extended Cut was most likely impossible.
Despite my qualms, I do feel that overall the Extended Cut finally gives Mass Effect 3 a good ending. For whatever problems it may have, it’s a very touching close to the trilogy and managed to evoke a kind of emotional response in me that most games haven’t come close to. For all the talk of how EA has corrupted Bioware and turned them evil, Bioware proved that they still care about fans, and EA proved that they’re not always nickel and diming customers. The original ending was obviously a big mistake on the part of Bioware, but when fans said “This ending is not okay”, they and EA responded by dedicating their own resources and effort over a period of about three months to create free content for their fans. This is something which I think is a great move on their part and has the potential to be very underappreciated. Thanks for reading.
It’s a shame about Nintendo really. With the path they’re going down there’s only ever so much they’re going to be able to do to appeal the “core” gamer, but their continued discussion of features and games that didn’t seem all that interesting only hurt more from being preceded by the promise that they were going to be “All about the games”. They also insisted more than once that any brevity in the presentation of their games was just due to the fact they didn’t have enough time, but there were other companies at the show who had even less time than them and they seemed to do fine. No, Nintendo’s problem was not a lack of time, but rather the fact that the time they did have was filled with a lot of things a lot of people didn’t particularly want to hear about or just needlessly long periods of talking.
Still, it’s easy to rip into them, on the positive side I must acknowledge that they had one of the strongest openings of the show. Their intro was charming and I have a lot of love for the Pikmin series, it’s been the IP that I’ve most wanted to see Nintendo continue with and Pikmin 3 looks like it brings back that unique gameplay, odd world, and wonderful empowerment of having your own mini-army to beat up evil monsters. Serious kudos to Nintendo on that one.
After a moderately long speech on Reggie’s part came a video explaining individually the various buttons that exist on a modern controller, and I’m really not sure who that was meant to be for. The look we were given at some of the more social features of the Wii also came across as rather lacking. They seem to have neither the proper online support for gaming and media that the other consoles do, nor the ease of communication you could get with a home PC.
It wasn’t until twenty minutes into the conference that we actually got a look at a second game. Aside from the obviously awkward title, New Super Mario Bros. Wii U left me fairly indifferent. It’s a Mario game and just by virtue of that it has something going for it, but there was nothing else in particular that made it stand out.
Things pressed on with Batman: Arkham City: Armoured Edition and at the time it was a slight relief to see Nintendo trying to focus on a third-party “core” game, but in retrospect the Batman showing might have been one of the most disappointing parts of the conference. When the game was announced last year it felt almost like a pleasant surprise, but seemed much less cheery upon the realisation of why it was such a surprise. Nintendo have a console which seems to be roughly on par with the 360 and PS3 on a technical level, but have a short amount of time to compete with them before they bring out technically superior consoles, and they seem to be squandering it.
If at the launch of the Wii U the best Nintendo has to offer the more traditional gaming crowd outside of their own franchises is a game that was out on other platforms a year before, except with a tablet involved, then that’s something very worrying. Nintendo has talked a lot about wanting to support the “core” gamer and to some extent they’ve done that, but when something like Armoured Edition is as big a deal for them as it obviously seems to be, it reflects an inability to compete with Microsoft and Sony on that playing field. It’s a shame to see things go this way.
On a lighter note Scribblenauts Unlimited looks like a rather wonderful sandbox game, Wii Fit U looks like a Wii Fit game, although I do wonder about its ability to compete with Kinect fitness games, Sing looks terrible, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star look like they could be great takes on some traditional Nintendo properties. I have a bit of a weird nostalgia going on for Luigi’s Mansion as well, which it looks like I share with more people than I expected, and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon still looks like it could be great fun.
When it came to the Lego City game I didn’t think I’d be quite as put off by the speaking Lego minifigs as I was but there we go. I can’t say the game looks exceptionally good; while the Lego series has provided some very enjoyable gameplay, even with an open-world bent, it feels as though it may be wearing a little thin, and a big part of the appeal of the Lego games up to now has been their cute reimaginings of existing properties. When you create a Lego game separate from any existing external universe I think you lose an important part of what they’ve been, but this might well be a game aimed more at kids than adults so fair enough.
For Just Dance 4, I fear that like the Wii fitness games it may be rendered somewhat obsolete now that we have games like Dance Central on the Kinect that don’t require you to hold anything while you play and can track your entire body at once. I heard a number of people say that they thought Zombi U looked promising, but I can’t say I really “get it” and as a demo of the possible applications of the Wii U controller I think it fell a bit short.
And then the unfortunate end to the E3 press conferences, NintendoLand. I think Nintendo put too much worth in the idea of a virtual theme park, but it looks alright if this is to be the pack-in game for Wii U as some have speculated. It’s no Wii Sports, but I think it has something going for it. Far too much time was dedicated to it though and as a big finisher for the show it really wasn’t as good as it should have been. I was sure Reggie was going to turn around, tell us he had “just one more thing” and then reveal a new Star Fox, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, or something similar, but that moment just never came and the whole show was left to peter out into the bizarre and baffling presentation that was the post-conference video.
Nintendo often come across as so likeable and charming that I feel like I want to go easy on them or give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to lacklustre events like this press conference, but I think to do so would be patronising to the company. My optimism is somewhat increased by the news that they have more games than they showed at the conference, but the briefing this year seemed like a sad reflection on the fact that Nintendo’s best years may be well behind them. They obviously can’t provide hardware as powerful as that of their competitors, and what new hardware they have contributed doesn’t seem to be getting used in any amazing ways.
The utilisations of the Wii U tablet simply range from “Kinda cool” to seeming tacked-on and ill-advised. Their third-party support remains very lacking and dare I say they seem somewhat out of touch with the modern consumer. I don’t think anyone really knows how the casual gamer will receive their new machine, but for both “core” and “casual” players it seems like better alternatives already exist for a lot of products and services they’re aiming to provide.
While some of their first-party titles like Pikmin 3 do look like a lot of fun and to their credit, it seems like they’re trying to do some original things with some of their games, I don’t feel like they’ve presented anything for the Wii U which feels hugely revolutionary and I think they’ve presented few games which make good use of those classic Nintendo properties we’ve come to expect like Zelda or 3D Mario. I also continue to feel no great inclination to pick up a 3DS.
Duder, It’s Over
Whatever short-fallings their might have been with Nintendo though, I think the conference as a whole showed us some exciting games on the horizon. There was perhaps an overabundance of shooters and existing IPs as opposed to lots of new content, but such is the nature of the industry. E3 was full of some great demos, very promising games, and I look forward to a lot of what was shown. I hope you do to.
I must admit, I was a little disappointed by the lack of Mr. Caffeine this year, but I was rather happy to see the appearance of Tobuscus. He had that vague sense of comedy terribleness that Mr. Caffeine brought and continued Ubisoft’s fantastically baffling tradition of injecting slightly-off comedy performances into their press conferences every year. In fact considering this was an Ubisoft affair I thought Aisha Tyler got away relatively unscathed; a little manufactured interest here, a comment about “girl wood” there, but apart from that not too bad.
Much like with EA though, my expectations were not through the roof here, so when the whole thing started with a Flo Rida performance promoting Just Dance 4 it wasn’t terribly surprising for me. Fortunately, from then on things started really looking up. In Far Cry 3 the gameplay looked solid, I was intrigued by the whole “insanity” theme, and the world it was set in was irresistibly vibrant. Visually, it might be the most striking game of E3 and it’s always good to see a modern FPS with a splash of colour.
The new Rayman was also a very picturesque game, and I wasn’t expecting the whole rhythm-platforming section, I thought that looked really good. It’s cool to see big companies doing some original and really fun-looking things with platformers in this day and age, and that looks like one of the few real gems we’ve seen on Wii U from the conference.
Assassin’s Creed III certainly stood up as a very strong game and after what has seemed like a slightly depressing attempt to squeeze what they could out of the franchise post-AC2, it’s encouraging to see Ubisoft releasing another Assassin’s Creed which is up to the standard we’ve come to expect from the series. In particular I liked the way the change from cities to a more rural area altered not only the environment the player explores, but also the way the player interacts with the environment. Good stuff.
However, then came perhaps the oddest part of the conference; a professional ShootMania match which was apparently entirely staged, and in fact consisted of footage from a tournament held before the show. The act of trying to force an e-sport seemed a bit dislikeable to begin with, but add in the weird “battle of the sexes” element, the whole female team being dressed in hotpants, and then Ubisoft trying to deceive the crowd into thinking they’re seeing something they’re not, and it all created a rather unpleasant air. As for the game itself, I can’t say it looked particularly appealing. Even considering it was an alpha build there’s a certain standard of presentation that I don’t feel it met and it neither looked like a shooter from 2012, nor seemed to trump retro shooters in any particular way either. Still, tell us we can have our own custom playlists on servers and they might have something.
Finally, Watch Dogs was of course the game that really blew everyone away. I think some people have been a little quick to guarantee it a complete success, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the game, like how much freedom we’ll have in the way we can tackle missions, but from what they showed it has the potential to be something fantastic. It touches on an interesting real-world issue, it shows a new but empowering way to tackle challenges, and it looks very sleek. I can’t wait to see more of it.
So this may be a little off-topic but this seems as good a time as any to talk about the audiences at E3’s press conferences. I know it’s something the Giant Bomb staff touched on in one of their videos, but since basically the start of E3 it’s been confusing me, it is my E3 mystery if you will. How are there so many people in the crowds excited for Internet Explorer and Bing, and swaying along to Usher? In the case of Sony specifically there were people in the audience who were not journalists or part of the industry, but got in because they lined up early for the conference, and I had heard some people there won contests to get in, but in the other conferences were there really that many Microsoft or Ubisoft or EA employees in the crowd to generate that kind of buzz? If there were that’s kind of strange, and if there weren’t then as Alex put it, who are these people? Regardless though, the level of excitement for brutal and merciless pain being inflicted on characters was a bit over the top even by video game standards. Crowds are strange.
Getting back to the conference, Sony’s included a little more talking and a little less demoing than I would have preferred, but as with the other companies this year, among their line-up were some very promising games. They got things started commendably with Beyond: Two Souls, and while it’s still not entirely clear what Beyond is as a game, I can’t help but have a certain admiration for what Cage is doing. Cinematically the game is definitely breaking boundaries.
I’m still not quite sure what to make of Playstation All-Stars. For all the talk that these kind of games seem to inspire about how all games copy from other games, I can’t help but feel that here Sony is copying way more than is the norm. What’s more, I don’t feel like the characters Sony are presenting fit together in one game as well as Nintendo’s characters and I just can’t conjure up the same attachment for characters like Kratos or Fat Princess as I can for Mario or Link, but then I guess I’ve never been much of a Sony gamer. While the crazy on-screen action could also be one of the game’s greatest strengths, I felt like it held back the demo a little. Even with a commentator it was hard to keep track of the game, but none the less it looks like a well-crafted game that could pay homage to some great titles for those particularly into the PS3.
I thought Assassin’s Creed: Liberation looked pretty cool, and showed off the hardware capabilities of the Vita well. In Assassin’s Creed III’s second showing, the visuals still looked great and I must admit I am a sucker for old-timey ships, I just hope they don’t steer too stiffly as has been the case with naval warfare in a lot of games. Far Cry 3’s co-op looked like a fine offering in every regard, but then came WonderBook.
Watching it back the demo of that game took a lot less time than it felt like it took, and yet I’m not sure that’s really a good thing. In its defence I suppose it is a clever way to try and come up with something new in the motion control space, especially as Microsoft are so against the idea of having physical objects as part of their motion control experience, and kids are unpredictable, maybe they’ll really enjoy it if it gets the right support. None the less the not-Harry Potter demo was certainly one of this year’s low points. Poor, poor WonderBook.
The new God of War seemed to have a really nice flow to it and looked fun, but I do worry that it’s going to give diminishing returns for anyone who’s been following the series. I don’t see them doing much new and after the epic battles of God of War III and the amount of Greek mythology they’ve exhausted, I wonder where they can take it while still keeping the series as much of a hit as it has been.
On the up side, the closer for the show was something to behold. Much like Tomb Raider, the Last of Us managed to crack through our cold indifference to violence and show us something gritty and jarringly visceral. The usual route games take to presenting a dark and troubling world is making the environment, enemies, and the actions of the enemies seem gruesome and ugly, but I think there’s just as much, if not more to be said for a game that make the player carry out gruesome and ugly actions themselves. I don’t know how it’ll play, but the Last of Us presented a world that was wonderfully merciless and a pair of characters with a lot of potential. Overall, some very nice things from Sony.
So it’s day 2 of E3 and we’re already more than halfway through. With all the excitement that I get from this time of the year I’m going to be genuinely sad to see it go, but it’s been excellent while it’s lasted. The list of games I’m excited for is so long it’s ridiculous and I know plenty of other people have enjoyed the show, so in that spirit I thought I’d take a customary look back at the press conferences. Here are my self-indulgent reflections on Microsoft and EA.
It was great to see Microsoft open so strong with Halo 4. The level they showed was somewhat reminiscent of the first level of Halo 3, but it was encouraging to see 343 bring at least something new to the table. I wasn’t entirely sold on the enemy designs, but the graphics looked great, they managed to mix up the gameplay, and it was all-round a really impressive look at the game.
The Blacklist demo showed a Splinter Cell going for a rather different style this time round, and it looks like it has some potential. Like Halo 4 it had some really well-crafted animation, and while I’ve never been a big fan of the games, they do seem to be taking it in a more action-oriented direction I could get into, I only hope that stealth games aren’t a genre we see die out entirely. The Kinect support seems a little unnecessary, but at least it’s unintrusive if nothing else.
Like a lot of people I tuned out a little throughout Microsoft’s sports game showcase, but it didn’t seem as though they were doing anything particularly new, and I do have to wonder how much of the sports game crowd really care that much about using Kinect in their games, but hey, maybe that’s a thing. The trailer for the new Gears of War showed fine, however, I was a little surprised by the lack of any kind of demo, and having played three Gears games already this generation, I’m not sure I’m quite ready for another.
The subsequent slew of media apps shown was something I expected after the way Microsoft have handled such things in previous years, although the section dragged on far too long, and as Gizmodo points out they do seem to be giving customers a bit of a raw deal by making them pay for Xbox LIVE Gold to access the ability to then pay for additional streaming services. While the Kinect content also wasn't particularly exhilarating, I must say I was expecting more of it than they showed, and the Kinect fitness game looked like a Kinect fitness game, but at least we were free of creepy plastic families dancing up and down in artificial living rooms this year. The Smartglass section, again, too lengthy, but it looks like they really have something there and it is a clever way to combat Nintendo’s Wii U. Fortunately, things got a lot more exciting when Tomb Raider got its stage demo.
Video games are often so much about empowerment that we’re used to seeing a protagonist be able to just pick up a gun and start mowing down hordes of enemies without breaking a sweat, so to see a character that even later into the game, is still struggling to progress through the world, is refreshing. While running through a jungle getting shot at is something we’d consider par for the course in another game, and is something we’ve become largely desensitised to, Tomb Raider gives a great sense that Lara really is going through hell, perhaps to the point where the level they showed was a little ridiculous, but it was still effective in what it did. Using environmental hazards to take out enemies also looks like great fun and the whole section they showed had a really fantastic flow to it. I hope that game turns out as good as it looks.
I can’t say I’ve been a big fan of Resident Evil but the demo for RE6 seemed fine and Capcom certainly made true on their promise of making things more actiony this time round. Wreckateer didn’t look like a game I’d particularly want to pay money for, but for a Kinect demo it was reasonably inoffensive. I’m a little sceptical of what the quality of the new South Park game will be like, but visually it’s absolutely spot-on and it was cool to see Stone and Parker take to the stage to speak earnestly about what they’d created. I’m rather surprised that with all the complaints about things during the press conferences that weren’t to do with games, the Usher performance got the kind of appraisal it did, but it’s still great to see Harmonix being given the opportunity to do what they do with Dance Central 3.
Finally, when it came to the Black Ops II demo, I thought the “sniper section” they showed was a big mistake for a live press conference, but it’s cool to see people trying to do something a little different with the CoD series, and the chunk of the game they showed, much like a lot of the recent CoDs, did a good job of making you feel like you were seeing a frantic warzone unfold before you. Altogether, I thought it was a pretty great conference, even if the whole “Showing Xbox as a complete media platform” element seems to be getting a bigger and bigger part of these pressings.
I really wasn't sure what to think of EA’s showing of Dead Space 3. I don’t think co-op in Dead Space is necessarily the huge negative that some people have painted it to be; it may be inherently less scary, but I see no reason why the series can’t present a less scary multiplayer mode alongside a more horror focused single-player. However, if the quick flash of moments from the game they showed before the demo is anything to go by, it looks like they could be taking away one of the biggest strengths of Dead Space by sacrificing the creepy, claustrophobic corridors for large, open spaces. I hope that isn’t the case.
The demo of Madden 13 was a little weird, but I can at least appreciate that they didn’t consume vast amounts of the conference this year re-showing sports games from Microsoft’s presser. As for SimCity Social I think it would be easy to dismiss it as just another Facebook game, and I suspect it will have all those same problems we’re used to of social games wanting you to spend real money or drag in friends to advance, but it looks like they may have something deeper and more fleshed-out than a lot of social networking games. It’ll be at least interesting to see the final product.
It was the “SimCity” SimCity that really shone though. I must say I didn’t expect to come away from EA’s conference so excited about a management sim. It’s always great to see a game that differs from the norm of what games portray but still looks like great fun, and I think it would be a real shame if we lost what a franchise like SimCity can bring us. With all the messing about Maxis have done for the past few years with shallower, more easily accessible versions of Will Wright’s games, it’s great to see them come back to one and make something that looks like it will really appeal to the “core” crowd. This is the exact kind of thing which makes me wish I had a more powerful PC.
The Battlefield 3 content, I have mixed feelings about. It’s cool that EA are offering people a way to get their DLC a third cheaper, but I think it would be a mistake to look at this and go “Wow, see how generous EA are?” when the standard price points for DLC are rather poor to begin with. None the less, it was still better than seeing one of the Bioware doctors take to the stage to more or less say “Please play more of our Star Wars MMO”. Bioware are a great company but God knows what happens to The Old Republic from here.
EA spent some considerable amount of time with the new Medal of Honor, and while I’ve seen some people say they’re expecting great things from it, I thought the demo was unrelentingly bland. It looked like “Generic brown-grey modern military shooter”, especially after Battlefield 3 and Black Ops II, and this is a kind of game we already have more than enough of. The idea of having the different countries battle against each other is kind of cool, but there just wasn’t enough original about it. The modern military FPS has already been done very well, to top that you either need to do it to an inconceivable standard of quality, or do something new with it. Warfighter showed no evidence it was doing either.
With FIFA 13 and UFC, again, sports games, it’s a cliché of the nerdy gamer but you know how I feel on this one. I did think it was rather funny though, how we were told FIFA 13 was going to be mind-blowingly innovative and then were shown new ways players stumble, slightly different dribbling, and not much else. Fortunately, Need for Speed: Most Wanted stepped in as another very pleasant surprise. I loved what Criterion did with Burnout Paradise and to see more of that combination of high speed driving with a fairly low-angle camera, a big open city, and spectacular wreckings of other vehicles and the environment, was great. The whole thing closed up with Crysis 3 which didn’t blow me away but looked like a fine game.
Overall, I thought EA did a surprisingly good job. That is admittedly, due to some pretty low standards on my part, but when I thought it would largely be repeat showings of content from other conferences, motion control games, social games nobody cared about, Origin, and other nonsense, they instead managed to really make it about the games and showed some great new stuff. EA get themselves into a lot of unsavoury business with the way they treat their consumers, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that they’re not all doom and gloom, and do bring us some genuinely wonderful titles.
So we’re less than a day away from E3, and while every year I know there are people who feel a little jaded about the whole experience, I can’t help but be excited. At the best we’ll get some great game demos and announcements from the show, and at the worst we’ll still have an event that acts as a platform for some of Giant Bomb’s best podcasts of the year. That being said there are a few things you should keep in mind if you’re following the conference and using the site.
Using the Site
It’s pinned to the top of the boards, but please, if you’re going to use the forums during E3 take a look at the mod team’s “E3 2012 and You” topic. Knowing how these things go I’m sure we’ll still get plenty of duplicate threads posted in the forums, things posted in the wrong places, and maybe even a message or two from people about why us locking their E3 blog posts is a great injustice, but all we can do is put the message out there. If you see anyone posting things in the wrong place or creating duplicate threads, don’t hesitate to contact the mod team. If you want to see Giant Bomb's general plan for coverage of the event then I also suggest you check you Jeff's article "And This Is E3", and generally keep an eye on the site and the Twitter feeds of the staff.
What Won't Be There
On the topic of the press conferences specifically, please remember the following points if you want to avoid disappointment:
Valve are attending the event but will not be announcing anything new there. (source)
Microsoft will not be announcing any new Xbox hardware this year. (source)
Sony will not be announcing a PS4 this year. (source)
That doesn't mean we can't see some really awesome stuff, but remember not to spend the press conferences waiting for the console manufacturers to unveil a shiny new box or Gabe Newell to stride out on stage with Half-Life 3 in his hands.
When Things Will Happen
If you need to know when exactly everything is going down and you're on the east coast or west coast of the U.S., or in the UK like me, please follow the handy guide below, although be aware that the press conferences may not start bang on time.
Pacific Time (PDT)
Eastern Time (EDT)
UK Time (BST)
June 4th- 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
June 4th- 12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
June 4th- 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
June 4th- 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
June 4th- 4:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
June 4th- 9:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
June 4th- 3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
June 4th- 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
June 4th- 11:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m.
June 4th- 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
June 4th- 9:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
June 5th- 2:00 a.m. - 3:30 a.m.
June 5th- 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.
June 5th- 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
June 5th- 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Where To Watch Things
Nintendo and EA will be live-streaming press conferences from their sites, Ubisoft will be streaming theirs from their YouTube channel, Microsoft will be streaming theirs over Xbox LIVE, and Sony will be streaming from multiple places online and on Playstation Home. However, Gamespot, Gametrailers, and G4TV will be streaming all the press conferences, as well as plenty of other coverage of the event, so I recommend them. I also recommend that wherever you pick to watch the event, have at least one backup stream in mind in case that one gets a little choppy, this is a live event with a lot of viewers and will be prone to technical issues.
All Aboard The Hype Train
I guess all that remains now is to say I hope we all enjoy the show, and good or bad I look forward to some memorable moments in the days ahead.
So if you’ve been perusing the forums over the past few days you no doubt know about Ryan’s recent blog post apologising for his use of homophobic language, and you may also be familiar with the slew of homophobic and racist slurs that have hit that comments section, as well as the discussion about whether such language is appropriate to use in general. In case you’re still wondering, it is not okay to use homophobic or racial slurs on this site in any capacity. It’s something we in the moderation team are being blunt about, but this is a message that we’ve tried to get across through the rules documentation, on the forums, and on Twitter, yet people still seem to be unaware of it.
I was somewhat in two minds about making this post because I didn’t want to start more hostile arguments like the ones we’ve seen on Ryan’s blog post, but I thought it was important that I made some kind of statement on this for two reasons: 1. I think it’s better for us to talk things through rather than there being an uncomfortable undercurrent of mistrust and misunderstanding over the issue, and 2. The moderation team obviously needs to do everything we can to get the message out about what is and is not okay on the forums.
What I’m Talking About
The really disheartening thing for me is I could understand that some people haven’t read the rules or have severely misinterpreted them, and thought that such language was okay on the site. That wouldn’t mean I thought it was okay or they wouldn’t be moderated, but I could at least understand it. I could also understand to a small degree how people also thought Ryan’s accidental use of a homophobic slur on the live stream made it okay for everyone to use it. What I find it much, much harder to understand is that even after Ryan said that such terms were hurtful and indefensible, and that they had no place on this site, that people still felt it was okay to post them.
The following are purely my thoughts and don’t reflect those of the Giant Bomb staff or moderation team, and I understand if you disagree with what I have to say, but please, if you do respond keep it calm and civil. I hate to have to say this but I think it’s been proven necessary by this point: I will delete your posts, I will send you warnings, I will suspend you, and I will lock down this thread, if it proves I have too. We cool? Okay.
Why It’s Not Alright
The gaming community, or at least a certain portion of it, has long had an image of being exclusionary of certain groups, and being a rather sequestered and non-diverse group of people. To some degree I don’t think this reputation has been deserved, but it can’t be argued that social spaces like Xbox LIVE have become infamous for being awash with blatant sexism, racism, and homophobia, and that there are sizeable portions of the internet where the wild west anything-goes attitude has led to potentially offensive epithets getting thrown around like confetti. It seems almost every time this issue is brought up though, there’s a rather uncomfortable lack of understanding from the gaming community about why exactly this kind of behaviour is so wrong, and I think we all need to be a little more aware of the people around us. It’s the year 2012 and this kind of behaviour has to stop.
I’ve seen a lot of people complaining that it’s hypocritical of Giant Bomb to censor discriminatory language for being offensive, while openly allowing and using just about every other swear word under the sun, but do you really believe that saying “fuck” and using homophobic or racist slurs are the same thing? As Ryan said the words carry a lot of emotional baggage. You have to remember that when people have experienced their race or sexual orientation being attacked, these are the words they might well have come to associate that with. Heck, there are some people who’ve been bullied as children or throughout their lives with these words, it’s only natural that for them that they’ve come to carry the weight they have.
I’ve seen people on the forums saying that “They're just words” and “Context is important”, and while I agree with the latter to some degree, it’s obvious that for many people these aren't just words, and that regardless of context they do cause hurt and they do cause offense. If you believe they don't then I think you need to take a look around. How would you feel about using a homophobic slur towards or in the presence of a gay person? How would you feel about using a racial slur towards or in the presence of a person of that race? Just in the comments on Ryan’s post I saw people taking offense to such slurs, but even the act of taking offence some people seem to be attacking.
Taking offence to something is an emotional reaction, it’s involuntary. We can train ourselves to try and develop less extreme reactions to certain stimuli, but you do not get to say “Because your involuntary reaction to this thing is different than my involuntary reaction, you’re dumb/silly/wrong/immature”. Really, at the point you’re telling people that their emotional response to something is incorrect, you start getting into “thought crime” territory. We’re not even talking about people demanding to be treated differently (which I think they’d be perfectly within their rights to do), we’re just talking about the basic, largely uncontrollable human reaction of people to what they find offensive, and already users are speaking out about this being “incorrect”.
To those of you saying that people would have an easier time in life if they weren’t offended by this stuff, I agree with you, but again, this is not something people are entirely in control of, and that still doesn’t give you the right to use offensive language however and wherever you want. By the same logic anyone would be allowed to come up to you in the street and call you a worthless piece of shit that no one will ever love because, hey, you’d have a much better time if you weren’t offended by that, right? And no, “I’m a person of the race/sexual orientation this word targets” or “I have friends of the race/sexual orientation this word targets” are not excuses. Who you or your friends are has no bearing on the effect these words have on people, and you as an individual member of this social group, or a friend of a member of this social group, do not get to dictate what is and isn’t hurtful, it doesn’t work that way.
Stopping This Behaviour
Often in these situations, those looking to prevent offence are accused of “just trying to be PC”, but censoring the use of these words doesn’t have to be about political correctness, sometimes it’s just about fostering an environment where people don’t have to risk feeling like crap to participate in discussion and where there aren’t unpleasant and needless tensions between people. You’re not robbed of your ability to talk about certain sexual orientations or races, or express your frustration, by these words being censored, but restricting the use of these words does lead to more welcoming and less hurtful communities.
I’ll be honest, yesterday was one of those rare occasions where I felt genuinely ashamed of a considerable portion of the community. Some of you left friendly and accepting messages towards Ryan and that was wonderful to see, but some of you behaved in a way that seemed to lack understanding, or in a way I’d associate with the less likeable denizens of Xbox LIVE. Eventually that discussion will die down, but this isn’t the first time we’ve had to moderate discriminatory language on the site, it won’t be the last, and it definitely won’t be the last time a large group of people in the gaming community show that they think it’s okay to use this kind of language. I believe Giant Bomb is better than what we’ve seen since the lantern run, and a lot of people have already shown that they don’t believe racist and homophobic language is okay, I only hope that we can all reach some kind of understanding on this issue.
Duder, It’s Over
As always, thank you for reading and if there’s any feedback you want to give me, positive or negative, whether you think I’m right or wrong, don’t be afraid of sticking it in the comments section below.
I want to preface this by saying that I’m very happy that this blog post has received so much attention, even if the comments section does seem to have devolved into a somewhat unlikeable mess. I couldn’t begin to try and respond to everyone individually but to everyone who has given me positive feedback, thank you, and to those who are disagreeing with me, I’ve come up with some answers to the most common responses I’m seeing here.
I can’t believe I really have to say this, but the rules state this kind of language is not allowed, there’s a topic stuck to the top of the forums which says this kind of language is now allowed, Ryan said in his post that this kind of language is not allowed, and I explicitly state in the first paragraph of this post that it’s not allowed. There’s only so clear the mod team can make this, but I’ll give it another try: The use of homophobic or racist slurs on this site will get you moderated. We didn’t say “Only if it’s directed at a user”, we didn’t say “Unless it’s a joke”, it will get you moderated regardless of the context.
“But What About Context?/This is Just Political Correctness/They’re Just Words/Words Only Have Power If You Give Them Power”
There seem to be a surprising number of these posts. These are all issues that I’ve already tackled in the blog post. If you disagree with my conclusions on them or you just don’t want to read what I’ve written then that’s fine, but I feel like a lot of people here are making moot points and that doesn’t help anyone. Please, if you comment I recommend you read the post first.
“This Whole Ryan Situation Has Been Blown Way Out of Proportion”
Actually, this stopped being about Ryan a long time ago. Partly this is about the reaction to the Ryan situation though, and I didn’t think it would have to go this far, but a certain subset of the community made the issue this big. Despite repeated warnings against using discriminatory language, some community members continue using it, and until the message gets through I don’t see anything wrong with escalating our efforts to stop it.
This is about much more than even that though. It’s about homophobia and racism in the gaming community and even society as a whole. For an issue like that I don’t think a discussion of this scale is an over-reaction at all.
“If You Ban A Few Words Then You Have To Ban All The Words!”
I thought this would have been obvious but there’s a big difference between saying “poop” and the n-word. Different terms carry different baggage and degrees of offensiveness.
I regret to inform you that I’m locking this blog post. The comments have largely died down now, but this was meant to be a place of civil discussion, and yet throughout the lifetime of the comments section people have openly violated rules I’ve clearly stated in this post, and acted in a hostile manner to each other. I’m not going to risk this kind of behaviour continuing. If you have any questions or comments that are civil and don't violate the rules though, please feel free to talk to me in private.
As a bit of a side note, I understand that some of you took offence to the last point in my first addendum to this post (which I've since removed), and I can only apologise for any offence caused, but I stand by what I said. I don’t believe that the c-word is the exact same thing as racial and homophobic slurs. However, I do think it’s important to note that at no point did I say the term couldn’t be offensive, or even state that in general it was any less offensive than racial or homophobic slurs. I just stated that I don’t believe they are direct equivalents, don’t believe that they get the exact same use in modern society, and that in general Giant Bomb hadn’t expressed a big problem with the c-word, while at least a small number of users had with racial and homophobic slurs.
I understand the term is offensive to some, I’ve never advocated using it to insult people, those who do use it to insult other users will be moderated, and should the message ever come down from the staff that they don’t want it on the site any longer, I’ll be happy to help make sure it’s use in the community is completely discontinued. One thing I do find myself rather baffled over though, is the fact that many people making the argument that the c-word or racial and homophobic slurs were highly offensive or shouldn’t be used, openly used them themselves. When you’re spreading the use of the exact words you’re fighting against, that seems a little self-defeating.
Sadly, while I’m sure many of you were genuinely concerned about the use of the c-word, I at least felt as though some were trying to say it should be banned just for the sake of arguing against the mod team on an issue they didn’t like. At least for the moment, I’ve become somewhat soured on the Giant Bomb community as a whole, and this discussion has made me not want to talk controversial rules through with the community in the future. Normal moderator policy would have been to lay down the rules, say they’re not up for debate, and leave.
While the rules still weren’t up for debate, I wanted to genuinely explain why I believe these rules are important, why I believe they’re a good thing, and try to address at least some of those who disagreed. This was met with users not reading the post, commenting, and then seeming to walk out while giving themselves a green flag to use homophobic and racist language, users putting words in my mouth, users treating me or other people like idiots for having a different opinion, users being outright hostile or insulting to each other, users throwing around racist and homophobic slurs as much as they liked, and in some cases users displaying a scary amount of ignorance.
There were people who spread this topic, agreed with me, and sympathised with me, and to those people I am very, very grateful. There were also users who disagreed with me but managed to do so in a respectful way and I appreciate their input too. I don’t regret making this post and some people have made me feel fantastic about it, so thank you to them. But I walk away from this with the rather uneasy knowledge that a sizeable portion of Giant Bomb won’t be using discriminatory language because we tell them not to, they just won’t be using it because there’s a hard rule in place saying they can’t, and for a lot of people that’s not even stopping them.
People have said “Giant Bomb is just as bad as every other online community” and I still don’t believe that, nor does the thought that everywhere else is really messed up make me feel any better, but I didn’t quite realise we had this kind of deep-rooted problem to the extent that we seem to. All that remains now is to start moderating the users who have violated the rules here, and hope people can remember to not use these kinds of terms in the coming days. Until next time guys, I’ll see you on the boards and hope we never have to run into this kind of situation again.
Warning: The following post makes references to the nature of Mass Effect 3's endings, but does not go into any specifics. The comments on the other hand are basically free reign for spoilers.
So the blogs have been posted, many discussions have been had, and while a few people out there are still expressing their opinions for the first time, the dust is now mostly settled on the issue of the Mass Effect 3 ending. I don’t think I need to bother going into why many people don’t like the ending, it’s something that’s been done to death and the reasons for the backlash seem pretty universal; it’s a deus ex machina, it lacks closure, it doesn’t reflect our choices throughout the games, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s not consistent with what Mass Effect is. At this point I think what’s more interesting than reflecting on the ending, is reflecting on the fan reaction itself.
The Good Reactions
Perhaps the most surprising thing for me has not been that Mass Effect 3 had such a poor ending, but that many of the fan reactions have been very reasonable and expressed in a civil tone. The voice of the Bioware fanbase in recent times had been a cacophonous and unpleasant one, expressing over-reactionary statements about Bioware being some sort of corrupted evil corporation, attacking writer Jennifer Hepler in ridiculous ways, deciding before release and with very little evidence that Mass Effect 3 was a bad game, criticising Bioware simply for including homosexual love interests, and strongly criticising Bioware/EA for their use of day one DLC, with often minimal knowledge as to the arguments for day one DLC or of how development cycles work. The temptation was to say that the Bioware fanbase was a very dislikeable one, but I was never entirely convinced this was the situation. It’s likely that among us there were just a fair number of people more loud and unreasonable than the rest, as there often are in many groups.
Now don't get me wrong, when it came to the Mass Effect 3 ending I saw way too many people who over-reacted, thought Bioware had done something legitimately wrong by making them a game they didn't like, failed to acknowledge that Bioware had done any good, or believed that their opinion on the Mass Effect 3 ending entitled them to free content. Despite this, after all the baseless pissing and moaning that had come forth from the Bioware fan hivemind before, I was pleasantly surprised to see calm and intellectual breakdowns of the ending, people campaigning by donating money to Child’s Play, people sending cupcakes to Bioware, and the like. Even the “Retake Mass Effect 3” petition, while rather unfortunately named, was doing nothing more than respectfully asking for Bioware’s consideration of the kind of changes they wanted, and stated that “It is the right of the writers and developers of the Mass Effect series to end that series however they see fit”.
This showed that gamers disagreeing with creative works didn’t have to result in a torrent of vitriolic and over-reactionary complaints, the best of the Bioware fans managed to take something bad and make something good out of it. In fact I'm saddened to see that many on the outside of this situation got the wrong end of the stick, assuming that from the petition and the way Bioware fans have acted in the past, that everyone expressing major grievances about the ending was being unfair and unreasonably demanding, when that was not the case.
Unfortunately, even among the more reasonable of us I don’t think our actions were necessarily as smart or beneficial to us as they could have been. Firstly, a lot of the blogs and forum posts out there criticising the ending, seemed to be written soon after or almost immediately after people had played the ending. I do think there’s something to be said for getting down those ideas in text fresh off the brain, but I think on the whole Mass Effect 3’s ending is one you really need time to process, otherwise you risk making quick knee-jerky reactions which you may later disagree with. Posting so quickly on the issue, a lot of people also didn’t have the time to read the common statements about the game which had already been brought up multiple times, leading to a whole lot of forum posts which were very similar.
Another major problem was that many video game sites had forums which became over-run with an enormous quantity of new threads on the issue, as opposed to posts being concentrated in a smaller number of established threads. Everyone had their own thoughts on the topic, everyone felt passionately about it, and everyone wanted to be heard. This ended up making it so that if you wanted to go somewhere to talk about video games, it was repeatedly and strongly slammed in your face that people didn’t like the Mass Effect 3 ending. On one gaming forum I frequent, it became almost impossible for weeks to use the general discussion boards for anything more than discussing the Mass Effect 3 ending.
What’s more, because the discussion was scattered, people would end up going into new threads to make points that had been many times over in old threads, bumping them and increasing their post count. Here on Giant Bomb the moderation team eventually made the decision to start locking down new threads being created on the ending of the game, which I know wasn’t a popular decision with some, but I believe it was the right one considering the situation.
What We May Be Overlooking
Lastly, from what I've seen, even a lot of the more reasonable among us came to focus too much on the endings as part of the whole picture. Now believe me, I don’t like that ending either and I totally sympathise with a lot of the complaints made about the game, but the ratio of ending talk to talk about the rest of the game still seemed at least a little off. We ended up criticising Bioware for the bad, but never quite praising them enough for the good. Even the more rational of us, me included, have come to take Mass Effect a little bit for granted. When asked most people seem to tell you that yeah, despite the problems with the ending, Mass Effect 3 was overall a good game, but I still think we can benefit from stopping and really examining what Mass Effect 3 is doing right that no other game is doing.
Having such a rich and well-designed universe with such engaging characters is worthy of some great commendation, but Mass Effect goes way beyond even that. The fact it gives you genuinely difficult political and social decisions, that everyone’s game can include a different cast of characters, that everyone’s games can have huge differences in the canon, and that your choices carry between the whole trilogy, these are mind-blowing things when you stop and think about them, but we’ve come to accept them as “just part of Mass Effect” to a greater extent than we should, and are noticing a little too much of the negative in relation to the positive. I think we should all remember one very important thing; that the reason the ending matters to us as much as it does in the first place, is because Bioware have been able to create a series which was so easy to become deeply invested in.
Duder, It's Over
What’s done is done though, and like I say, I'm of the opinion that a lot of people have handled this thing intelligently, I only hope that in the future we can see less of the kinds of people who over-react, whine, and demand lots of free stuff every time a multi-million pound games developer doesn’t do the exact thing that they want them to do. Going ahead I think we have a lot to look forward to and even if they can’t fix everything, I’m extremely excited to see what the epilogue DLC has in store for us. Thank you for reading.