Going Down on Dragon's Crown

Sex, gender and orientation colour how we see the world.

Dragon’s Crown creates an identity crisis. Its gaze is narrow and particular (male; man; straight). Of the playable characters, the Amazon and the Sorceress are the most ponderously deformed; the former has a spiral staircase for a spine and a booty bigger than the Elf, while the latter has impossible boobs indecently heavy with independent physics.

By contrast the gents are not sexualized; both the Wizard and Fighter are fully clothed, and the broad-chested Dwarf doesn’t flash his ass with every jump or lean on his weapon like a stripper pole when resting.

The women you come across in the dungeons are trussed up, spread-eagle, or inexplicably mermaid only below the ass. The men, not.

The gaze – the authored identity of witness – is very much male, man, straight.

But I don’t think that’s sexist or misogynistic. Dragon’s Crown is not a crime against equality so much as an expression of one very specific viewpoint, full fetish on display.

It’s piggish, and pervy, and absurd, and represents a sexual power fantasy that some might find creepy. But one person’s icky is another person’s sticky, as I immediately regret saying; there is a real danger in moralizing all unrealistic fantasies. We are creatures of meat and may have appetites that we in no way need realized, but are safe to indulge in, in harmless ways.

There’s a lot of stuff that makes me uncomfortable. I find a lot of anime problematic, particularly the sexualization of young girls. But Japan has a different view of fantasy that we do in the West – importantly, that it is fantasy, and fantasy is empirically distinct from reality. It is a ‘safe space’ where folks can indulge in and exercise their darkest desires without harm.

Western culture has a lot of very creepy, very unhealthy views about sex. Janet Jackson, full grown woman, flashes tit on television and a nation goes into meltdown, while ‘countdown clocks’ tick down the world over for Hermione’s or Hit Girl’s 18th. A woman shows one boob and it’s indecent; a host of men blue-ball to the thought underage girls and collectively hold breath until their desire is technically legal. Maybe there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two populations, but they are each characteristic of a problem, and together paint a gnarly picture of how our culture treats sex and sexual fantasy.

There’s probably a lot at play here, but I think at least in part, the reason we’re so schizophrenic about sex is because we do not treat fantasy as a discrete reality. Here, fantasy is seen as indoctrination, training for an opportunity to express itself in reality.

Maybe it is, for some. Was the Aurora theatre shooting inspired by Heath Ledger’s searing performance as the Joker, or was that excuse a media-created idea to drive clicks that incidentally furthered a culture of shame, fear and aggression? Both? Unbalanced folk will latch on to disturbing things. Should ‘disturbing things’ be scrubbed out of existence? Who is the arbiter of acceptability? Can we learn nothing of value about ourselves and each other from uncomfortable content?

I honestly don’t know, except I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t have mixed in real-world violence with cultural attitudes about sex. It’s a confusing enough issue.

I’m a gay dude. My perspective (male; dude; gay) on the ladies of Dragon’s Crown is that they are silly and deformed and designed to give boners to a particular kind of guy, who is not me. They are not out of step with how gaming draws most of its female characters – a gross exaggeration, but an expression that fits neatly on the far, most populated end of the spectrum (poor Jade, so alone on her side). At worst, I think they reflect back on us a very tired perspective on women in games, one that has become ubiquitous, one that too few studios seem capable of or willing to change. The games industry has been dominated by one particular gaze for far too long. It is fine to be exasperated by it. Maybe even overdue.

But this is a ‘disturbing thing’ I’m glad has been widely, if poorly (get your shit together, internet), discussed – every time something like this comes up, it is a chance to move the conversation, the medium, forward. If gaming effectively exposed us to multiple perspectives, instead of a variation on one, then Dragon’s Crown, untouched, could just be. It wouldn’t have to be a focal point – it could just be one of many perspectives, and it’s okay that it’s not for you.

I’m playing as the Amazon. She is badass, if poorly dressed; I imagine it’s hard to find pants that fit, poor thing. I downloaded the free voice pack and switched the narrator to Amazon, too. Normally, I play my fantasies as a dude, always with the hope that my character dude gets to experience some fashion of dude love, implicit or otherwise. But my gaze is never represented, my fantasies rarely, so I am comfortable (through experience if not nature) indulging another identity. And I still bring my own shit to the table – I’m not suddenly overcome with mammary madness. I don’t see the Amazon as a fetish object – I see her as a woman who has triumphed over physical deformity. I am not the ideal subject of Kamitani’s fantasy, but I look past it, over it, set it aside, because, importantly, the character design isn’t ever the most interesting thing about the game. The animation, the art direction, the music – GOD the music! – the pace, structure and flow of play are all far more appealing and make this game worthy.

Through presentation the game invites me to oogle, but doesn’t demand it – very quickly, I forgot about Sonja’s flashing booty and got down to the business of adventuring, which, in Dragon’s Crown, is some of the best in recent memory. Certainly for a brawler – Castle Crashers remains my favourite in this genre puddle, but Dragon’s Crown is its equal in many ways. As with every game I play, apparently, I wish Nintendo would do a Zelda like it.

If you can’t see past questionable representation, or don’t want to – don’t force it. Don’t buy, don’t support, continue to discuss. But character design that seeks to illicit a particular response out of a particular person is not inherently sexist, even when that response is a weird boner and that person is a guy. It might show the culture as sexist, but I don’t think the game itself oppresses or does harm, so it has a right to exist.

If you are down with the dirty in this game, ew. But whatever, enjoy it as the silly fantasy it is in good health. Context.

If you like brawlers, loot, hand-drawn characters, animation, colour, leveling, seriously amazing town and shop music, and silly fantasy tropes taken to extreme, Dragon’s Crown could be one of your favourite games this year. It will likely be one of mine.

*I'm playing on Vita. Recommend for Vita. It's a Vita game.

29 Comments

It's Tuesday

Hey everybody. It’s Tuesday.

Today is a weird day.

I was looking forward to the Bombcast; last week’s episode was great, but… I missed Ryan. I always miss Ryan on the show when he’s not there. I am fond of his laugh, his raunch, his appreciation for the stupid and hilarious.

He was there for me every Tuesday(ish). He will never be again.

That fucking sucks. There are a lot of other reasons Ryan’s death sucks, chief among them that Ryan is dead, now, and fuck that. It’s not fair. He was so young; he was my age, and I still get carded sometimes. He was five days married to a woman who made a Kardashian joke on Twitter yesterday, because she’s amazing. He leaves behind a whole bunch of people who knew him personally, and miss him in a way that would be gross to compare my feeling of loss to.

I have this sense that my grief is inappropriate. I didn’t know the man. The personal relationship I have with him – with everyone I follow and listen to and consume of – is one way. It’s voyeuristic. To miss him, to be here expressing this now, like what I have to say matters, feels disturbingly selfish, especially when stacked against the tangible wall of grief that the crew, his family and friends, and especially his wife are feeling. Like, fuck you buddy. You didn’t lose a friend, a son, a love. You lost a voice that you liked to listen to. Get a grip and shut up.

But Giant Bomb isn’t just about games or gamers; it’s about these gamers. It is a cult of personality, in a way, and there is something almost prurient about the interest we have in their lives. And the thing of it is, they share their lives with us, willingly – we aren’t peeping. We’re invited. So if this is weird it’s your fucking fault, Ryan, because you let me, us, everyone, in. I didn’t realize how much of a privilege it has been.

Giant Bomb is as much a reality show about the duders as it is a site about games – except, unlike every reality show, it’s honest. And as much as I struggle with what is ‘appropriate’ to express, I think best way to honor what this site, what Ryan, means to me is to be honest back. Even if it doesn’t matter. Even if this is never read. I’m writing it and posting it because you can’t bring me something I look forward to every week and then fucking die on me and the world gets off without ever knowing how much it meant to me.

I am sad and angry and grateful. These are my feelsballs; watch me juggle. I can’t believe he’s gone. I, uglily (not a word, fuck you), want to know exactly what happened, because there can be no satisfying answer as to why he died, so I want to get fucking angry at the how; I want to blame him so I can put off accepting this. I watched the Harmonix live stream wake yesterday, and laughed and laughed and laughed. He was such a funny guy. He brought me a ton of joy. He made my life better in small, significant ways.

Jeff does, too. And Brad and Vinny and Patrick. And Drew. Alexis. Dave and Alex. Everyone who comes in and out of this site, all the devs who show up and share in the warmth and honesty that this site represents.

We bring these people with us. We carry them in our ears and they worm their way down into our hearts because they don’t bullshit us about who they are. There are few things as honest as flushing a cake down a toilet. I am profoundly grateful that these guys do what they do, and I get to witness it. I am thankful for every time Ryan made me think or laugh. He did a hard job well, was loved by many in many ways, touched a lot of lives and will be missed terribly; beyond the sense of tragedy, at the end, any of us would be lucky to say the same.

It’s still Tuesday. How dare it be so rudely Tuesday.

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25 Comments

A Dead Space In My Heart

I love Dead Space. Probably a little too much.

I love part one and two equally; Downfall a lot more than Aftermath; Martyr over Catalyst, but I’m only a few chapters into the latter.

Point is, I’m invested. Dead Space has inspired in me a level of fandom that no other game has. I am drawn to the lore – cthulonic alien technology, reanimated corpses, religious zealots, planet-cracking spaceships; it’s a fully formed, lived-in fiction, and one that I want to revisit again and again. I care about Isaac Clarke. I want to see how he makes it out of this. If he makes it out at all.

But I’m torn about Dead Space 3.

First, the fanboy problem: I was bummed that Dead Space 3 shifted focus to co-op. That’s not the Dead Space I want. I want to be Isaac Clarke, the most put-upon engineer in the history of space mining, alone, tested and scared; fighting my fear, determined to put an end to the Necromorph menace, getting to the bottom of the Big Question mystery of who, what, why.

I don’t want to bro through the terror. For all that internet toughs like to claim the game isn’t scary, its gotchas still get me. The atmosphere is unparalleled. Violinists hide around every corner. I get the heebie jeebies from it, and heebie jeebies don’t do threesomes. I want to play alone.

Sure, the game isn’t co-op only. But marketing has made it seem like co-op first and foremost, like single-player is some archaic mode from the past that we’re all better off without, instead of the bedrock of horror. I harbor feelings about this. I don’t like it. For two years I’ve watched “fans” become monsters over the changes to Devil May Cry with disdain, but Dead Space 3 gives me a bit of sympathy. Unreasonable or not, it’s hurtful when something you love as-is is changed without your consent.

The end result is this: I’m already disappointed. Game-unplayed, Dead Space 3 has already failed to live up because it’s chosen to go in a different direction.

Not all of that direction is bad, though. I love the idea of weapon crafting. Isaac Clarke should be able to MacGruber through a bunch of scrap and cobble together an effective weapon. That’s super engineer-y. It seems more honest to the character that buying blueprints. The game is committed to the system: gone is the traditional Dead Space credit economy, which would be cool if they hadn’t replaced it with real money.

Before you flip your shit: I get it, I don’t have to buy anything I don’t want to. But here I decide to be principled – how can you justifying a micro-transaction model in a full-priced console game? There is only one justification, and it’s EA’s motto: “Because money, idiot.”

Even that I wouldn’t fault, necessarily. But we live in a post-Diablo 3 world. A game that should have been legendary and nearly was, except end-game loot was tuned to turn people to the Auction House, which, lo and behold, had a real money variant. Given that my trust in this franchise is in a fragile state, why should I believe the appalling line we’re fed about “appealing to mobile gamers and their enthusiasm to pay-for-convenience”? Especially since that model is regularly abused in the mobile space. It is just as likely that in-game material drops will be tuned to encourage real money purchases. They can, so they will – because money, idiot.

Reviews will tell the tale on that. But regardless, I’m not comfortable with premium, pay-for content adopting a model designed to support free games. Game luminary Jim Sterling calls it the ‘pay-to-pay’ model; how I loathe it.

There’s a total of $51 worth of day-1 DLC; weapons and suits and crafting materials, oh my. Part of that is the now-familiar $10 online pass.

And that’s the kicker that brings it back home. I have no interest in playing Dead Space co-op. None. Not now, not ever.

Do I get a discount on the game?

If access to online co-op play is something I don’t want, can I opt out, and buy a solo-only version of the game for less?

No, I can’t. That’s not how it works. EA can saddle this game with a secondary revenue stream and pretend it is a different tier – free-to-play, supported by in-game purchases – while still reaping the benefits of a full-priced console title, and all I get out of it is half a product I want to play.

If the game didn’t have co-op, and didn’t intend to beg money out of me at every bench – if it were in line with the other two games in this series I dearly love – I wouldn’t have a qualm laying down my $60 and space-jumping back to terror.

It’s a funny thing. Instead of adding value – the PR perspective – these things depreciate the game for me. They detract from my enthusiasm. A product stuffed with twice as many features as the last game in the series comes off as somehow less-than its predecessor. These aren’t features I want. I don’t want co-op. I don’t want to be able to buy cheat-codes. That I can theoretically ignore them is irrelevant; perceptually, they have already cheapened whatever experience I wanted to have. I don’t want to give EA new game money, because they will misinterpret that as consent.

But… it’s Dead Space. I love Dead Space.

How much is too much?

At what point should I suppress my affection for a franchise because of my disgust for the business around it? It’s not something gamers do. We are a culture of dead-ending dissent. If you express less than reverential love, you’re a hater who’s just hatin’. The ramifications of supporting game companies that continue to devalue product with this pay-for cheat-code grubbing is always secondary to self-interest.

That’s what I’m struggling with. I want to play Dead Space 3. I read everything posted about it. I’m even creeping on the Neogaf OT, which as low as a gamer can get. I look for confirmation of my disdain; I look for justification to consume. I want to be right and have the franchise ruined by this game; I want to be bullshit and it’s the best in the series.

I’m making this hard on myself. Do, or do not. I’m fluffing up the importance of this decision – do my actions matter to anyone but myself? Will not buying a game I want to play actually send EA a message? If my purchase will send them the wrong message, maybe I should write a letter to the lead dev with the right one: “Dear Sir, I love your franchise but I’m not buying Dead Space 3 because I’m mad at it and you for changing it; also micro-transactions are shitty. I hope it fails horribly and you feel bad about yourself. Can’t wait for a much improved back-to-basics Dead Space 4! Also please do another movie; the first one was rad.”

In the end, is this really all about the co-op? Because I hate that they put it in. I really do. Don’t get me wrong – I hate all the shitty pay-to-pay crap that is worming its way into all our games, of which I feel this Dead Space is a Step Too Far. But, of course, I rarely buy DLC.

If I don’t buy this game, it will be because it turned its back on me, first – it told me that my preferred play-style is a secondary concern to shifting units to the bros. My fan devotion is irrelevant. Dead Space doesn’t care about me, personally, as much as I have cared about Dead Space.

16 Comments

Way(s) of the Ninja

Today I was a demon.

(Crouched in the shadows / Breath held; a guard walks below / Earnest blade whispers)

I skulked vents and slunk along ceilings, watched my prey walk beneath me unaware. Every victim was bait for the next; his body dropped into a conspicuous puddle of light or hanged from a post in the path of a foe, where it’s likely to be seen. When you walk the Path of Nightmares, bodies are tools to cause terror and panic. And panic makes good cover.

Then I was a shadow.

(Silence is golden / Invincible in the dark / In the light fragile)

I watched, and waited. I studied my opponents, the room, the exits. I calculated, and threw a firecracker to distract the guard; dropped like a cat behind him, ran silently to the vent on the other side of the room. The Path of Silence makes you quieter, and grants you access to two distraction tools, but the cost is your sword; the only way forward is pure stealth.

Nightmare and Silence are the two styles I’ve had the most time with, and the most fun, but there are others – Path of Might, Path of the Hunter; Path of the Ninja, which is the default; Path of the Mark, unlocked through the story.

There is no one way to ninja. Each Path is viable throughout the whole game. You pick your Path and load-out before each stage; if you come across one of the very few spots that need a specific item/style to get through, there is a station to switch nearby. For the most part, you can choose the kind of ninja you want to be. Every level is designed with this in mind.

But there is no Path of Force – Mark of the Ninja is a stealth game. You cannot brute your way through. It is a game of cunning, patience and finesse – of hiding in shadows, behind grates and in vents, planning your moves before you make them; swift, subtle execution.

The game empowers you with clear knowledge of its rules. Everything that can catch you, betray you, is defined and coded – rings for sound, arcs for light, halos for spots the enemy thought they heard something. Rather than make the game easier, it makes it smarter. When a game hides its systems, part of your game time is spent decoding. That isn’t gameplay; it’s padding. By laying everything out, Mark of the Ninja is a focused, brilliant dissertation on how to ninja.

When I was a boy, I played games like a boy: fascinated, dedicated, sussing out the edges of their small worlds and systems. Months of gaming, spent on one title. I have grown old since, and have less time, less interest, and too many games. Most are one-and-done. Few ever inspire that feeling anymore; of being a kid, falling down a game hole, seduced by incredible play into staying, score chasing, completionism; coming up with excuses to keep playing because the play is so satisfying.

Mark of the Ninja whispers to me, like the best games do, when I’m not playing – you could do this, or this, or this. Path of the Hunter. Path of Nightmares. Path of Silence. Unlocking each optional path requires three aligned challenges to be met, parsed out across the stages. It wasn’t until the end of the game I unlocked the Path of Silence. After the credits rolled I started again, immediately, burning to try it out. I dove back into each level with a vastly expanded ninja vocabulary and no sign of fatigue. I am enthralled. I want to know every inch of this game.

Mark of the Ninja is a masterpiece.

4 Comments

The Archers of Anor Londo (Conversations with Dumb People II)

Here he comes. Again. You know, I almost feel bad at this point.

Me too. Almost. But not really.

Yeah, I guess.

At least he’s not wasting time. And he’s getting better at dodging the knights.

I don’t know about that. Talked to Jim on break; they’re going easy on him.

Well. That’s nice of them.

Yeah. Nice.

You don’t have to shoot this time, if you feel that bad. I can take care of it.

I don’t want to be written up. Those bats are fucking suck ups.

Good at their work, though. Ouch. That spear isn’t doing him any favours. Get ready.

Well, he made it at least.

Barely. And… go.

Fine.

Oh, come on. You’re not even trying.

I am too. I just have a lot more architecture in the way.

Oh sure, sure.

Besides, he’s going right anyway. They always go right.

Yeah. Fucking YouTube.

You’ve got to admit, it’s the best strategy.

Well, it looks like his current strategy is to just sit there.

He’s gathering himself. You know, take a breath, centre, open yourself up to the energy of the universe.

You’ve been reading yoga books again, huh.

Nothing wrong with expanding one’s horizons.

Dude. Really. You sound totally gay.

And you sound like an asshole.

I guess that’s why we get along so well.

Badum-tish.

He’s really taking his time. I wonder if he’s gone off to have a cry.

Not even a little bit of sympathy for him? This is like his thirtieth try. That’s got to sting a bit.

Not as much as the arrow I just lodged in his back. That’ll learn him to peak out.

At least he didn’t fall off.

Whose side are you on?

What do you mean? I’m still firing.

But your heart isn’t in it.

Maybe you have enough heart in it for the both of us.

Oh shit, here he comes.

Okay. Now I do feel bad.

That was sad.

I didn’t expect him to just jump like that.

I think he tried to roll. You know how it is.

I wonder if we can get another assignment.

Jim said he and Bob were looking into the antechamber gig.

Lucky bastards.

Yeah, but everyone wants antechamber. You have to fight once and then no one bothers.

Speaking of. Here he comes. Again.

Man. This is not good for my sense of self.

I’m starting to get what you – OH SHIT!

I can’t believe he just did that.

He clearly didn’t mean to.

I have never seen the bats laugh so hard. I think Harold just pissed himself.

God. Kid must be tearing out his hair. Oh, there’s the whistle. He’s gone.

I wonder if he’s going to come back this time.

They always do. Maybe tomorrow, maybe a month from now, maybe in a – wait, what’s that noise?

[ATTENTION ANOR LONDO PLAYERS: BELMONT HAS DELETED HIS GAME REPEAT BELMONT HAS DELETED HIS GAME GOOD JOB EVERYONE JOIN US IN THE RECEPTION AREA FOR CAKE]

Oh. I guess that means we win.

Do we, though? Do we?

God man, you’re depressing as shit today.

Anyway, it’s over. Let’s go get cake.

Oh what, so now you’re mad at me?

No. I’m just. Tired. You know?

I get it. I really do. But it’s the job.

I think I’m going to put in for a transfer. Right now.

Where?

Somewhere quiet, out of the way. Or, you know, just less evil. I’d love to do Solaire.

Oh right, like he’d give it over so easy.

I know. I just… need a change of pace. This sniping shit isn’t fulfilling me anymore.

Well. Okay.

What?

Nothing.

You just said you get it.

No, I do, I do. It’s just… I like that we get to go to work together. And Solaire… that’s big time. It’s a one-man gig.

We’ll still see each other at home. I don’t know what the big deal is.

Excuse me for wanting to spend time together.

I don’t mean it like that.

Oh, okay, sorry. I tend to take the words you say to mean the things they mean. Really, my fault for not being psychic hard enough.

You’re getting worked up over nothing.

So you think our relationship is nothing. Good. Good to fucking know.

Oh, Umbassa.

Don’t you dare bring your ex into this.

Calm dow—

I AM FUCKING CALM!

Clearly.

Look. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.

It’s this job, man. It’s getting in the way.

Let’s get down from here. There’s probably still some cake left. We can talk about it later.

I’m sorry. Maybe you’re right. This is no way to spend an infinity.

We can find something together. I’m sure of it.

That would be cool. I just…

I know. Me too. Big time.

Cool. Hey Frank?

Yes, Jack?

~plunk~

HAHAHA OW. Bastaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa –

4 Comments

Stay With Me

Early in my journey, I come across another soul wandering the dessert. He hoots at me. I hoot back. We take a few moments to share staccato hoots, and then he flits off across the sand like a breeze-caught leaf.

I follow.

From there we climb ruins, and surf down dunes, weaving in and out of each other’s path like flirting birds, like dancers, like butterflies. Journey is a simple game with few inputs, but everything executes with exquisite grace. We discover nooks with secrets. I help him; he helps me.

Journey takes directions that surprise me. And through it all, I’m not alone. At times, I feel a bit dragged, like I am being forced to match a pace I don’t want; other times, most times, I am just grateful – for the company, for the help, for the comforting hoots when things get dark.

Toward the end of the journey, I lose sight of him.

On the precipice of the last path, I pause. It doesn’t feel right to take the next step without him. In our short time together I feel bonded to him. The journey wasn’t long, but it felt… deep, and full. A lot happened, and we had seen each other through it.

He didn’t have to stick with me. He could have left at any time. I could have left, too… but then, no, I couldn’t have, because I didn’t – because I wasn’t leaving right now. I wait. I hope he’s just behind me, but the seconds stretch out. I have to pee – I’ve had to pee like crazy for the last hour of our trip together. But there was no way to tell him, ask him, so I just held it. Because he needed me… no, that’s not something I can say. I needed him. Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I just wanted him with me. It blurs, my assumptions and his motivations, and in the end I can’t ascribe things to him that want him to be feeling – I can’t tell myself he needs me just because it’s more comfortable to say that, than admit I didn’t want to go on alone.

But here I am on the threshold of the end, and I am alone. I hoot. Once, twice. Several quick in row. We had a kind of language we developed together – short, quick bursts meant trouble or help or over here right now. And… nothing.

As I wait, the foolish feeling creeps in. Maybe he’s already gone through. Maybe I am the one left behind. It’s a cold thought. Standing like a chump waiting for a companion who has long moved on ahead, without me – every twist and trial behind him, forgotten, thanks for all your help, dude, smell ya later.

I know that feeling better than I’d like – being the fool, the one who waits because of a story he told himself about the way things were, not the plain, uncomfortable truth. I may have even been that for someone myself.

In the distance, under the background noise, I hear something distinct, and familiar. Short, quick bursts, faint but growing louder and closer: over here over here over here.

And there he is. He did not leave me. I did not leave him.

We passed through the final door as we had the first: together, hooting at each other like fools.

A stranger becomes a friend, and then is gone. That is the way of it, in life. What a wonderful thing people are, and how they can surprise you. Some things are worth risking a small piece of ego over – sometimes waiting is rewarded with the thing you wish for.

This playthrough will stay with me, like thoughts of nameless stranger I shared it with.

I will go back again. This gorgeous husk of a world, the beings of light and creatures of dark than haunt its sands and skies. Maybe I’ll see you surfing the dunes sometime. Maybe I’ll hoot hello. Or maybe I’ll just race away. I’ve had my romance in Journey, and it was lovely. But that’s the end of a story, and Journey isn’t really about ends at all.

11 Comments

You're Wrong About Used Games

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

-- Isaac Asimov

I find the debate around used games very frustrating.

It isn’t much of a debate – no one is interested in studying the problem because everyone’s too invested in having opinions about it. In the age of social media, having an opinion is good enough – I tweet therefore I am – and challenging the worth of an opinion is tantamount to an act of war.

So consider this a warning shot.

In 2009, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter reported that used game sales generate roughly $2 billion in annual revenue, and used games accounted for one-third of all game sales in a given year.

And it appears everyone in the industry – certainly the game publishers and developers, and a lot of the press – stopped reading there.

But Pachter went on to say, "The vast majority of used games are not traded in until the original new game purchaser has finished playing - more than two months after a new game is released - typically well beyond the window for a full retail priced new game sale.” His research also suggested the pre-owned market gave gamers more income to spend on new games – amounting to a 6% gain in new sales because of it.

Anyone arguing against the sale of used games – saying that the developers deserve your money for all their hard work, making it a moral stance – are ignoring the available data.

Everything the industry is doing now – online passes, holding content hostage as DLC, making claims about who is owed what – is not about taking back something that was lost. It’s about profit. They see $2 billion and want it for themselves, and fuck every law or consumer right or inconvenient research that stands in their way.

What scares me most is how easily it has happened, with such indifference from the gaming community. And editorial here, a few forum posts there, some whinging on a podcast – barely questioning it and never attempting to fight it. Never saying, “The right of first sale should be protected. As a consumer, these practices are directly infringing my rights, and I won’t have it.” No, we wring hands and line up anyway, because apparently our desire for entertainment vastly outweighs our common sense.

I wrote about this on a now-lost blog in 2009. I thought it was a big deal. This was Pachter the analyst, not Pachter the Game Trailers sideshow. But the story didn’t go anywhere. No major consumer sites picked it up – no one in a position to advocate for our rights did so. They marched us into this present, where we now have gamers advocating for the rights of developers to squeeze undeserved money out of consumers and call it a moral good.

There is no data to back up that position. You have big business stating the opinion that consumers should get less for more at the same time as claiming ‘lost sales’ without any data to back it up. They feel they are owed more, but the truth is they just want more.

And we are giving it to them. Some of us gladly, arguing for them, taking up their appeal to emotions and never looking beyond.

On Friday, TorrentFreak shared a link to a report about the effect of piracy on the Hollywood bottom line. Hollywood lobbyists have crowed for years about the fatal effect internet piracy will have on that industry, also making the claim of ‘lost sales’. Of course, in the years since this ‘threat’ began it has never actually manifested. Box office records continue to be shattered – the most pirated film of 2009 was Avatar, which also happens to be the highest grossing film in (unadjusted) history.

As researchers from the University of Minnesota and Wellesley College report, “We do not see evidence of elevated sales displacement in US box office revenue following the adoption of BitTorrent, and we suggest that delayed legal availability of the content abroad may drive the losses to piracy.”

Rather than evil internet pirates running rampant through Hollywood profit, the only genuine lost sales Hollywood suffers are those it perpetuates by holding to outdated modes of staggered international release. Millions and millions of dollars are spent lobbying against a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and all Hollywood has to do is think different about how it distributes its product.

Piracy happens. It has and will always happen. Just because the technology used is better doesn’t mean it is having a greater effect on the industry now than it has ever done. Piracy does not necessarily have the negative impact on sales billion dollar companies would like to believe it has.

And the games industry? Things have been rough in the past few years, for a lot of reasons – this economy, the inflated cost of development, sales being down across the board even if a few titles make Oprah-money. Could it be that the aggressive attacks the industry is leveling against consumers to fight imagined lost sales is finally paying off? If Pachter’s analysis was right – that the money consumers get back from selling their games is more often than not used to fund new game sales – could the decline, in part, be a result of successful lobbying? It’s not the effect the industry wants, but that tends to happen when you’re fighting windmills and calling them dragons.

And the worst thing is, it’s a self-sustaining system. The industry introduces anti-consumer measures to make itself more money; consumers have less money from selling their used games to buy new; the industry goes, “SEE! We’re losing money! KILL USED SALES!”; more anti-consumer measures are introduced to claw back money that is, now, genuinely lost, though still not for the reasons they claim; and so on, until the whole thing comes down.

I’m not claiming this as a truth. It is my opinion, and it’s based on the research I’ve done – and I can’t claim that the research is true, as I’m sure someone could point out, because I didn’t do it myself. It’s all second hand. But the point is, I did research. I’ve looked into this situation rather than just felt something about it.

What I found lead me here – embattled, angry, impotent to make change but wanting to do something, anything, to say that I didn’t just roll over while this industry shat itself and used us to wipe; while the enthusiast press still prioritizes clicks over critical thinking and kowtows to its master more than questions it; while so many people viciously defend their right to have an opinion about this but don’t bother to make it worth something.

Here, saying you’re wrong about used games, and asking you to think.

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The Skyrimmiest Skyrim, 2011

It’s that time again, folks! That cheery time of year when people start articles with “it’s that time again,” because internet writing would be lost without its high standards.

As every game site looks back at the past three months and calls it a year, I want to take this opportunity to right a wrong. You see, there is one game this year that not getting its due; a quiet little RPG about racial purity or whatever, that I just happen to think is the most unappreciated Skyrim of 2011. Ryan Davis at GiantBomb didn’t even have it on his list, which is a travesty and also he’s a total gay.

So in the interest of Internet Justice, I present the only list that matters, apparently: the Top Five Skyrims of the Year, 2011.

5: Skyrim

I know some people will be a bit upset by this, but hear me out. Skyrim, while being probably the best thing that ever happened in this history of mankind, is also super good looking. In any other year, that would be good enough. But 2011 has been a banner year for gaming. It seemed like every week brought yet another exceptional, groundbreaking, mindblowing and revolutionary game with a number on the end of it. How could Skyrim compete with that kind of competition, you ask, a bit redundantly? There is only one answer, or maybe five, but one that will stand the test of time like so much lying cake: with an arrow to the knee.

4: Skyrim

Squeaking in at number four, Skyrim could be called the most talked about game of the year, if you could get a word in edgewise, but you can’t, because everyone’s talking about Skyrim. Constantly. Seriously, keep it down, I’m trying to wri – yes, haha, arrows and knees, I just made that jo – wow, I didn’t know giants could do – yes, I just heard from that last guy about the gia – dude, they’re already talking about the giant thing, maybe go join their con – oh, really, giants? Do tell. Anyway. If unstoppable volume of words alone could win a game Skyrim of the year, then Skyrim would have placed higher in this list. Alas, it will have to settle for a respectable fourth place finish.

3: Skyrim

That thing I just wrote about respectable? That was just so number four didn’t feel bad. Sorry, number four, but we all know you can’t hold a candle to Skyrim. Speaking of candles…

2: Skyrim

No other game this year – or any year, ever, even those on wacky Chinese calendars which account for 3000 years before God invented Jesus and Capitalism – is brave enough, smart enough, or awesome enough to finally – at long last! – push the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ furry fantasy fodder to include anthropomorphized lizards. Too long have lovers of scales and forked-tongues lived in shamed while those tail-fucking ear-having furballs strutted around like they owned the place. No more. Thank you, Skyrim, for daring to dream.

1: Skyrim

This is it. The ‘big one’ as they say in Japan, although probably not anymore because that’s fucking insensitive you asshole. You may be surprised that Skyrim ended up here. If so, I’m sorry to say there’s only one course of action you can take: kill yourself. The world doesn’t want or need you. Because cheese wheels.

If you, like me, have yet to play Skyrim, I don't think there's any hope for you/us. It is clearly, objectively, scientifically, emotionally, physically, spiritually the most Skyrimmiest of all the Skyrims in 2011.

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Conversations with Dumb People

ACT I.0

Is there more to games?

Does there have to be?

So, your answer is no.

That’s not what I said.

It’s what you implied. Asking me ‘does there have to be?’ presumes the answer is no. You’re saying the question is irrelevant. I don’t think it’s irrelevant. But your answer is no, correct?

Yeah.

Why?

Why what?

Why isn’t there more to games?

Because games are supposed to be fun.

Is fun meaningless?

Yeah. That’s the point.

Define fun.

Fun is just… fun. It’s distraction. Diversion. Pointless, but pleasing. It doesn’t need to ‘mean’ or say anything.

Okay, that’s fair. Is fun the only thing games can accomplish? Their highest possible function? The point I’m getting at is -- and you’re right, fun is fun -- but the point is games and gaming are sometimes about stress, and catharsis, and challenge, and story. I think they have to be pleasant to interact with. But they don’t have to be fun, not like you’re describing it. Fun isn’t necessarily the only thing a game can accomplish. Is that fair to say?

I don’t see the point of gaming if it’s not fun. I have to be entertained.

I don’t think entertained is the same as fun -- or it doesn’t have to be, not all the time. I could say I was entertained by “The Human Centipede,” but I didn’t enjoy it. Not a second. I enjoyed that it ended. I didn’t find it fun, at all. It distracted me and told me a story, for a time. A terrible, terrible story. Don’t ever watch it.

Too late. Also, semantics.

How we talk about things is important. Language shapes understanding.

What word would you use to describe the indescribable feeling of love?

Bewf.

That’s onomatopoeia. And also wrong.

It’s subjective.

Yes. Language is subjective.

But it shouldn’t be. At least, not for all things. We need to agree on certain touchstones. Like love. The word love is there so we don’t have to get into the subbasement. There is a layer of you you will never be able to fully express to another person. No one knows that you except you. It is wholly yours. It is the thing that’s always you, no matter what.

The soul?

Maybe. Or maybe that’s a word like love.

I think games and gaming are about having fun. There are levels of fun -- it’s not an either-or proposition. It can be fun to be stressed, scared, tested. It doesn’t have to be a solid hour of “WHEEEEEEEE!” down the waterslide. It needs to be enjoyable.

And enjoyable can be many things, too.

Yeah.

Is it possible that a thing we find enjoyable can be enjoyable in different ways, for different reasons?

It would appear so.

I think that’s more.

But what more are you getting at? In writing and thinking about games? What’s the point?

There doesn’t need to be a point. It’s just fun.

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