Monthly Archives: February 2009

On Video Games and Dating

With video games becoming more mainstream, even more so than they were back in the NES’ best years, the idea of normalization must be popping up in the back of people’s minds. Video games are no longer a hobby of which to be ashamed when one is an adult. Getting together to play Wii Sport, Rock Band, or Guitar Hero is seen as an engaging activity and not childish play. Only these select games and a handful of others are acceptable right now, but it isn’t too much to expect the floodgates to open up in the next few years.

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By way of the ihobo blog, I came across an interesting article in the Escapist about using games as part of dating. The author of the article was part of a discussion group about why movies are acceptable for dates and games are not. The boundaries presented by games are pretty clear and understandable, though – usually competitive, discourage physical interaction between players, expensive to setup, rarely in public spaces, etc. You get the point. Games are rough to include within the first few dates because of these reasons. Then again, games have great features for dating, notably finding out how your potential partner thinks, solving problems together, and finding yourselves truly engaged in something together. If we could cut the boundaries, video games could offer so much to dating.

So how do we make video games more accessible in dating?

Aside from suggesting that people blindly enter the apartments and houses of strangers just to play games on the first date, the only thing that really makes sense is to create arcades again. Were this question posed 10 years ago, I would have been able to name a location in my hometown where people could go for game dates. Not so much with the closure of the arcade and subsequent destruction of the mall. People who went to college with me might think that the question of where to go is almost absurd because there was a large arcade on campus with a number of games that were lightly competitive or offered the opportunity to take turns. Not everywhere has that option.

But the reintroduction of video arcades to society is not enough. The game types have to be changed. What supposedly revitalized arcades in the early 90’s was the release of Street Fighter II, drawing a more competitive element to the places in the following years. It’s my opinion that this competitive element also served to discourage people from entering arcades. Fighting games were more heavily released because of Street Fighter II‘s popularity, and they have an unwelcoming learning curve. Arcades were taken over by the more obsessive gamers, which proved to work against arcades when home consoles became more capable of more graphic-intense experiences. The later years necessitated the creation of a game like Dance Dance Revolution to help keep the remaining arcades afloat in America, but the dancing games draw their own specific obsessive crowd.

The games released in arcades have to be made easily accessible for non-gamers to pick up and want to play. I’m not just talking in terms of game play. If that were the case, a gamer like Arkanoid would probably be the number one dating game – just turn the nob to move the paddle back and forth. No, games need to look fun, like there’s a point in playing them. What is it that carnivals have that video arcades lack? If it is the “carnival atmosphere”, how does one recreate said (notably vague) atmosphere?

I have been on dates with people who do and do not play video games, but many of them have involved some sort of arcade gaming. Everyone seems to enjoy skeeball and air hockey. Those don’t quite count as video games, though. What does count is that little video unit that sits in many bars and offers a number of touch screen games, usually involving some sort of matching task or spotting the differences between photographs. What also counts was a single arcade unit toward the back of Ann Arbor’s Pinball Pete’s – Quiz and Dragons. Even though the questions were about 13 years out of date, it was a great game to play.

People who are getting to know each other are probably not averse to playing games together. It’s just a matter of what is offered to them. Competitive and non-competitive are not an issue when given the right product. Dark, edgy games featuring people hitting or shooting each other with or without unnecessary spurts of blood are completely out in this equation. Games with neutral colors and non-complex interfaces should be fine. DDR is almost acceptable, but not everyone is comfortable being put on a public stage like that. Quiz games are fine. More passive touch screen games are fine. How about games that are similar in experience to shooting water in a clown’s mouth to make a balloon pop? How about more games wherein the players win a prize? Maybe more games need to provide tickets to players.

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The problem isn’t solely in the hands of the creators of games. They cater specifically to the market they were given. It’s been shown in the past that male teenagers are the main consumers of games, and that trend is expected to continue. Why not make testosterone-fueled, uninviting games just for them? No one is even looking to expand the market. Arcade operators know their audience and buy games specifically for that audience. If more arcade operators were looking to expand their audience and maybe make their arcades, at least at night, more date- and adult-friendly, there would be more games produced for that crowd.

The home consoles are already expanding the market, and there are great date games to build from. If the topic were simply about games that were good for dates, I would be able to produce a list easily. It’s not that simple. Console games are only good after you’re familiar with someone. The old joke before the system came out was that it would be difficult to say, “Would you like to come over and play with my Wii?” It’s not a joke when you’re getting to know someone. But here’s a list of games that need more arcade analogs:

  • Wii Sports
  • Katamari Damacy series
  • Tetris (I know the game is already in the arcade, but what’s wrong with more puzzle games?
  • Rock Band / Guitar Hero / Karaoke Revolution (Guitar Freaks and the ilk do not count because of accessibility issues)
  • Quiz games
  • Zelda and Ico styled adventure games, maybe like Zack and Wiki

That’s only six, but I know that there are at least twice as many game styles that would be appealing in a date setting that simply don’t come to my mind. I’ll admit that now is not the time to develop such ideas because more people are looking for cheap date ideas. Touch screen games would dominate the market if offered as an option for coffee dates. But after the recession, I’m sure that people would flock to a more matured arcade experience if offered more games of the above sorts. “If you build it, they will come,” right? Plus it would be nice to have an experience I could substitute instead of the standard romantic comedy flick.

Anyone else think that dating-friendly games would be a good idea?

re: Sessler’s Soapbox: Killzone Mailbag

Adam Sessler recently responded to a number of posts on G4’s forums, and he wasn’t happy with the level of criticism raised at the reviews on his show. I’m certain he did not just learn that most of the people who frequent message boards and online forums are teenagers and immature adults. When they disagree with something, they make it personal because they don’t know how else to discuss things. This in turn had Sessler responding to things poorly.

I am not a fan of the G4 Network. I think my first post on this blog was about how I don’t like Morgan Webb, but I admit that was an unnecessary post. I do, however, like Sessler to some degree. He strikes me as a genuine game player and honest journalist. That’s why I’m disappointed that he’s taken time to lash out at his viewers this way.

By swearing at your viewers and telling them that they’re lonely people, you stoop to their level. Sure, they are questioning your journalistic integrity. You’re a TV personality who reviews video games, so I’m sure you’re used to such an accusation. By responding to people in such a way, you present yourself as something unbecoming of a professional – and that’s when your integrity comes into question. Never reduce yourself to the level of a namecalling adolescent, especially when you have a prominent soapbox. Those people already don’t respect you. Don’t put yourself in a position to lose the respect of the people who still do.

"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" [book review]

I’ve been waiting for years to get my hands on this book. Now that I have, I can say that it’s everything that I expected it to be. It’s a frank discourse about race relations in the USA today (or 12 years ago, since it was published in ’97) and an excellent starting point for further discussion. All that’s good about the book speaks for itself. I don’t need to go into that. After all, how do you review racial discussions? Well, small critiques, I suppose.

"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"

Shamelessly lifted from Amazon.com’s site

There’s one thing that seriously bothers me about Dr. Tatum’s racial discussion. I believe in the same chapter that she states how harmful it is for people to only have labels attributed to them, she says that, by a definition of her machination, only those in power – white people – are capable of being racist. Racism is only possible for those in power. I don’t agree. Racism, by definition, is the result of racial preference or discrimination. Everyone can discriminate. It’s technically racist to write in one’s own book, where one has the power, that only another group is worthy of such a heinous label. It creates an unnecessary “us vs. them” divide that the culture wars do not need.

This wasn’t the first time I came across that alternative definition for racism, but I’m sure it was the source. Many of my friends as well as myself are graduates of the University of Michigan, and Dr. Tatum received her license in clinical psychology from the M. Naturally, this book had to have been used in a course or few on campus. I was confronted once with, “No, only white people can be racist,” and I was told I was clearly missing the point when I stated that it was wrong by definition. I’m sure that it’s meant to be empowering to take the use of the word away from the oppressors, but all it does is result in an unnecessary racial snottiness. I can’t be racist because you people are the racists. Way to go, Dr. Tatum.

But her strong opinions are certainly to be admired. She writes about a time she was set to go on stage at a school, and right before it a breakfast meeting for just the African Americans was announced. After she spoke to the group, a white member of the audience, clearly agitated by what had happened earlier, asked how she would have felt had she witnessed a breakfast meeting for just the white people. Tatum’s response: “I would say it was a good idea.” It takes a lot of character to say that. I think what she proposes from there is great. Groups that support African Americans should encourage their white members to act independently in their support, not to mention discover their own identities as white/European Americans. This implicates that the goal isn’t just to the move African Americans forward but to help us all grow and move forward together. I just wish she had blatantly stated that, as cheesy as it is.

Then there was her section on developing an identity in a multiracial context. It naturally focused on the black-white mix, about which I know all too much. What I didn’t like was the fact that she initially rolled that in with one’s development as an African American. I think that oversimplifies things, so I’m glad she also stated that she wasn’t as qualified as other social scientists to discuss the situation. Regardless, she wrote a whole chapter and supported the idea that the racial identity of a person can be left as context-sensitive, and that in some contexts one can champion the black identity and in other contexts the mixed identity. The white side, being the side of power, requires not support. Since I’m very proud of both sides of my family, I have a bone to pick with that.

Well, I think I might have a bone to pick with the author. She seems to have such a level of racial pride that I think it has created a certain level of spite for the majority race in the country. Not only are whites not to be bolstered in the identity of a mixed race person, and not only are white people the only ones who can be racist, but she states in an almost proud manner toward the beginning of the book that she can recall all of her black friends from college but not a single white one. In the epilogue she wrote for the new edition of the book, she responded to criticisms of that by saying that the crowds they were in were fairly segregated, so she spent less time with them. The statement’s inclusion in the first place, though, was quite unnecessary.

The book is great, however. Friends have complained that the title is quite long, but it does get one’s attention. Despite the hang-ups I have with what can be gleamed of the author, the book has a place as a conversation piece and teaching tool. Also, anyone who might be interested in looking more seriously into the media and its portrayal of minorities could do worse than to start with this book to help develop an appropriately discerning paradigm.