Monthly Archives: February 2010

The lad culture of video games

Last year I wrote a post kvetching about what it means to be a video game player and my antipathy for the self-proclaimed hardcore video gamers. Because I am a video game enthusiast, it is fairly easy for me to develop certain levels of disappointment and frustration with the loosely organized community of fellow gamers. It is sad to report that in the last year my attitude has not changed. In fact, it has broadened to include those who make the games as well.

This used to be the most amazing device in the world to me. It was a computer you could plug into your TV. Amazing how backward my life feels now that my current computer is plugged into my TV. My game playing experiences started nearly 25 years ago with a Commodore 64. My interest in video games was solidified shortly after acquiring a Nintendo Entertainment System and vowing to overcome the taxing obstacle known to me as Super Mario Bros. 2. Since then I have been a steady advocate for video games as a hobby. My favorite aspect of video games has always been that advancement in a game is dependent upon some sort of problem-solving, despite the occasionally heavy reliance on proper timing. Beyond that I am a proponent of integrating interactive media, such as games, into therapeutic strategies for autism and the spectrum of mental disorders out there. Obviously, I have a lot of emotional stock put into video games.

So why have I been feeling so disconnected from video games for the past couple of years? I still buy and play games. I still have a strong desire to know what is coming out next. I still find playing games to be fun. There are still games that resonate with me like a good song. But I am not as driven to be involved in the gaming community, nor am I interested in playing absolutely everything.

It has been suggested to me that there is a barrier between myself and more full commitment to video games because I opted to avoid purchasing an Xbox 360 or PS3. I chose the Wii. That is not it. I picked the Wii because I was not interested in most of the titles released on the other systems, and the Wii is the most friendly console to people who do not usually play games. I have a confession to make: I find playing alone pretty pathetic. Even with online play, if you’re the only one in your room holding a controller, you’re completely alone. As gaming enthusiasts we play alone because that is most often the option given, but my choice in system was reflective of my desire to decrease the amount of solitary play time my system would see.

Once an icon of greatness to me, Travis Touchdown has suffered horridly from the effects of lad culture. Or, in other words, a brief review: No More Heroes 2 is disappointing. :(The barriers I am unable to overcome and the sources of my antipathy are in the greater gaming public and the content of the games released. Up until a few nights ago I was unable to put into concise words what troubled me about these sources. Fortunately Wikipedia has an entry on it all – lad culture. [Note: This link will probably be subject to many edits. Currently one of the descriptors for it is a liking of “lesbians fucking”.] I wanted to initially lay the blame on frat boy culture or bros, but the connotation there would be suggestive of once having some college-level issues. Lad culture provides a nice neutral term that covers it all: drinking, macho sexism, cars, etc. It all comes down to presenting an image of being more man than one actually is.

Think I am being too broad about this? Let me put it this way, the release of the original Xbox, Halo, and the rise in popularity of sports titles along with the sudden prevalence of violence-centered titles signaled the new age of video game player who is more interested in measuring his electronic manhood than in the game playing experience. Since then there have been even more sports games and first-person shooters, and the inclusion of voice chatting with other players is less known for its aid in coordinating and strategizing and more for its allowing people to anonymously trash talk everyone. And the game systems themselves are being sold more on their specs, like cars, than the actual substance of media produced.

Video game producers, meanwhile, have been forced to cater to this market because it is now their bread and butter. Dark graphics, violence, huge boobs, and unoriginal game play became more important than creating something new and exciting. Or even something lasting. For as good as people said Halo was, did they continue playing it after the release of number 2 or 3? For as good as people claim the last Madden game was, did they continue playing it? Do any of these games have lasting value, or are they merely flavors of the week? I thought the idea of creating was to make something that persists.

And that there is the reason why video games are nowhere near being considered art. Up until now, I was on the ignorant side of that discussion. Video games can certainly become art, but they’re currently meaningless pieces of pop culture trash. For the most part.

I regularly read blogs from gaming academics who fight the uphill battle for the recognition of video games as more than just toys. Some people make great points and provide amazing analysis of the titles released. I know that games do not have to be trash. Not all games are. Sadly, though, I think that the people creating games have been aiming low for some time.

The caption renders further text unnecessary I like the term lad culture because it puts into perspective how I feel about the medium. I feel like I am too old for it. I know that I am not. I just cannot help how I feel. I became an adult while the video game industry halted itself in adolescence, which I suppose is remarkable since back in the 80’s games were the toys children wanted most. The games themselves have an adolescent fixation on power fantasy, violence, and unrealistic depictions of women. The gamers are no longer the basement dwelling uber nerds who were despised for their fantasy fixations. The gamers are status-seeking, sheltered, entitled boys who wish their media to remain at a static level of immature content. One might be able to understand why I feel I have outgrown things. Video games seem to be focused on some sort of image currently, and I realize that I have nothing to prove. I have become a realized adult.

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re: This is NOT a reason NOT to pirate DVDs

There was an amusing post about DVD content on BSPCN that prompted an informative and also amusing discussion of sorts on The Consumerist today. Basically, consumers spend hard-earned money on DVDs that often force many, many unskippable ads to be viewed before reaching the featured content. At $15+ (or $20+ for blu-ray discs) per unit, some people find this frustrating. They own the content, so they feel they should be allowed to skip right to it.

The Consumerist discussion, as far as was posted at the time of my writing (50 comments), seems to consist mostly of people discussing their illegal workarounds. Yes, there are people proudly promoting bittorrent, and then there are others discussing the benefits of ripping the content to their hard drives sans ads and FBI warnings. And yes, both activities are illegal. A small minority simply say they stream their rentals via Netflix and all is well. This does not really mean anything in a discussion of items to own. It does seem to be the future, however.

I cannot say I care much for the ads, but DVDs with unskippable ads  afford me the time to fix a snack and find a drink before it confronts me with what is usually a gaudy menu screen with confusing items. What is the difference between a bonus and an extra? And, technically speaking, anything that does not alter the feature itself should be considered an extra/bonus, right? Anyway, like the menu is for me, the ads are just a minor inconvenience.

I once convinced myself that buying DVDs would support and protect things I like. My successes: Veronica Mars, Dollhouse, Wonder Showzen, UC Gundam series, and The Boondocks to name a few. Turns out my money was used to help create new undesirable content on the CW, FOX, and Cartoon Network.The concern for me is the featured content on each disc. At $15 per disc or a godawful markup for a TV series (which costs roughly the same price to make as a movie DVD), I am finding myself less interested in purchasing DVDs. The accessibility that came from ownership used to be the goal, and bonuses were an amazing perk. I’m finding that those aren’t enough because the DVDs coming out aren’t necessarily items I find myself watching enough to make up for the $15+ that the studios and stores don’t deserve.

Really makes video-on-demand services that much more appealing.

“We Are the World” 2.0 = Disappointing, Shameful

As much as it pains me to be in agreement with Jay-Z, the new rendition of “We Are the World” is disappointing. I do not think that the original is somehow untouchable in its perfection, since it is a pretty annoying song. (It’s long and repetitive.) It’s just that remaking the song strikes me as insincere. While I am almost certain that most of the celebrities involved were there to help raise money for Haiti, there will always be concern that some were their for face time. Helping Haiti is a good image booster, and someone who buys the MP3 is in a good place to follow-up with an album or movie download as well. Not to mention that all those involved are covering an old song, which means little effort was necessary.

The parts that really get me are when the autotune guys show up and the rap breakdown. The song transitions from being middling but honest homage to embarrassing and, ultimately, poorly dated. I am not comfortable with people looking back on this song and thinking that the best we could offer was robot voice and the worst rap offerings available. Something more original and more inspirational should have been offered up for Haiti.

Trying to get Caprica

Most forms of entertainment can be construed as propaganda. This is a bold statement to make but nevertheless a true one. Individuals are slaves to their own feelings and notions. It is not absurd to believe that something an individual creates will carry the individual’s message, either with intent or without. It’s human nature. Like the adage says, we write what we know. So, too, must we create what we know.

Like FOX with Dollhouse, SyFy (ugh!) isn't above using sex to sell an otherwise heady show to an unsuspecting audience.  I also must comment on the fact that Alessandra Torresani has come a long way from once (literally, one time) being Ann Veal on Arrested Development. An issue that Battlestar Galactica seemingly had upon its conclusion was a religious message. Throughout the series there was a polytheistic leaning that was creative and new, but then the Cylons and later Baltar started spouting about a one true god. This would be fine except for the fact that in the end this god revealed itself as angels in the heads of two characters and a messenger/harbinger in the form of a resurrected human character. It would seem that Ron D. Moore was saying something about the rightness and righteousness of a one true god. Most of us viewers did not care for this in our humans versus robots war show with a heavy emphasis on terrorism and internal politics.

In starting to watch Caprica, a show produced by Moore but not entirely in his control, the message of the one true god is being lost. I’m confused but amused by it. In the first episode we see an attack on a train carrying many innocent people, and the perpetrator is one of those terrible monotheists. He was able to perform such a horrible act because his god said it was right. I’m going to gloss over the fact that he was dark-skinned and may as well have been Persian, but it’s interesting to see monotheists being persecuted for their believes and shown to be the bad guys despite the ending of the previous series.

It will be interesting to follow the rest of Caprica and found out what the writers ultimately want to say about religion. These series are hardly about religious tolerance, especially given the ending of the previous. What kind of religious and political messages will we find on the way to its conclusion?

As an aside, I’m pleasantly surprised with the series. I intended to avoid it, but Cylon development and virtual people won me over. I’m particularly interested in the virtual Zoe and later the virtual Tamara, as they were created not from the usual scifi brain download but from metadata as it exists on the internet, in public and private records, etc. These are nigh perfect copies of the originals, so far, and they are based on people’s actions. It’s not what you think that shapes who you are. It’s what you do.