Saturday, 14 January 2012

Secondary Gamers - A First-hand Guide

I've talked about gaming as an addictive vice before and there is a natural extension to this metaphor which will be obvious to any vaguely serious gamer. Think about the well known class of people known as 'passive smokers' or the idea of 'second hand smoke'. The primary smoker acts as the addict and the second hand smoker is exposed to a fragment of the primary smoker's addiction by merely being in the vicinity of the primary smoker. Similarly people's lives are certainly affected for better or worse if they are periodically exposed to the addiction of another. Heavy drinkers and other regular drug users indirectly influence others near them with their habits. As do gamers!

Imagine that putrid pre-2004 tobacco smoke is kinda like... 'gaming gas' or something.

Primary gamers, especially if they have siblings or cousins that they regularly had contact with, influenced those family members by playing games in their vicinity. This idea also translates to friendship groups and other social circles that include at least one primary gamer. Although these people  are largely spectators to begin with, bedazzled and entranced by the show being put on for them, those on the peripheries are often enticed into 'having a quick go' alone or playing a co-op mission or two with the primary gamer. Some even have the balls to go head to head with the primary gamer in full on multiplayer action.  

So these secondary gamers then return to their real lives and go about their non-gamey things. They'll never be all that bothered about super geeky stuff and probably won't understand or quite frankly give a rat's ass about this kind of bullshit.

Utter crap is the lifeblood of gaming humour.
So when one encounters a second hand gamer (easily identified by a relatively low gaming skill and knowledge despite a passing interest in gaming) one must be wary that although these people don't think you are a sewer dwelling social outcast for being a gamer, you will get nothing but blank stares if you try and pull off a 'I can't let you BREW that Starfox' gag so avoid that kind of stuff. It's only polite and will serve you well. Further it is very rude to annihilate or exclude these gamers when they do take an interest in what you are doing.

Head shots, lapping or perfecting are only impressive or humiliating to victims of a similar skill level. Against a much weaker and less interested player, it's just plain mean. Rectify the situation in competitive play by making use of handicaps to make the game fun and challenging for all concerned.  Offer broad brush help that will get results when coaching a secondary gamer through unfamiliar or slightly tougher sections of games and it is best advised to play co-op games as in that case it often doesn't matter how good the secondary gamer is and you can get your kicks by playing well whilst they get theirs by just dicking around in the game.

Perfect for a mixed crowd,

Wario Ware is probably the series of choice (on par with Rayman Origins or New Super Mario Bros. Wii) to involve secondary gamers as it's fast, stupid and easy enough to pick up. Further still, the competitive modes are auto-regulatory in the sense that the game becomes more difficult for those who are far ahead and easier for those who struggle so the game usually feels balanced. To top it all off the game is such a random crap shoot at times that everyone seems to win fairly often which is nice when the skill levels are so obviously different anyway. Or you could just have fewer friends and win! win! WIN! It's up to you.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Binge Gaming: An Addict's Guide

In a world of modern games which can boast 100+ hours of play time, it isn't surprising to find that binge gaming exists, especially to the army of us that are guilty of it. To the uninitiated, if your friend/employee/spouse ever completely disappears off the map for a day or two it would be wise to check the latest release dates on high profile games. The economic downturns of the world have less to do with consumer confidence as they do with people simply not spending money because they're playing Skyrim.

...amongst other titles.

However, like anything that we binge on, gaming is likely to have its hangovers, addictions and drawbacks when we overindulge too often. But since I for one refuse to go cold turkey on gaming, here's my definitive guide to living with a crippling addiction to fun.

Binge Effectively: There is absolutely no point in binging on games for a long stretch of time if you could have played the game in question for the equivalent amount of time in very short bursts. So there's never a need to binge on Bejeweled or Tetris. You can have many mini-sessions on those kinds of games easily. A more modern example is Sonic Generations because although it is a longer game with many unique levels and challenges, they are nicely divided into nice 'n' small bitesize chunks that can be digested over many 'healthily short' sessions.

Sonic is fast and quick. So too must your sessions with him be. Ooer.

The kind of games that you should binge on, in the event of a binge, are the kind that require a good amount of investment to enjoy initially. Say you have Mass Effect or Red Dead Redemption lying unplayed on your games shelf and that you've been itching to start playing it for a while then those are the games you binge on first and foremost. Get ankle deep in a new gaming world, which will give you the investment in the game that you want for future plays.

Reduce Guilt via Chore Integration: The worst part about binging on games is that those dishes won't wash themselves and the laundry won't do itself. In my case as a PhD student, that course marking won't mark itself. We all have unavoidable mindless chores to do in our lives and when we binge on a Sunday, we neglect these tasks. Discipline yourself to tend to a fixed portion of hard labour (after every quest, level etc, it's your choice) and after a day's hard binging you'll also find that a lot of those niggly little tasks have been taken care of and a lot of the gamer's guilt will just vanish in a puff of smoke.

The washing machine arcade game illustrates that last point nicely I think.

Binge with Mates: Another way to binge effectively is to do so with company. You could take on an entire co-op campaign in one go or you could take turns trying to progress through a single player campaign. Equally you could just play Super Smash Brothers until your fingers fall off but at least with the first two there is a sense of mutual achievement. It's also a good way to avoid 'not seeing or speaking to anyone for a day' depression.

Don't Binge on Anything Else except Exercise: Don't over eat, don't binge drink and don't binge on watching television! Although your mind and fingers may be working overtime, your body almost certainly isn't doing anything else but rotting and getting more dead. Eat well, avoid the junk food and don't touch the alcohols. If you want to get addicted to anything, get addicted to this! Your mind body and general sense of wellbeing will all thank you for it.

Well that takes care of that article, now I'm going to play Puzzle Quest for 18 days. See you when I'm done!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Neutrality: The True Dark Path?

By now most of us have at least caught wind of games that make use of the age old morality scale which ranks our decisions on a linear scale ranging from the goody two shoes bastions of all that is holy all he way down to the most godless evil cretins with no sense of ethics of any kind.

A lot of game systems will just leave it at those two binary extremes and dish out rewards or punishments in certain scenarios dependent on how lovely or unlovely you tend to be in those pesky everyday moral dilemmas that seems to crop up all to frequently in modern RPGs. However with the Fallout series and others, special mention was given to those who maintained a 'Neutral' stance on their morality compass throughout the game. On a morality scale ranging from plus or minus 1000 respectively representing ultimate good and ultimate evil, true neutrality scores 0 on this scale which would suggest a perfect balance between good and evil. I couldn't disagree more. Those 'neutros' are the worst of the bunch.

Oh yeah? What about when push comes to shove?

To prove this point I have to show that being neutral is bad in of itself and that it is worse than being evil.To prove the former all I have to say that without some sort of internal calculus and deliberate strategy, it is very difficult to remain neutral. People have a natural tendency to be either good or bad most of the time, forsaking the other type of decision.If you don't blow up Megaton, chances are that apart from some petty or accidental thefts and kills, you will also tend to help the weak, punish the wicked and have an interest in seeing peaceful communities grow and flourish. Alternatively you might be a serial bastard and rob and pillage all that you see before you and only care for your own pleasures and comforts above all else. If the price is right, the bad guys of gaming will jettison all honour and trust out the window at any stage.

However to maintain Zero Karma status (or thereabouts) you have to be the kind of socio-path who reckons that killing an innocent shopkeeper can be cancelled out by donating enough to good causes later or that having done some good natured favours for a town entitles you to steal from it every now and then as long as it all balances out. There is no sense of conscience there at all. You're not being good for goodness' sake nor are you being evil because it's a means to the end of being happier. You're doing a mixture of both just for the sake of satisfying some arbitrary sense of 'not being involved'.

The true path to ultimate darkness....

Except that isn't true. At least when an evil character does bad things, it is towards the end of changing the world to their preferred shape in that they get to reap the rewards of deceit and unethical actions. Good and Evil are just two opposing preference profiles for how to change the world through your actions. Good benefits the whole whilst Evil benefits the sole. Neutral people shape the world when they interact with it but when an Evil person kills, they do it because they want  their goods and actively disrespect the rights of others but when a Neutral person kills, they do it for no particular reason or end goal it's just that they don't care whether it was bad or not which is worse.