The Repeater: Gamers Speak

The RepeaterThe Repeater is a feature in which important discussions are highlighted and linked from other authors to help the information get around to as many eyes and ears as possible. Relevant to video games? Maybe. Relevant to gamers? Definitely. Let these be your food for thought. (Image Source: http://www.devcom.com/)


Everyone has spoken since that ghastly term “Gamergate” was first minted. For all it’s scandalous meaning, one thing about this month’s events is that it’s got everyone talking to each other. Players are discussing the issue of harassment, bigotry and ethics. I may not agree with everything that’s being said, but I can appreciate that it’s on everyone’s lips, which means people are being forced to think about this. That’s a total win.

As the repeater is about just being an echo, I present you with bits from the conversation developers are having with their gamers.

Devs Speak

Mostly, devs have just been commenting in the already on-going conversations of various threads. So when you visit these articles, read the comments sections.

Gamers Speak

I didn’t mean to hold a mirror to anyone, but it happened anyway.

[..] And that’s what “social justice warriors”, aka people who give a shit, do: inadvertently or not, they hold a mirror to anyone that chooses lazy complacency. They remind others that there are injustices yet to be fought right under their nose. Defensiveness and aggression are a typical reaction to feeling blame or guilt. Mocking those that care more than you do is a fine diversionary tactic. – Syl

A great discussion was going over at MMO Gypsy but spammers made it impossible and Syl had to shut it down just when it was getting interesting. Thanks spam bots. We love you. Still well worth a read of Syl’s post and the entire conversation that followed.

It’s never too late to discuss this sensitive subject. I think the past week has cooled the flames a bit. I’ve refrained from chiming in on this whole fiasco, mostly because I’ve said enough. It’s pretty well known what I think of things like this and I have nothing new to add.

I spend a lot of time on XP Chronicles discussing men’s issues. That can feel like a laser beam, even for me. My whole goal in setting out on this project was to focus more on those issues and to give myself a space to freely express what I’m thinking and feeling. TR Red Skies wasn’t the place for that. I think this experience has helped me grow. A lot. And it’s been good. As bad  as some events have been lately, it’s nice to see the issues acknowledged and discussed.

On “Too Many Games”

Talkback IconTalkback is a feature I use for cross-blog dialoging (where one blogger writes an article and response articles are published by other bloggers). Join the conversation with your own talkback article if you’re a blogger or hit up the comments section of the participating blogs.


EC recently made a video about the barrage of video games players find themselves buried under these days and he made the point that having this number of overwhelming choices is always better. I don’t think more is always better. In fact, having fewer games is probably a good thing.

A while ago I saw a TED talk by Barry Schwartz where he talked about the paradox of choice. In fact, he has a book by that title where he proposes that having a lot choices isn’t better. He doesn’t really doubt that in a general sense, it’s good to have options. However, having too many can cause paralysis and in the long run make us unhappy about the choices we make (because we’ll always think there were better choices).

I had a sense of this before I heard his talk but hearing him explain it really confirmed it for me. I don’t know if having more is always better, but that seems doubtful. The analogy he used during the talk was going to the store for a pair of jeans. We all know the dozens of different kinds of jeans one can buy in a store and Barry compared this experience to how it was in the past. He’d go to a store and they only had one or two kinds of jeans. H’ed pick his size and go home. Today, he has to know so much more about jeans to even know what he needs.

It feels like we miss something important when we’re bombarded with too many choices. How many things can a human reasonably consider? Surely there’s a limit to this and if there is, then that means that there’s a point at which having more choice is bad for us.

We can have too many games. I already think I do. And what its done is ensure I spend less time on any one of them as I spread what time I have across the lot of them. Consequently it’s difficult to know every development studio behind each game and therefore difficult to know as much about my games as I want to. There’s a trade of for having too many choices it seems.

Do you believe there’s such a thing as having too many games available on the market?

Chronicles of Warcraft Heroes: The Second War of the Shifting Sands

chroniclesIt was 7pm and time to login. Every night. The War Effort was already underway and my guild and I decided to do some dungeon runs, to put in our work for the server. Those were the days we dreamed of being a “top” guild, another awesome piece of our rich server community of awesome guilds. Even though we weren’t likely to open the gates, we would be part of the effort to get it done, no matter how small.

Each night I logged in and each night we watched the numbers on the World of Warcraft site go up and up and up ….each server had it’s own progress and by comparison we were pretty average, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We were genuinely glad to just be there for this epic, world-wide event. I’d never experienced anything like it up until then and the idea that other guilds in other countries were also working hard around the clock to open their gates seemed surreal. Me and my guildies watched eagerly to see who the first servers would be.

silithus-cenarionholdBack then Death N Taxes was among the most famous world-wide guilds along side such stellar company as Nihilum, Fury, Ascent and dozens of others. I don’t know the guilds to open the first gates, but I know that whichever servers opened them first would have a shot at world first Temple of Ahn’Qiraj kills. Each server had to collaborate, designate a scepter holder and complete the questline. Raid guilds were the real muscle behind organizing the resources to make it happen. If you think organizing 40 players is too much, try a thousand. Working across timezones, different languages, continents is a heroic feat all it’s own, but players, with the help of the internet, did exactly that for the race. These heroes coordinated other guilds and all the little players on their servers using the forums, quest turn in schedules and teaming up at weird hours for the major battles along the questline. n a very real way, at the time, each server to open the gates represented an intimate community of players who knew each other by name. These were servers with master craftsman lists, Honor System schedules, and regular open world combat. From the day this event was unleashed upon the Warcraft community, opening the gates signified some up-and-coming server right through to the release of the Burning Crusade.

It’s true that The War Effort, as a quest from a technical standpoint, amounted to little more than cloth and metal turn-ins for the average player, because …well, that was where the tech was and players didn’t begrudge the game for this. Part of the experience of MMOs is the fantasy, so trying to evaluate the fun-factor of the War Effort by looking at the available quests will always understate the excitement of the event itself. Players were creating lore in real-time and that wasn’t lost on us at all. The Effort was about the game changing, about our actions translating into visual progress and leading to grander adventures. As the Second War approached, our top raiding guilds were required to do the leg work on the questline while the rest of us gathered the resources our forces would need. We all anticipated the day we’d bang the gong. We all knew who our Scarab Lords would be. This was a moment in Azerothian history made epic by our enthusiasm  and we were pretty damn glad to take our places in the tome.

The Story Before Us

180px-Sceptreoftheshiftingsands

The Scepter of the Shifting Sands

It was the War of the Shifting Sands that gave us the Silithus we inherited. By the time we, the new heroes, reached its borders it was just a quiet, sandy, dessert, a grave with spare insects clinging to life under the sun. On the surface, it looked abandoned, dry as bone with almost no inhabitants save for the watchers of Cenarion Hold. It was a dreadful place to be sent. But beneath the surface an ancient threat was growing. Those spare hives weren’t what was left, but a sign of an emerging threat.

The deepest memory of the War of the Shifting Sands was left to us by Fandral Staghelm and the Bronze Dragon flight led by Anachronos. Fandral lost his son Vandral, who was crushed before his eyes by the Qiraji leader General Rajaxx. This was the place that destroyed the Fandral of old and brought us the Fandral we know today, the leader of the Druids of the Flame.

anachronos_wow

Anachronos

To contain the threat and end the war, Caelestrasz, Arygos and Merithra flew into the thick of battle, into Ahn’Qiraj itself to buy the Night Elves time to create a magical barrier around the city with the help of Anachronos. Sealing the Qiraji behind this barrier, Anachronos then created a golden gong from a scarab, and a scepter from the limb of a fallen fellow dragon. The scepter was given to Fandral who, in his despair and rage over the loss of his son, smashed the scepter against the magical barrier and walked away from the Elves and the Alliance.

This is how the Scepter came to be shattered into pieces and this is where players were charged with it’s re-assembly. This is where the questline for the Scepter of the Shifting Sands began and where players made their debut into the canon.

Fandral Staghelm during the War of the Shifting Sands

Fandral Staghelm during the War of the Shifting Sands

It asked us to invade Blackwing Lair on a quest ominously titled “Only One May Rise”. It was time to nominate a single hero among us to become our Scarab Lord and fulfill the prophecy, to chose who would bang the gong to re-open Ahn’Qiraj for us. Of course at the time, we didn’t know what all of this meant …but we did learn that only one could rise and that one person had to deputize others to aid them in completing the quest chain.

This quest is terribly long so I’ll sum it up. Each server had to gather each shard of the scepter from four dragon flights: Azuregos, Eranikus, Nefarius and Anachronos. The best suited heroes among us for this task were raiders, who naturally had the responsibility of entering these raids and doing all the fighting while us lesser mortals picked Mageweave and fish from the sea.

Insane Fandral Staghelm

Insane Fandral Staghelm

Alls fair in fame and glory and the truth is that when this questline was released players were wild about it. It filled us with purpose and made the world feel more alive. For all of the game’s limitations back then, this event was the first to fold players into the lore, put us in the midst of Azerothian history, and allow us to be actors in the story in a really intimate way. To this day, the Second War was the first and only game event which required server communities to unite behind a singular goal.

For the heroes among us who had the grave task of confronting these ancient powers, they were on the bleeding edge of content. They saw what only a handful from every server got to see: the unfolding of events, live. They experienced true adventure in that they were discovering the knowledge that would allow other players to open their gates in the future.

The Second War Begins

The Scepter of the Shifting Sands is whole once more, <name>.

It must be you who uses the scepter. It must be you who heralds the next age of your people.

You must wait for the armies of the Horde and the Alliance to arrive in Silithus before you may ring the Scarab Gong.

High Overlord Varok Saurfang

High Overlord Varok Saurfang

With the Scepter assembled, the date of the battle was announced to everyone on the forums and we all vowed to show up for battle. High Overlord Varok Saurfang, the legendary horde leader, commanded our forces and headed the Might of Kalimdor for the war. Varok had been Orgrim Doomhammer’s second in command, and now he was fighting side-by-side with us. He’s the brother of Broxigar, the only mortal known to physically strike Sargeras himself! However, the servers, in the words of Illidan, were not prepared. Still, in the game, in our minds and fantasies of the event, it was pretty epic to be in the company of such legends. Once our forces were rallied and the supplies transferred to the frontlines, the gong was struck. The battles immediately began, phat loot was immediately found, and we had 10 hours of a non-stop invasion of southern Kalimdor! The time window was to allow other players who had assembled the scepter to bang the gong and get their reward as well. But it was rare for more than a couple of players to do so as far as I know, because the quest took monumental effort. kill-chart-AQ40Usually, one person would bang the gong. That person would be forever known by their legendary title of Scarab Lord and they’d ride into battle on the legendary Black Qiraji mount. Thus the Second War of the Shifting Sands began with the restoration of the scepter by the players.

After 10 hours of beating back the Qiraji advance, our beloved raiders set out for the Ruins and the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj and they were victorius. C’thun went down swiftly and the Second War came to a close. C’thun’s days were numbered …somewhere in the next four months his death was prophesied. This video is one guilds dramatic adventure through the Temple itself which perfectly captures what most raid videos fail to: the drama of the raid instance itself and how the players are perceived to intervene in it. Depending on how long you’ve been with the WoW community, you’ll recognize this one from it’s title and author so kick back and enjoy. The editing is still better than most WoW raid videos released today! It’s also fully-captioned.

AQ40 was considered raid 2.5, releasing between Blackwing Lair and Naxxramas. It featured some of the most unique bosses to grace the game, even if some of them were just plain weird. Viscidus, for example, needed to be frozen solid in order to defeat him. This also had, until then, the most godly trains of trash roaming through an instance, and the longest hallways. Still, this video is worth the 20 minutes you’ll spend watching it and it captures something very important that’s easy to forget when we reduce raids to epic treasure chests, spreadsheets, and world firsts. Invading the Temple was just the final act of a prophecy given us a thousand years before WoW.

The Second War of the Shifting Sands was one of our first entries into history. It was the first and only event of it’s kind and for that it stands out in player history.

If you’re a WoW veteran I’m sure you have your own personal chronicles and I’d love to hear them. How did you leave your mark on Azeroth?

Scree Tags: #WoWChronicles #wowlore #worldofwarcraft

Chronicles of Warcraft Heroes Series

chroniclesIn preparation for Blaugust I’ve come up with a plan to help me publish for 31 days straight. And I need all the help I can get!

About a week ago I mentioned that I’d be doing a few more posts about World of Warcraft as a sort of run up to the release of it’s next expansion, which I’m really interested in. This new series, Chronicles of Warcraft Heroes, will give an accounting of how players have so far advanced the lore of the game.

The lore explored will deal strictly with the things that players brought about through their actions in the game. Of course, Warcraft lore is extremely on rails, so it’s not that we’ve dynamically changed the game. What I want to do is show how our stories, as the new heroes of Warcraft, intertwine with canon.

I’ll publish a new chapter of the Chronicles at least once per week during Blaugust and if you like the series, I’ll continue until release day of Warlords of Draenor. Also, there’s lots of excellent resources made by players, our very own heroic archivists, which I’ll link to liberally throughout the series. To prime yourself for the series, here’s a couple of my favorites. I’ve also been a huge fan of the Warcraft novels, so if you enjoy that kind of fiction I recommend them (some authors are better than others, true, but I love all the stories just the same).

Quest Log: What’s a Game?

quest-logQuest Log is a feature in which I set out on adventure to learn how something works. This might be game mechanics, social issues, or technology. The goal is to gain a greater understanding of the topic and spread awareness.


So …what is it? What makes a game a game? I dare you to try to define a game.

For gamers, we know a game when we see it, right? We’ve played tons of them …and yet any one of us would have a terrible time trying to narrow down what makes a game a game. I can name a few games for you. I can tell you how they make me feel. I cannot tell you what a game is.

Things that come to mind: games are interactive, they’re fantasy, and they’re fun (though that’s probably too subjective a term to mean anything). This is all I can name without getting into gray territory, such as saying that games are competitive and have goals – because that’s not always true. Minecraft isn’t competitive, nor does it have goals. Same for The Sims and plenty of other games. There are also games that aren’t fun in the traditional sense, but are highly engaging – say, To the Moon is a great example. Despite knowing what games are and being able to point to one when we see it, don’t you find it interesting that you can’t describe them?

Roger Caillois, a french sociologist, wrote a book in the 1960s titled Man, Play and Games in which he asked this very question. He concluded that games consist of six characteristics:

  1. Games are non-obligatory.
  2. Games are outside of the routines of life
  3. Games have an element of randomness.
  4. Games are unproductive.
  5. Games have rules separate from ordinary laws.
  6. Games involve fantasy

I’ve quoted Caillois before in an essay I wrote on game ethics. In that essay I proposed that some software that we call games may not be games at all. I think that point applies here. Even though we love all the things we own that we call games, it’s possible that some of them aren’t games after all. That fact doesn’t change our enjoyment of them. It changes nothing at all in practical terms.

Several rules stand out on the list that might have raised your brow or perked your ears, because some of your games probably game to mind. For example, rule #4 means that true games create no wealth. Just a year ago Diablo 3 wasn’t a game according to these rules. Add any freemium game with “insert coin” mechanics to that list of Games That Are Not Games. Only a week ago I was writing about gold farmers and even before then I’ve made the point on several occasions that when games involve real world economics, we’re outside the realm of games. In this case, it doesn’t matter who receives the wealth (the player or the developer), the fact that game activity is generating it removes it from the definition of games (because player activity becomes productive and obligatory, violating both rules 1 and 4).

We should also consider that MMOs and VR are challenging rule #2, as they become a routine part of our daily lives. When full-body VR finally arrives, I fully expect to see a world very similar to the movie Surrogates. One could argue that the growth of the internet has already made people disappear into their homes for entertainment, instead of going outside for it. As technology increasingly puts us inside our games, rule #6 will gradually fall away as reality and fantasy meld. And even after all of that we still don’t quite know exactly what makes a game a game!

There’s one other crucial point that Caillois made that’s important here: society corrupts games by institutionalizing them. For video games, eSports would be a corruption of gaming. It could be the case that all of our games were totally real games until society corrupted them into something else. Just think of all the conversations that have become more frequent over the past five years about gamification. We want everything to be fun, and to that end companies turn to gamification to make mundane routines more engaging, to use games for business ends. I don’t think this is a good thing, though it all sounded really cool when the concept became popular. I think it’s fair to call gamification a corruption of games and play, but I’ll have to speculate for now and revisit this question on another day.

So given Caillois’ definition of games, how many games do you think you own now? I think I own about 3 …

The Repeater: The Digital Frontier Theory Advanced

The RepeaterThe Repeater is a feature in which important discussions are highlighted and linked from other authors to help the information get around to as many eyes and ears as possible. Relevant to video games? Maybe. Relevant to gamers? Definitely. Let these be your food for thought. (Image Source: http://www.devcom.com/)


It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for me with the topic of player’s rights being one of the most talked about in the Digital Frontier series. I actually never intended it to be a series, but it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of gamers, and anyway it always seems relevant to conversations about culture. Who knew I’d start the year with a topic that would provide almost a year’s worth of content!

The theme for this Repeater is just the Digital Frontier in general, as the cultural topics tend to vary quite a bit so far this Summer. That’s a good sign! I’ll start with “Virtual Conflict as Cultural Catharsis” (the impact of games and media on our perceptions of the world), a real think piece that does what most of us fail to do in writing about conflict in games: It builds a bridge from the real world into the game. It manages to make the point without making the point, which is an art with writing about culture.

The trajectory of tone and content in the ‘war is hell’ films from the 1970s such as Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter shifted dramatically to the restorative and cathartic films from the 1980s like Top Gun and Rambo. These films either painted the US military in a far more positive and victorious light or, in the case of Rambo, literally re-fighting Vietnam on-screen.

What is interesting is that in games after 9/11 this process moved in the opposite direction. The games that emerged in the first few years after 9/11 can broadly be interpreted as revenge power-fantasies. The largely tactical focus of these titles place the player in the position of a soldier with a ‘grunt’s-eye view’. This creates a space in which the player can rewrite history, restore agency and re-establish the ‘correct’ order of the world on an individual level; winning the battles AND winning the war. It is only in recent years that some developers have taken steps to question and critique what can be seen as a largely jingoistic and cynically simplified streamlining of complex geopolitical issues.

For a complex topic, the article is a quick read and well worth the time.

The New Yorker recently published a story titled “The Kiss That Changed Video Games”, in which it reviews the development of The Sims and how homosexuality was allowed into the game.

Barrett was asked to create a demo of the game to be shown at E3. The demo would consist of three scenes from the game. These were to be so-called on-rails scenes—not a true, live simulation but one that was preplanned, and which would shake out the same way each time it was played, in order to show the game in its best light. One of the scenes was a wedding between two Sims characters. “I had run out of time before E3, and there were so many Sims attending the wedding that I didn’t have time to put them all on rails,” Barrett said.

On the first day of the show, the game’s producers, Kana Ryan and Chris Trottier, watched in disbelief as two of the female Sims attending the virtual wedding leaned in and began to passionately kiss. They had, during the live simulation, fallen in love. Moreover, they had chosen this moment to express their affection, in front of a live audience of assorted press. Following the kiss, talk of The Sims dominated E3. “You might say that they stole the show,” Barrett said. “I guess straight guys that make sports games loved the idea of controlling two lesbians.”

First, I loved reading this. I never knew how that made it into The Sims and it’s really easy to just believe that the designers sort of went about it in a natural sort of way, not forcing it, not making a big deal, just letting it be. To hear that that’s pretty much what happened, but that it was made possible because the team didn’t believe it would be released any way, makes this tale that much more revealing. Also, before I even read the article I knew that the Kiss mentioned in the title HAD TO have taken place between lesbian sims. I was trying to imagine what the reaction might have been if two men had kissed during the live simulation. Could The Sims have been shelved, never to be known to us today?

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In the Battle to Exploit Gamers (Steam Summer Sale), Steam met it’s match when Reddit took it on in an effort to even out the wins for the competing teams. Haven’t you heard? In Soviet Valve, Steam plays you! By all observations, the efforts of Team White seem to have worked, but there’s currently no way to really know. What we do know is that for the first 5 days of the sale, the teams were trading wins equally. But the Red Team (of which I’m a member) has been on a streak the past 3 days. Is it due to the rule change that Valve implemented? Is there some Gray Team which is throwing all it’s effort into Team Red? We may never know. The part I liked the most about the whole thing is that players organized something with relative ease and successfully altered the outcomes for players. I think  that’s a lesson worth taking to heart, because on the Digital Frontier we’re going to need all the inspiration we can get.

One more piece worth repeating is brought to you by Wundergeek at Go Make Me a Sandwich where she explains why it’s difficult to add women to games (this one’s for you Ubisoft!).

Hey, it’s The Repeater and that’s two pieces of Awesome at the end of what’s usually a brow furrowing series. Have fun sharing!

Quest Log: Should Vloggers Pay Devs?

quest-logQuest Log is a feature in which I set out on adventure to learn how something works. This might be game mechanics, social issues, or technology. The goal is to gain a greater understanding of the topic and spread awareness.


Ever the controversy pot, Phil Fish has once again opened his mouth and revealed he’s a very moody and mean man! His remarks? Youtubers should pay game creators a portion of their ad revenue. Most of it.

As a gamer, as someone who doesn’t create games, I disagree. If I buy a car and record myself driving it, I don’t owe the manufacturer money from ad revenue of my videos. His comments even call into question writing reviews. I use screenshots all the time of my games when I write about them. If my blog were generating money, is he saying that for those specific reviews, I should pay the company money for the use of the screenshots?

At what point are my game experiences my own? I think this ties in with the question I posed the other day of player rights when it comes to games. At current, the industry is solidly using the traditional software model, where players simply license the use of the game. It’s like buying a subscription to Netflix, rather than buying the DVD. I don’t own Mad Men. I’m allowed to rent it’s use each month.

To be clear, let’s look at a single EULA for Square Enix (they aren’t all that unique or special, most game EULAs look exactly like this). The first thing it states (after the introduction) is that purchase of their game is simply the purchase of a license. The player owns nothing, not even their avatar, not even items they purchase in an item shop. We technically don’t even own the screenshots we take.

Square Enix grants to you the non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to install and use one (1) copy of the Game Software on one (1) computer hard drive at any given time solely for your personal use (the “License”). All rights not specifically granted under this License are hereby reserved by Square Enix and, as applicable, by its licensors. The Game Software is licensed to you, not sold.

This quote speaks for itself.

In Fish’s view, gamers don’t even own the experiences they share with other gamers. If I decide to record myself playing a game, even after I bought it, even though the camera is mine and the controllers and the TV — of all companies to owe, I owe the game developer because the content of my show is considered to be theirs in Fish’s view. I think this approach isn’t just unreasonable, but irresponsible. If developers aren’t making games so that players can share their experiences with other players, then they ought not release them to the public. His reasoning ignores that developers enter into convenants with players foremost in the specific hopes that those players will help them sell their games. This doesn’t just count for streamers and vloggers. Anyone who purchases a game anywhere does so with the developer expectation that you will tell your friends about it and those friends will then buy it. Ignoring the unspoken bargain that developers strike with players is dishonesty at best about how game proliferation actually works.

I think this example goes to show that we do need a player’s rights document, because left to developers like Fish, players would not own the energy and time we spend playing games for audiences. I own my labor, no? I can sell it to advertisers in turn for playing my game for other players. According to the EULA, I can install my game on my computer and play it even if friends are around, even if the neighborhood is looking at my screen. Besides that, consumer law allows me to do what I want, short of selling copies or infringing copyright, with what I purchase. Aside from legal implications, it’s just kinda mean spirited to feel like your players owe you money because their friends watched them play and another company paid you for it.

What do you think? Should you have to pay game developers when you make money from sharing your gaming sessions?