Friday, January 22, 2016

My Top 5 Games of 2015

Well, it certainly has been a while since I've written anything on this blog. Blogs, for me, have gone the way of the Dodo and have been replaced by the constant facebook updates and posts in Social Media. Blog posts require more time, forethought, and effort into writing them. Such that it is, I have a lot more time on my hands these past few months. I worked full time at the start of  2014, after finally graduating in 2013 from UCSD. But like the transient doctrine of impermanence, things have changed. I've been laid off, and so more time to reflect and, more importantly, play.

I digress now to the top 5 games I've played in 2015.

5. Metal Gear Rising

This game came out awhile ago. But I didn't play this title until May of this year. It's action packed, punishing in all the right ways, and is incredibly sleek. It's over the top in action. And it strikes all the right buttons for me.

4. GTA V

This is a fantastic title. Funny and irreverant. Technically breathtaking. When I encountered the first lightning and thunder weather system in the game, it literally made me exclaim in astonishment. The world is completely lived in, and it's one of the best open world simulations I've ever played.

3. Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is a buggy mess. It's graphics are dated. It's open world mechanic isn't as realized as GTAV's world. And yet it beat out MGR and GTAV. Why? Because despite all of the issues it has, underneath it all it has a really captivating setting, interesting story and characters, and really fun gameplay.

2. Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void

SC2 will always be in my heart. And Protoss are my race. LOTV is my jam. So why isn't this #1? Well it's kind of cheating, but I feel like I haven't played enough of it to really give it the top spot. Mind you, I've finished the campaign on Brutal difficulty. But I haven't gotten 100% in achievements for this game. And I barely touched the ladder.

1. Shadowrun: Hong Kong

SRHK, however, is the first game I've ever gotten all the achievements for. It's a fantastic story. It's an isometric turn based RPG. It's cyberpunk. This game is fantastic. It probably isn't the strongest of the three games from Harebrained Studios in the Shadowrun CRPGs released recently --Dragonfall had a better story-- but it has better mechanics overall.

So that's my top 5 for this past year. It's been a great year for video games. Hopefully 2016 will be fantastic as well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Top Games of 2011

Well, it's been a crazy year for me. Lot of changes in my life have occurred, such as getting married and moving out with my wife to a place 450 miles away. Overall, they've been great changes (such as the marriage lol).

One good constant though has always been video games. They're always there when I need to relax, decompress from the day, or just have fun. It's been a great year for gaming. Now for my top list of video games of 2011, it's going to be a little different. Some of these games may have come out the year or more before. It's the games I've played and enjoyed.

My top 5 list of video games I've played this year are:

It's on everybody's list, unsurprisingly. It's a massive world, open-ended, with an incredible amount of options in how you tackle the game. There were hours where I'd just run into the world and see what was out there. It was an awe-inducing game with a lot of memorable moments in the unscripted quiet beauty. Seeing the sky and the mountains and traversing is one of those moments. And then there's the incredible spectacle moments like the first time you fight a dragon. At level 4! I haven't even finished the game.

To be honest, I don't really remember playing much of the original Deus Ex. I remember though that I had a distinct feeling of enjoying it, because I bought the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War. And I was super excited about Deus Ex. This game was fantastic for its setting and options in playthrough. A lot of the things I loved about Skyrim, I also loved in Deus Ex. But the main difference is that this was a world of cyberpunks instead of elves. I am a sucker for good Sci-fi, and this game had amazing Sci-fi. Not in stereotypes, but in tropes and themes. Questions of the human condition and our future were raised in the game that made me think. I remember when I finished the game, I wanted to more. So in that sense, it was a great game.

It's Star Wars and Bioware. That enough should tell anyone why this is a great game. But then again, Bioware has kind of faltered with its last game Dragon Age 2. And the Star Wars property has seen better days (before the prequels). But to me, Star Wars and Bioware is the magical mix. But that also just made me more wary about how the game would turn out. Well I wasn't disappointed. The game's only been out about a month, but I've played it more than some games I've played this year. The story is just epic. And it's worth the price of admission just for the class story quests. Right now I'm rolling as a dark side Sith juggernaut, and the choices I make the character are the farthest things I could possibly do in real life. And that's what's so exciting. The game's story exudes how epic of a hero or villain my character can be.

This game has had it's ups and downs. I'm still unsure whether the battle between the elephant in the room, Modern Warfare 3, was a necessary thing or not. What I do know is that I prefer the BF series to the MW games, even though Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had the best singleplayer fps experience I can remember with a war shooting game. BF3's singleplayer was all right. It's the multiplayer that makes it shine. Flying in jets or attack helicopters, shooting people from 300 yards away (my personal record), and working in tandem with other players makes this game a fantastic fps.

What can I say about Starcraft 2? No other game has engrossed me and opened me up to more than any other game than Starcraft 2. I played the original Starcraft back in 1999 when I was starting out in highschool. It was a video gaming life experience. I played that game a metric crap ton. But looking back now? I barely scratched the surface of the Starcraft world affair. I never played a ladder match in Brood War. Nor did I play any multiplayer games outside of versus the AI with my friends. Starcraft 2 is a whole other beast. I've gotten over 1000 wins as protoss. I'm only platinum, but I started playing the beta and was copper. I have friends that play the game with me and they're in Master League. And that only serves to motivate me to get better at the game. The game has transcended the experience of being a game that I put it in for fun, to a much more serious endeavor. It's reminded me of my college career in competitive debate. I never understood why people would get enraptured and engulfed by sports. They'd form fantasy leagues and watch games every week and throw parties about it. I understand that now, because of Starcraft 2. I've been to Barcrafts, where people gather at restaurants and bars to watch competitive Starcraft tournaments. I've even competed at online tournaments and gone to one LAN (in person) tournament. It's that big of a deal for me. I have guilty pleasure dreams of dropping everything I am doing here and moving with my wife to South Korea to become a SC2 progamer. I joke about it with her. And what's even more crazy? I've become so enthralled with this game that my wife happily watches these tournaments with me. There'll be nights (such as last night) where she asks to put GSL on.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Video Game Culture and Feminism

There's been a longstanding stereotype of internet and video game culture as anti-feminist in its rhetoric. The internet culture's anonymous nature and irreverence seem to fuel this type of imagery. There are numerous examples online of this. The most recent example that comes to my attention is the sexual harassment for female players that occurred in a Starcraft 2 Thread on

What's interesting is that the social normative in these cultures almost seems to be okay with all of this sexist ideology. And what's even more disturbing is that it's almost expected and accepted behavior. The 'trolling', or 'griefing' mentality comes into play.

It's even become an issue with the webcomic colossus, Penny-Arcade.

Penny-Arcade, an internet media empire based on the eponymous webcomic, has a rabid and loyal following that numbers in the millions. They have become well respected figureheads in the video game movement in the United States. In a 2006 article from MTV news, they are listed as one of the top 10 most influential video gamers of all time:

"The Advocates: Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. If there's one thing game-playing generates, it's vociferous opinion about all that is right with games — and so much of what is wrong. Most of that group-grumbling has no clear effect, but that's not the case for Washington state's Krahulik and Holkins. Eight years ago, the two friends created the online comic strip Penny Arcade and began merrily skewering all that was wrong with games. They developed an online following of millions and have become proven tastemakers, even on a Web that is cluttered with gamer opinion ... But more importantly, they have become the closest the medium has to leaders of a gamers' movement, going so far, a couple of years back, to launch [the equivalent of] an annual E3 for gamers, the Penny Arcade Expo."

Not only that, they have generated millions of dollars for their Child's Play charity, a fund that helps give children toys and games in hospitals. So it sounds like these two guys are great advocates for gaming culture's progress away from this stereotype of immaturity. They even banned booth babes from their Expo.

Enter then, the Dickwolves controversy.

It's a really long story. And actually quite complex. But basically - and I'm probably not doing the entirety of the story justice - the Penny-Arcade guys wrote a comic strip that offended a subgroup of feminists and the feminists were vocal against it. The strip in question had a rape joke in it, and these feminists were calling it out as normalizing and perpetuating rape culture. Penny Arcade, thinking it was the internet and things would blow over, and that this group was overly sensitive to the issue, retorted with a follow up comic. It probably wasn't the best idea.

Unfortunately for them, they should have been more attentive to the feminists motivations and studied up on the issue. The entire controversy could have been avoided if they simply said they didn't intend to offend anyone. But instead they dismissed the feminists arguments entirely and played it off as another joke. This of course drove a huge backlash by the feminist community and there was an ensuing battle between the two camps.

Things escalated quickly to catastrophic levels, to the point that Penny-Arcade made T-shirts that had the Dickwolves depicted as a type of team Mascot. Many feminists viewed this as instigating the notion that the shirts literally espoused rape as a sporting event. The feminists then said to boycott PAX (the Penny-Arcade Expo convention) because they weren't comfortable in that environment anymore. PA subsequently removed the shirts from their online store.

It's gotten to the point where both sides have literally received death threats and both camps have called their followers to stop with the trolling.

Critically, I have to side on the feminist group here. I love reading Penny-Arcade and the comic strip that sparked all of this did not seem offensive to me. But just because I did not find it personally offended I can understand how others would. But that's not what this debate about and why I would side on the feminist camp in this issue. It was the handling of the situation after the first comic that made it such a big controversy. Feminists and rape survivors who are advocating against Penny-arcade just seem to have the moral high ground here.

That is too bad, because on a net benefit level, I think the Penny-Arcade guys do a lot of good. They just royally messed up in this department.

So, as both a video gamer and a feminist, I think the internet and video games have a lot of growing up to do. I'm sure that the Penny-Arcade guys are not for rape and don't want to perpetuate the culture through normalization of jokes about it. And I'm pretty sure they're regretting how they acted. But this raises a good question about feminism in internet culture. I believe that the stereotypes about the internet have some truth to it, because it replicates our current societal and cultural viewpoints. After all, the internet is just the space and sounding board of our behavior.

The grander question in the framework of feminism then, is what is wrong with our current culture and society when it deals with hate and bigotry?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Asian Threat Construction in Video Games: How The East Is Portrayed as Evil Imperialists in Homefront

There's been a lot of negative rhetoric in the news lately about Asian countries, such as China and North Korea. North Korea had been labeled a rogue state by the United States for a long time, and China last year had been accused of currency manipulation by the United States Congress. President Obama cited Asian countries as direct competitors in his 'war for the future' in his State of the Union address. So, it's easy to how Asian countries are being portrayed as threatening with all the loaded rhetoric.

It's interesting to see that this kind of attitude is being adopted in video games today. One particularly interesting example of this Asian fear mongering mentality is in the game Homefront.

It's a game that follows in the same vein as another alarmist piece, Red Dawn. Except, instead of Soviets invading America, it's Koreans. It's being developed by Kaos Studios and published by THQ. And it looks to be released around March of this year. In the game, the player takes on the role of an American who enters guerilla warfare against an occupying Korean army. The backstory leading up to this Korean invasion is the best part though. It's almost as ridiculous as a College Parliamentary Debate round, where everyone's arguments claim impacts to Nuclear war and extinction. The backstory goes a little something like this: there's an energy crisis in the year 2027, a giant flu epidemic that wipes out a good chunk of the U.S. population, and a unified Korea that annexes Japan and much of South East Asia.

The premise is pretty lol. For one thing, the likelihood of a unified Korea with imperialist ambitions under the North Korean leadership of Kim Jong Il's son is miniscule at best. While there have been steps taken by both countries to reunify, the outlook of it occurring like Homefront's backstory is a gigantic stretch. For one thing, the South Korean president said he would entertain reunification only if it was through a democratic process. Secondly, North Korea is severely lacking in an economic infrastructure due to global sanctions. For example, South Korea had to send them food aid due to flooding. So, South Korea is actually hesitant to reunite with North Korea because it lacks economic stability. And if the energy crisis occurs (yay peak oil theory!) like in the video, North Korea would be far worse off than the United States, which at least has some semblance of alternative energy and energy reserves. If there would be a unified Korea, it would most likely happen after the collapse of the Kim Jong Il's regime with a democratic South Korea taking over.

And the shellings last November in the South Korea island of Yeonpyeong didn't help Homefront's cause. And that's just the most recent setback for reunification, tensions have been high last year since a South Korean ship was sunk by North Korea. The South Korean president has taken a hardline stance because of this. This means reunification by the year 2013 isn't going to happen.

But more importantly, the international community just wouldn't stand for any of this. China is allies with both North Korea and the United States. And they are much stronger politically, economically, and militarily than North Korea. I just don't see them backing North Korea annexing most of South East Asia including Japan. They would intervene well before any of that would happen. China is the number one investor of the United States. Furthermore, Russia is another big country there. And I doubt that they would allow North Korea to attack Japan or the United States. Japan is also backed by the United States. The U.S. military wouldn't simply leave Japan like in the video. It's a key staging area for all of it's Pacific operations. And Japan itself isn't defenseless either. They have the Japanese Defense Force, which is pretty much a military in all but name.

The simple truth is that the global community is too interconnected now in terms of economy and global trade to allow any type of imperialist or aggressive action by developing countries like North Korea.

So Homefront's story is that of pure fiction. But it's interesting to see the mentality behind it. Before we were scared of communists. Now it's Asians.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Starcraft 2's Narrative: A Story of Anti-Communism and Western Hegemony

Robert E. Heinlein's military science fiction novel was noted as inspiration for the original Starcraft. Heinlein's novel was seen as a vehicle of his anti-communist views, and I can't help but notice the similarities in Blizzard's Starcraft franchise.

Starcraft 2's narrative follows the sequel of the original Starcraft, where there are three primary factions at war with one another. The main antagonist in both stories is the alien race the Zerg, who are an insect-like species operating under a collective hive mind. They're somewhat similar to the 'bugs' in Heinlein's novel. And philosophically speaking, their goals are similar to the Borg race in Star Trek: The Next Generation television show, where they seek genetic perfection through assimilation of other species into their greater collective.

Now, this may be a stretch, but the Zerg's philosophy seems pretty close to Karl Marx in his theories against capitalism and his move towards communism and socialism. The Zerg operate under a collective consciousness, where everyone actively works together. There are specific roles that each unit specializes in of course, but it is all for the greater good of their race. This is something similar to the idea of socialism and its stock issue of equality among all. The Chinese Iron Rice Bowl is a good metaphor, in that everyone has their specialized roles in industry, but they all share the same wealth.

Now the Terran's on the other hand are the exact opposite. They are the human faction in the video game. And the interesting note about them is that the developers of the video game had their characteristics come from the American South. Confederate flags decor the milieu of Terran ships and vehicles. The characters all have a Southern drawl. Why did the developers take this aesthetic choice when creating the Terran race? This choice seems to correlate the individualistic nature of the South when they wanted to secede during the Civil War. Furthermore, they seem to emphasize the capitalistic nature of the Terrans. There's a lot of infighting between different human factions in the game. For example, there's Raynor's Raiders, who act as freedom fighters. The United Earth Directorate, Arcturus Mengsk, and Raynor all show the individualistic attributes of the terrans.

So it is interesting, when the game pits you against the zerg in the main storyline, it reinforces the Western ideals of individualism and indicts socialist behavior.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Games Currently Played

What games am I currently playing? Well there's three big ones:
  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Starcraft 2
  3. Mass Effect 2
World of Warcraft is six years old, and there's been a major overhaul in the core content and mechanics of the game through its latest expansion in Cataclysm. Why do I play? Well besides it being the standard bearer and metric for all other MMO (massive multiplayer online) games, my siblings are deeply entrenched in the game. Both my brother and sister have multiple high level characters. I'm actually the casual player of the group.

I have been heavily playing Starcraft 2 since it was released last summer. This game has got me hooked and it's easy to understand why. Starcraft is such a phenomenal game property, that Korea has adopted it as a national sport. Blizzard is well known for their excellent caliber in developing top tier video games, and Starcraft 2 is no exception. I have been struggling for the past few months in learning the multiplayer component of the game and it's competitive ladder matches. I have been hovering around the high platinum league and cannot break into diamond for the life of me. What's also interesting, is the underlying thematic elements present in the campaign and playable racial factions. But that's something I will get into in another post.

Mass Effect 2 is just epic in terms of its scale, ambition, and narrative. It's in contention for best game of 2010 by multiple game review publications. The series has been hailed as the Star Wars of our generation. It's developed by Bioware, which is another high status video game developer known for their excellent catalog of video game titles. I'm slowly going through the story, relishing in the rich backstory and ambience of a well made space opera. It is gripping.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gamification: Video Gamifying the World

One of the interesting trends or buzzwords circulating the internet recently is the term 'Gamification'. Wikipedia describes it broadly, as using game play mechanics in non-game applications. It's the future according to all those new edge marketing people. We're seeing this phenomenon in things like World of Chorecraft or the numerous social networking sites that have game play mechanics. Facebook has collection mechanics of friends, Foursquare has badges, and Gowalla has stamps.

As an avid gamer, I have mixed feelings on the subject. There is a definite sense of co-option of the fun and 'innocence' of games by companies out to manipulate and capitalize on their target demographics. It may be an elitist point of view in that I want the purity of my game play mechanics to be in a game and nothing else, but I feel like it will dilute the experience of enjoying a video game. It may be why I don't play Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook. It may explain why I don't have 1,000 friends on there. I try to delineate and compartmentalize my enjoyment of video games to the realm of video games.

But at the same time, I realize that the practice of Gamification isn't new. In fact, I'm sure the whole cashback points system thing from credit card companies, as well as those Marlboro points thing from Phillip Morris, were utilizing the same game play mechanics of games such as Pong. The only thing really newfangled about Gamification is the term. Margaret Robinson comes to the same conclusion in her article on Kotaku. It's interesting to see her stance, in that she's against the whole thing.

Is Gamification itself really that bad though? Can it be used for good? Jane McGonigal seems to think so in her Ted Talks discussion on the gamification of world-saving endeavors. She argues that games primary function in society is a method for people to escape from unpleasant things they experience in the world and that energy can be transformed into applications that try to save the real world. It's an interesting concept.

But I'm not sure I'm buying it. With the gamification of the world's problems like the environment and global warming, it tends to monetise or label our world's problems on the same level of a video game. And as much as I love video games, I still think of them as applications for escapism and enjoyment. They're just video games. Which leads to the conclusion that a lot of critics of gamification logically come to, and that is gamification cheapens the experience of whatever it is targeting. It relies on a mechanics methodology that is predominantly rule based and that has basic game play rulesets and ignores the real world which is much more dynamic and complex. Gamification, according to those critics, would disillusion those interactions with people. The facebook collection mentality of friends is an example that they cite.

But maybe we're taking the wrong approach to gamification. Perhaps the gamification of world saving applications is a way to legitimize video games to policymakers and activists. If it truly has the market penetration power of mainstream video games (ie Call of Duty: Black Ops had the biggest entertainment launch ever), what do we have to lose?

I guess it boils down to the intent and implementation. If gamification is used to save the world, I'm all for it. If it's meant to sell me Nike shoes, I think I'll pass.