Category Archives: Rant

Shame

I have a confession to make.

This is hard for me to admit.

I am bad at Super Mario Brothers.

As someone who spent a lot of time playing NES 20 years ago this is a very difficult thing to come to terms with.

I didn’t accept it at first. “I never owned an SNES, so I need a few minutes to get used to Super Mario World.” “I haven’t played Super Mario 3 in 20 years, I’ll remember everything in a couple turns.” “The dog made me run into that koopa.” “It’s because I’m playing Luigi. Mario’s better, I want to play Mario.”

Super Mario World

After I had died a number of times without my skills improving much, I got mad. “Holding down a button to run in a platformer, what terrible, stone-age design” or “Is this it? Get a leaf and fly over every level before you find the secret that lets you skip half the game? That’s dumb,” and “How am I supposed to use this blocky controller, it’s terrible.” Also: “Stop watching me play and laughing at me when I die! This is your fault!”

Super Mario 3 death

Then came the questions and self-reflection. Is this it? Am I bad at video games now? Was I ever good at them? Am I a gamer? Has this entire part of my life been a self-aggrandizing delusion? Can I really continue to write about video games with any kind of authority when I’m so fucking terrible?

Super Mario Brother game over screen

I know the last phase of this is supposed to be acceptance, but no. I won’t accept it. I’m going to keep playing, keep practicing, until I’m awesome again. Or at least not completely shitty. I will kick shells into my enemies. I will jump on the heads of koopalings. I will not get killed by anymore Boomerang doucheBros, or  fall to my death. I will master that awful blocky controller.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Continually Disappointing and Melodramatic Dead

Warning: This post contains ranting. Also, spoilers! So if you aren’t caught up on The Walking Dead or haven’t watched the season 5 premiere (and you still care), turn back now.

Ah, The Walking Dead. I never read the graphic novels, but when the television show started back in 2010, I was excited. I love apocalyptic fiction, and it’s not a genre that’s covered often, or well on television. The BBC series Survivors was enjoyable, but only lasted for 12 episodes, and I guess you could call BS:G post-apocalyptic, but that’s about it. The Walking Dead gave us the end of the world and gave us zombies, which hadn’t been quite so overdone as they are now.

The 6-episode first season was well done. The setup was good, personal relationships and conflicts were established. There was a clear goal of getting to the Atlanta CDC to see if there was hope for a cure.

Season 2 starts with some excitement (oh by the way, the CDC stuff from last season? A hopeless waste of time). Sophia is missing! Carl is shot! The apocalypse is clearly no place for children. The group finds a farm which seems safe enough, owned by a vet who moonlights as a doctor and they stay there. For the entire season. Just hanging out on the farm. The story stopped moving forward, and instead each episode centered on personal drama and all the characters yelling at each other without actually communicating.

Season 3 has the survivors camping out in a prison. We get introduced to the Governor, who’s a bit of a caricature of a villain and Michonne, who everyone loves, but her defining character trait at this point is that she has a sword. Rick goes crazy, but he’s such a boring character that nobody cares. A bunch of major characters die, and the survivors return to the prison. Oh, and now there’s a baby. Because that will end well.

Season 4 brought the Governor back, and this time tries to make us sympathize with him. He just wants a family to take care of, he’s not so bad. Oh, wait, he just decapitated a sweet old Hershel, never mind. Once the prison is left behind, things did pick up a bit. The group gets separated, new relationships form, Michonne develops into an actual character. And then there’s Terminus. Everyone starts heading toward this apparent sanctuary. There’s mystery! There’s intrigue! What is Terminus? Is it safe? Who are these people who run it? The season ends with most of the group locked in a shipping container. Apparently no, Terminus is not safe, but Rick and the others are determined to survive.

That brings us to season 5. I’m so mad I can’t even form proper paragraphs.

  • After all the Terminus build-up – who are these people? What are they going to do? Are they cannibals? Within 5 minutes of the season opener, all the questions are answered. Yup, they’re totally cannibals, and they’re going to kill Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn RIGHT NOW.
  • The four merry men are knelt in front of a trough and we watch 4 redshirts get their throats slit like pigs. Then, it’s Glenn’s turn. Oh no! Not Glenn! He’s going to die!
  • Nevermind, we get Carol ex machina, who blows up part of Terminus just in time to save him!
  • Ugh, this whole situation is so dumb and lacks any kind of tension. We know they’re not going to kill off 4 leads in one scene at the very start of a season. Was anyone actually worried? And having them saved right before it’s Glenn’s turn to die is just lazy. Mix it up a bit. If Bob had been first in the kill line, I might be worried for him. But Glenn? Don’t waste my time.
  • So the whole five episode arc leading up to Terminus is just done, boom. Cannibals all dead, Rick and co. are free in the first half of the episode.
  • This episode also features Tyreese. He’s with Judith (Carol has gone off to be a hero), and watching over one of the people from Terminus. This character plot device tells Tyreese he and the baby are going to die because T won’t kill him. Tyreese is a good guy, he just wants everyone to get along, but he gets the message and eventually pounds the guy’s face into the dirt (though I’m kind of skeptical that he actually killed him since he wouldn’t let Carol go in and see the body).
  • Then, a happy ending! Rick and Carl are reunited with Judith! Tyreese is reunited with Sasha! Carol is reunited with Darryl! Beth’s still MIA, but who cares! There are tears of joy, maybe the rest of the season will be one big love-in.
  • We got two flashbacks at the beginning and end of the episode that showed the people running Terminus and how they had been captured and brutalized by others before, so that’s why they turned into butchers themselves. But there’s a pretty big discrepancy between killing your captors and protecting your own, vs. sending out broadcasts and putting up signs drawing people to you so you can capture, kill, and eat them. And they’re all dead now anyway, so the flashback at the end really did nothing. If you want to explore these characters, fine, but this was a really brief and lazy way of doing it.
  • TDW is very subtly trying to show us that our favourite characters are becoming the monsters they were trying to fight. Oh, did I say subtle? I meant they are using a sledgehammer to drive that point across.
  • The action scenes are starting to feel like they’re just showing off how good the make-up and effects departments have gotten at gore. And they are good. But now it just seems like the show is trying to gross us out rather that create horror in any literary way.
  • There are things that make me think I want to continue watching season 5 – another actor from The Wire, Morgan from way back in season 1 – but I also know I’ll continue to be disappointed. They’ll continue meeting and killing new people. Some big thing will get built up this season only to be resolved within an episode once they finally get there. Characters will yell at each other and question if they have become monsters. And on and on and on.

So that’s it. I obviously didn’t care for the episode, which is disappointing since the build up in season 4 actually made me excited for this premiere. I think I’m mostly just mad that I keep watching the show when it clearly gives me no joy.

Information Overload

Once upon a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, before the Internet was a big thing, getting help when you were stuck in a game was not easy. The first game I remember getting stuck on was Maniac Mansion. When I got stuck, there wasn’t a lot of help available. Basically I just had to keep trying new things. Sure it was frustrating but, looking back through wistful rose-coloured glasses, it was also kinda nice. I had to figure things out myself.

However, my gaming hobby had barely gotten started before the era of figuring things out yourself started getting eclipsed by the business of game hints. In 1989 Sierra introduced their new hint line – for only $0.75 for the first minute and $0.50 for every additional minute, you could talk to someone who would tell you how to get through their games. I don’t believe I ever called them, but only because I didn’t have a credit card when I was 8. Gaming magazines, like Nintendo Power had sections dedicated to hints and strategies. Prima Games started making strategy guides in 1990, and their guides for challenging games like Myst sold like hotcakes. Hints were on TV too. If you were lucky enough to be a Canadian with access to YTV, Nicholas Picholas would share Turbo Tips with you every week on Video & Arcade Top 10, which premiered in 1991. In 1995 GameFAQs was created, which really got the ball rolling on internet game walkthroughs and guides.

Access to information is great, but when does it become too much? When does it begin to hinder enjoyment of a game rather than enhance it?

Let’s talk about World of Warcraft for a bit. When I first started playing World of Warcraft, one of the coolest things about it was the amount of exploration I could do. Everything was new to me. Every zone had new things to look at, and every quest (whose text I needed to read in order to know where to go) told a new story. There were little surprises, like treasure chests you could find scattered about. Sure, they rarely had anything exciting in them but just finding them and anticipating the contents as you opened them was exciting. Doing dungeons or killing a rare I stumbled upon and having a blue piece of loot for me was unexpected and rewarding. One of my favourite early memories from the game was finding and completing the questline that eventually rewarded me with the Sprite Darter Hatchlings. The quest-giver was quite hidden, so it felt like a secret. Not everyone had one, so it felt special.

If you asked me to name a time something unexpected or surprising happened to me in WoW over the last few expansions, I’d be hard pressed to think of one. What happened? Information overload happened. The Sprite Darter Hatchling questline (if it still existed) could never stay hidden, you’d see a big yellow exclamation point on your map as you came near it. Getting stuck on a quest became near impossible as your map would highlight the area you needed to go. Reading the quest text and actually knowing what was happening in the story became a thing of the past for me, since it was no longer required.

Mods were created that gave you information in-game that you’d otherwise not have access to. With AtlasLoot Enhanced, I could see the loot table of every boss I fought. Good drops were no longer an unexpected delight, because I knew where they all came from. Bad drops became infinitely more disappointing because I knew when they came at the expense of a drop I really wanted. Rare mobs stopped being interesting as soon as I downloaded RareSpawn Overlay so I could see where every one of them spawned and NPC Scan which would blast noise at me as soon as one was in range so I didn’t even need to pay attention to the game. Mists of Pandaria introduced treasures and BoA items you could find around the map. These were fun, until I realized it was much more efficient to check the Wowhead guide and see a map which pinpointed every single one, or download TomTom and be navigated right to them.

Further than just information about objects, there’s also a ton of information available about how to play your character. IcyVeins will tell you how to spec and ability priorities. Mods like SpellFlash will tell you what spell to cast next. Even the default UI will make your spell icons flash when an ability is ready to use. Raid healing was always my favourite thing because it required some decision-making and quick reactions on my part, but even those requirements are reduced by DBM counting down every major ability I need to know about or GTFO screaming when I stand in bad things.

Looking up the information or installing an addon is so much more efficient than trying to figure things out or find things yourself. But it is not more fun. Sure, you could just not use addons, not use Wowhead, but that’s a lot like telling someone who complained about content nerfs to just turn off the Dragon Soul buff. Technically possible, but not bloody likely. Why should you handicap yourself?

For a game with such a huge, beautiful world there’s actually very little to discover in WoW that you can’t find in a database first. Exploration can seem like a waste of time. With PTRs, Betas, and datamining, it’s even possible to learn everything there is to know about a new content patch or expansion – every item, achievement, cinematic, quest – before it’s even released.

Of course, WoW is not the only game that can be ruined by having too much information easily accessible. With all the walkthroughs, FAQs and video guides available, it’s possible to ruin almost any game. Information is good and sometimes a game will really stump me so I’m happy it’s there. However, there’s a thin line between access to info that prevents me from banging my head against a wall for too long, and having so much information available that I never have to actually think for myself.  I played a puzzler called The Bridge a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. At first. The puzzles were all based on gravity, sometimes momentum, and solving them in the first few levels made me feel accomplished, especially as they got more challenging. But then came a puzzle that I played around with for a good 10 minutes and I couldn’t figure out how to solve it. So I looked up a video, got the solution and went on my way. The next puzzle that stumped me I only tried for a couple of minutes. I mean, I had already found a cool video guide that had all the answers, doesn’t hurt to take another peek, right? By the end of the game I was sitting at my computer, right hand on the keyboard, left hand holding my iPhone as a video walked me through the solutions to all of the last puzzles. This is not fun. This is not gaming. I want to think, want to have to try, but all the answers are right there. Looking up the answers is so fast and easy.

I lack self-control when it comes to spoilers, though the pervasive presence of guides makes me think I’m not the only one. Once I’ve looked up a solution, it becomes very hard not to do it again for that game. Soon I’m not even enjoying the game, I’m just following a set of directions from point A to point B.

When it comes to availability of this information there’s no going back, but it does make me miss the days when finding that information was just a little bit harder and thinking for yourself felt more encouraged.

Gamergate

I didn’t want to talk about this topic because I wanted the whole issue to suffocate from lack of attention and die away. However, I find the whole thing so frustrating that I feel the need to write words about it to work through it and try to understand. I wrote a comment on a post about this (one of the few times I’ve weighed in on a public comment section) and the 400 other responses I keep getting emailed by Disqus have given me things to think about and things to rage about. I won’t claim to have read everything there is to read about the issue, it’s just too much shit to wade through. But I’ve read articles from both sides, I’ve read the comments, I’ve read through the GamerGate hashtag for as long as I could stomach it.

On the surface, GamerGate claims to be against biased and corrupt game journalism. Okay, being against bias and corruption seems like a logical thing. So where does the whole thing get so crazy?

Let’s look at some of the specific claims and complaints.

It is a conflict of interest for game journalists to have relationships with game developers. This could mean a writer is friends, or lovers with a game dev. It could mean a writer supports a dev’s work via Patreon. Yes, relationships can create bias. So can things like personal experience and tastes, but that’s beside the point. The important question for me is – what effect do these biases have?

A game writer gives publicity to a friend’s game it might not have gotten otherwise. Why is this something to get upset over? Having connections in an industry will give you more exposure in that industry. This is common sense, not corruption.

How about prominent game writers or developers coming to the defense of someone who is being harassed and attacked? Again, not corruption. This is a rather expected response.

Press and developers being too cozy? People in the same industry, with similar interests, who attend the same events will make friends. Maybe even start relationships. How many people have met a significant other or made friends at work? Why is games journalism a field where this is so taboo?

I think a big part of the problem is that people are taking game journalism way too seriously. They’re trying to impose very strict ethical guidelines in a place where they just don’t make sense. We’re not talking about coverage of politics (although this has gotten very political), or lawmaking, or international relations. We’re talking about video games. Most of game journalism is not news. It’s opinion. A game review is opinion. Social commentary about gaming is opinion. Agree with it, don’t agree with it, then move on with your life. If a journalist writes about a friend’s game and their bias clouds their review, is it the end of the world? No. And there will be 300 other reviews of that game that you could read which would balance their opinion. People have ridiculous expectations. Did gamers really see game journalists as infallible sources of consumer information before? Unless you’re reporting the specs of a new console, we’re not talking about facts. Whether a game is good or bad is not fact. It’s subjective opinion.

The inciting incident for GamerGate was Eron Gjoni writing a 9000 word manifesto on all the terrible things his game developer ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn had done. Namely, cheating on him with some men who were game journalists. This caused all kinds of outrage and was apparently evidence of how corrupt the industry is. Zoe Quinn had slept her way to coverage and good reviews of her games. The problem was these reviews didn’t exist. One of the journalists had mentioned her game in passing, but it looks like this happened before they had any sexual relationship. What I took away from Gjoni’s post was not that the gaming industry was a vile pit of corruption, but rather that I probably don’t ever want to date Zoe Quinn or Eron Gjoni. What I take away from the shitstorm the post caused is that a lot of people erroneously think that this woman’s sex life is any of their business.

The term misogyny is getting thrown at GamerGate supporters a lot. Are they really upset about corruption in journalism, or are they just using this as an excuse to harass women out of the industry? While I believe that the true misogynists make up a small (though very vocal) minority of the people involved in this, it’s hard to reconcile the people who do not have this intent. Why is Quinn – who is a developer, not a journalist – bearing the brunt of this? If unethical journalism is the true target, why is she the enemy?

I won’t deny the possibility of corruption in any industry that makes money but 98% of the examples of corruption in journalism I’ve seen brought up by GamerGate are about Zoe Quinn. Give me more examples of actual journalists being corrupt. Show me how this has affected people’s lives in real negative ways. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to write the whole thing off as an excuse to harass people.

Gaming sites are attacking gamers. After the Zoe Quinn “scandal” was brought to light, and after Anita Sarkeesian released a new Tropes vs. Women video, both women were subject to harassment and threats. Soon after this a number of gaming sites published articles with titles along the lines of “Gamers are Over”, which denounced this behaviour and condemned gaming culture as being toxic and entitled. The gamer stereotypes, lonely white males in basements, were presented as being on their way out, and angry because their hobby was evolving while they were not.

First of all, I think inflammatory titles like “Death to Gamers” are unnecessary and do more harm than good. Biting the hands that feed you is also pretty stupid. I identify as a gamer. However, I’m also a reasonable human being. When gamers are decried for being angry, socially inept douchebags, I don’t feel personally attacked. I know they aren’t talking about me. I think that people could be more careful about their language to avoid the appearance that they’re making sweeping generalizations about certain group, if for no other reason than it would not encourage the creation of more stupid hashtags.

Ultimately, this is all semantics. Gamer doesn’t have a set meaning. It means different things to different people. Gamers come from all walks of life, like different games, and have different opinions. Staunch support or opposition to “gamer” culture is silly because it’s not a single, definable thing.

Social Justice Warriors are destroying gaming and game journalism. People criticize the things they love. Suck it up, buttercup.

There are two main complaints here. The first is that gaming journalists are using gaming sites to push radical social justice. People just want to play games and have fun, they don’t want political agendas shoved down their throat. No one wants games to stop being fun. However, many people want to raise concerns about certain issues in games to raise awareness and hopefully encourage games to evolve. If you think reducing the amount of people who are marginalized by games will make them less fun, there’s probably something wrong with you. If this isn’t an interest of yours you don’t have to read these articles. Even in the most left-leaning of gaming sites that I frequent, these articles do not make up the majority of what gets published. There’s plenty of other kinds of articles – straight up reviews, previews, news, interviews. If you don’t want to read someone’s opinion on lack of female characters in the new Assassin’s Creed, no one is forcing you to.

The second type of complaints seems to stem from games like Gone Home getting well reviewed. Apparently, enjoying games that do things differently is a threat to the more traditional games. Or positively reviewing this type of game means you’re corrupt because how could anyone enjoy a “walking simulator”. This one seems almost too silly to respond to. The industry evolving is good. More choices are good. No one is taking your preferred games away.

Game journalists are glorified bloggers and have become irrelevant.

So let me get this straight. Game journalists are just bloggers (which is apparently a pejorative term? ouch). They are irrelevant. So, if they are irrelevant and their opinions carry no weight, why are people so mad about them saying that gamer culture is dead? Who cares what they think? Why do they need to live up to such high ethical standards in order to talk about games? Make up your minds, folks. Either Polygon and Gamespot and Kotaku should be sources of unbiased, unadulterated, objective facts about video games, or they’re irrelevant and their integrity shouldn’t matter.

If you really think that game journalism should no longer have a place in the industry, then stop visiting gaming sites and giving them revenue. Watch YouTube videos, read personal blogs, or get opinions from your friends. Let game journalism die its slow (inevitable, according to many GamerGate supporters) death. That many are opting to harass journalists instead calls the true motivations of GamerGate into question.

Game Dealbreakers

In my last post, Corinna left a comment suggesting that I try out The Longest Journey and its sequels if I’m looking for a game with a great female protagonist. I’ve actually played TLJ, and at one point owned Dreamfall on XBox, but never played through it because I couldn’t stand the controls. That gave me the idea for this post. Game dealbreakers – the things that can absolutely ruin a game for me, often to the point of never playing it again.

Bad Controls

Bad control schemes are probably the most unforgivable thing for me in games. I hate when a game makes me want to play it, then makes the act of playing it incredibly frustrating. At this point I don’t even remember what it was about the controls for Dreamfall that made me so mad, but it was bad enough to me that I never played past the intro despite its predecessor being one of my favourite games ever. Now you might ask me “Pam, why didn’t you just pick it up on PC if you hated the Xbox controls?” And that would be a totally fair question. I have no idea, it was 8 years ago. I think a replay of The Longest Journey and getting Dreamfall for PC is in order soon though.

In terms of controls, the Resident Evil series is one of the worst offenders. I hate tank controls where you have to rotate your character with one analog stick, while the other makes them go straight forward or straight back. It’s so clunky and slow, especially in an action game. RE4 is the only game in the series I actually played through because the controls turned me right off.

It looks much cooler than it felt to play.

It looks much cooler than it felt to play.

At the top of this list though is a certain scene in The Force Unleashed where you needed to take down a star destroyer. I don’t think a video game has ever induced so much rage in me. This tiny little portion of the game ruined the whole thing for me. It introduced a completely new type of controls and implemented them very poorly. The game did a bad job of letting you know what you were supposed to do, did a bad job of giving you feedback about if you were doing it right (other than the game over screen) and the controls were just unresponsive and gross. In the middle of it, I actually went tearing through my house, searching for a hammer so that I could smash the game disc into a thousand pieces. In the end I did not give into my anger and I finished the game but even thinking about it, 6 years later, makes me mad.

Also on this list – games that doesn’t let me invert the Y axis controls.

Point of No Return

A lot of games have a point of no return, a point you hit where you’re driven to the end game without the option of going back to explore or finish sidequests. Most games handle this well, and make it explicitly clear that this will happen. However, some games don’t.

The first game I remember being problematic in this way was Legend of Dragoon. I was right near the end of the game, still had a few optional bosses to fight (which apparently dropped really good stuff) but I ended up travelling to the end location, which I couldn’t get back from. It wasn’t made very clear that you couldn’t come back. So, even though I was standing basically right in front of the final boss, I quit. I think I finally went back about a year later so I could say that I had finished the game.

All this gold... for nothing.

All this gold… for nothing.

The worst offender of taking you to the point of no return without telling you was Fable 3. I spent a lot of hours in that game. I did every quest, tried to get every achievement. In the last portion of the game you’re preparing for a big attack on Albion and how much of your kingdom survives is based on how much gold you have in the treasury. I had a zillion gold in my personal treasury, but was waiting until the last-minute before transferring it over to Albion’s treasury. Little did I know that the “last-minute” was (according to the in-game time) 121 days before the attack. At 121 days before the attack I woke up, held court, then all of a sudden (without notice or a chance to do anything else) it was the day of the attack, Albion had no gold in the treasury, all the people were about to die. And of course Fable 3 uses autosaves and a single save file. I was livid. I deleted that save file and have never finished the game.

It’s so cute!

I’ve always loved JRPGs, but a number of them are so damn cute it makes me sick. I never played Windwaker because I couldn’t get over the art style. I tried Eternal Sonata and Radiata stories, but all the characters were so fracking precious that I had to stop.

Na no Kuni

Kill it with fire.

I went out and bought a PS3 specifically so I could play Na no Kuni, but after playing adorable characters and collecting 100 adorable pokeman familiars and having to feed them adorable cupcakes I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Scary

I am a giant wimp when it comes to scary games.

Ughhh, make it stop.

Ughhh, make it stop.

I tried to play Silent Hill 1 a long time ago, and I lasted for maybe 30 minutes. I got through the intro but as soon as I picked up that radio, I was toast. It would emit static, I would turn the television off. I tried a few times but the result was always the same. I’ve never played through a single Silent Hill game.

The only really scary game I’ve ever finished was Fatal Frame 2. However, I played it with a friend, which made it much easier (even though she would literally throw the controller at me if something scary happened while she was playing).


Do you have any dealbreakers in games? What drives you crazy?

Monkey on my Back

I haven’t done a /played in a while. I don’t really want to see the number of days it would show me. I know I’ve spent over a year of my life in Azeroth though. I’ve been thinking about how this game manages to gets its hooks in so deep for so long.

Collection

People love things. And WoW has so many (pixelated) things to collect. There’s gear, gold, companion/battle pets, mounts, vanity items, toys, tabards, profession recipes. Though some things aren’t even part of a collection per-say, those of us with hoarding tendencies can even make endless loops around zones to farm stockpiles of ore or herbs. Not everyone will want to collect everything (I hate vanity items and delete them from my bags immediately), but there’s something for everyone. I don’t even like pet battles but I still went around and collected every pet in Azeroth at one point. As long as there is some new object to collect, even if you have to kill something 700 times before lady luck smiles upon you and it drops, people will log in.

Completion

This one goes along with Collection, and is the one that usually got me. Achievements. For the collectors, possessing those 90 battle pets found in Eastern Kingdoms was the reward. For me, it was those five (5!! /cry) achievement points I got when I caught the last one. I didn’t give a shit about the pets themselves, and I certainly didn’t have fun for 90% of the time I spent collecting them. But those shiny, arbitrary points – I wanted them all. Of course achievements aren’t unique to WoW, or MMOs. If a game has a multi-platform release, I’ll always get it for Xbox because I love those gamer points (and the Xbox controller). The difference is, going for all the achievements in your average Xbox game will only take a couple extra hours. In WoW, the time investment needed can be absolutely ridiculous. And it needs to be, or else you’d get them all and have nothing to log in for. At one point I wanted to go for Battlemaster. Then I realized that would likely be at least a hundred hours of generally frustrating gameplay (that number is a total guess and probably a very conservative one). I spent hours going for archaeology achievements, an activity which was about as interesting as watching paint dry (and with paint, at least there are fumes).The pinnacle of ludicrousness came recently, with Going to Need a Bigger Bag. We haven’t had new content in 9 months, but people are still logging in to camp mobs, kill mobs, hate life when the last item they need doesn’t drop, and then do it all over again.

Competition

I like to raid, I like to do it well, and I want to kill things before most people. How could I ever unsub while there’s still that last big bad to kill? Of course, the raid competition bug bites many people a lot harder than me. I like to kill bosses, but I also like my 9 hour per week raid schedule. For those who are truly competitive, they not only log upwards of 12, 15, 20, hours per week raiding, they also do all the current raiding extras – rep grinds, valor capping, food farming, and consumable crafting. The truly competitive even go so far as to level and gear up alts so they can run content multiple times, funnel gear to raider mains, etc. It’s not enough to just see the content, you need to see it and defeat it first, and with that comes a lot of time commitment.

Community

In a multi-player game, this one is the biggie. If I can take a step back, the collection, completion, and competition aspects that have kept me playing this game for 8 years seems rather inane. When the servers shut down and Jasyla the Night Elf Druid is no more, will I care that I had 173 mounts, 19460 achievement points, or that my guild was the 176th US 25man guild to defeat Heroic Iron Qon? Not likely. But I will care about all the friends I met in-game, the friendships that extended into real life, and the people I haven’t met but chat with often on Twitter or blog comments. I’ve seen a number of people over the past week or so really struggling with wanting to step away from WoW over some things that have been said by executives recently, and not wanting to leave their friends, the community of people they’ve become a part of. I’m sure that obligation is a thing that keeps a lot of people playing over the years. Wanting to avoid additional obligation is the thing that’s kept me from ever picking up another MMO habit. When I don’t enjoy playing the newest Final Fantasy game, I just stop – return it to the store if I’m feeling ambitious. No harm, no foul. But when WoW gets boring, when the healing game sucks, boss fights require spreadsheets, and we don’t see any new content for a year? Stopping isn’t so easy since it means losing a big source of connection to the community.

Conclusion

There is no conclusion. It doesn’t end, you never win. The story doesn’t get wrapped up. So you’ve killed heroic Garrosh? Just wait for a bit and there will be a whole new set of bads to kill (also, you didn’t really kill him, sucker, he’ll be back because we can never get enough orc bros). There will always be another quest zone, a new PVP season, a new raid instance. You may feel a sense of accomplishment now, but it will fade as soon as the next thing is released, and you’ll have something new you need to conquer.

So, I guess that’s how it happens. One day a friend says “hey, you should try this, I think you’d like it”. The next thing you know, its 8 years later, you’re still playing, you’ve spent $1500 on subscription fees, and dedicated 10,000 hours of your life to a single game but still can’t say that you’ve beat it.

Offline Co-op

Remember the days when playing a video game with a friend was an easy thing to do? Just pop a cartridge into your NES (you may have had to blow on it first), plug in the second controller and go. It was a simpler time. No internet connection was needed. There were no headsets, cameras or motion controls. There was no Facebook integration (to be fair, there was no Facebook). Just you and a buddy, sitting on a couch, playing a game.

Gaming has come a long way. Games now have amazing graphics and sound, stellar storytelling, seamless UIs. Games can make us choose, can make us think, make us feel, make us react, or just let us hijack cars and run over pedestrians.

Gaming can be even more fun when you’re playing with friends (says the girl who always wanted everyone to leave so she could play the Goldeneye campaign rather than playing yet another round in the Stacks with grenades.) Big strides have been made to let people play games with others – but only in certain ways. Want to sit at your computer, group up with 24 other people from all over the world and take on a dragon? You can pay WoW, Everquest, Rift, Aion, FF, LOTRO. If you’re more into spaceships than swords you can play Eve, SWTOR, Starquest, Phantasy Star, or Star Trek. Want to join a team of people to shoot terrorists or aliens and listen to strangers who sound an awful lot like 12-years olds call each other fags? Then Counterstrike, Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo are all there for you. Want to collaborate or compete in large scale strategic battles? You can always find someone online to play DoTA, LoL or Starcraft with.

Want to play a console game with someone who is in the same room as you? Well, then your options are much more limited. Especially if you’d rather cooperate than compete. The majority of games seem much more concerned with enabling you to play with strangers online than allowing you to play offline with your S.O./roomate/sibling/parent/child/friend/dog who is sitting beside you on the couch.

My boyfriend and I have been trying to find console games that we can play together. It has indeed been a trying experience. There aren’t too many games that advertise having an offline co-op mode. Plus, when local co-op is actually included in a game, it often seems like more of an afterthought. We went out and bought games that advertised having local co-op. We tried Madden 25. It has offline co-op but, aside from the fact the game basically plays itself for you, playing on the same team was pretty dull for whoever wasn’t the quarterback. We got Tales of Vesperia. A multiplayer RPG? Sounds awesome. In practice, not so awesome. Player 1 basically plays the majority of the game by themselves and player 2 gets to jump in and control one character during combat. Yawn. We turned off that one after about 8 minutes. We picked up Call of Duty: Black Ops. There is offline co-op, but only for 2 specific modes – zombie survival and playing against bots. You can’t do the campaign or play against other people online together. My bf was going to buy Dungeon Siege 3, but was talked out of it by the cashier at Gamestop. It features a drop-in co-op that doesn’t allow the person dropping into the game to save any of their progress or items. Considering the game is a dungeon-crawling loot grind, this seems like a pretty serious issue. Some games even advertise having offline co-op when there actually is none.

Offline co-op

Offline co-op? Not so much.

There are a number of arcade style games that feature decent offline co-op. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Castle Crashers, TMNT are all games I’ve enjoyed playing with friends in the past. However, they’re all fairly mindless (and very short) side-scrolling beat’em ups. Those have their place, but sometimes you want to play something a little deeper.

In terms of AAA titles, most console developers seem to consider offline co-op a waste of time or something to be thrown in at the end, in a completely underwhelming way. There are exceptions.

Valve in particular has added some very good co-op play to their games. Portal 2 features the most complete co-op experience I’ve had and was definitely not an afterthought. It adds a whole extra campaign and hours of playtime to the game. Left 4 Dead also lets you play through the campaign with a friend (or three). Both of these multi-player games give you a choice too. You can play with someone sitting beside you offline, or you can connect with people online and play through the game. Other developers should take note – this is the way to do it. The only small complaint I have about these games is that co-op mode is not very intuitive to access.

Left 4 Dead start screen

Play campaign? No… Press X to Play with Friends? No…
Oh! There it is in small, barely contrasting text in the bottom left corner.

Diablo 3 also makes it easy for people to play offline co-op and we played that a bit on PS3. A nice thing about D3 is that you don’t have to deal with split screen, which I really liked from an aesthetic standpoint. However it has some serious drawbacks too. If you get items or level up you need to take turns with the menu screen to examine and equip new gear or choose new talents. This brings the pace of the game to a crawl. Also I had already played through it when it came out a year and a half ago on PC, and starting from scratch on console wasn’t all that appealing.

There’s a site called Co-Optimus, which is dedicated to all things co-op gaming. I’m hoping it leads me to some good games. A quick search for Xbox 360 Couch Co-Op games shows 256 results! That seems positive. However, once I filter out the genres I’m not really interested in (like Sports games), the party games (there are dozens of music/dance games), the games whose co-op is a half-baked afterthought, and the games that are generally just bad, the list isn’t that long. The Lego games, which have been recommended to me, look like a good option. Hopefully I can find a few more.

I’m hoping that the games for the new generation of consoles take into account that people may actually want to play video games together in the same room. So far, it’s not looking too good though. Dead Rising 3, the game I’m most interested in on the Xbox One, is online co-op only. Same with Ryse and Black Flag. Call of Duty: Ghosts has “co-op specific” content.

This is a plea that game developers make more games that can be played with others offline. I love video games and I’d much rather share my gaming experiences with someone I like enough to live with, or at least invite over, than some random online gamers.