Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Gravity of RIFT

Posted: April 20, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

This week I would like to briefly comment on what I’ve been playing most lately: RIFT.    If you’ve played a MMO, and particularly if you’ve played one like World of Warcraft, it is instantly comfortable to play.  This is perhaps the best observation I can make about the game:  RIFT has very little, if any, true innovation, but seems to do everything so well.  In many ways, it looks (game-play-wise) just like Guild Wars, or World of Warcraft, or Champions Online, or a number of other MMOs (I list those 3 because I’ve personally played each one).  There are the core rolls of “healer,” “dps,” and “tank.”  There are multiple classes, specifically the four core archetypes of fantasy: Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue.  Each class has very skill trees, specializations, or (as they are known in RIFT) “souls.”

The Classes are something I fundamentally prefer to more traditional ways of having them.  There are only 4 classes (compare to WoW’s 10), but each class has 8 souls (compare to WoW’s 3 specs per class).  This is a whopping total of 36 talent trees; WoW has 30.  The difference, however, is that in World of Warcraft, every mage has the same three trees active all the time.  In RIFT, a given mage has 3 of their 8 trees active.  This creates a great deal more variation in play-style without requiring players to level 10 different characters (something I hate about WoW et al.).  I’m leveling my cleric, for instance, as Inquisitor/Purifier/Cabalist.  This seems to be a great soloing build (I can handle multiple mobs, but I’m better at single targets).  Instead of a “dual-spec” (i.e. 2 ways you can have your talents picked out, that you can switch between when out of combat), RIFT has up to 4 (or 5, I don’t quite recall) sets of souls.  I bought a second “spec” (called roles in RIFT) for my cleric, though I haven’t played it yet.  It’s Purifier/Warden/Sentinel (meaning I’m a healer, with particular emphasis on single-target spells, but with a fair bit of flexibility).

The Rifts are, frankly, even cooler that I’d anticipated.  At any time, a portal to one of the six elemental planes (Life, Death, Earth, Air, Fire, Water) can open up on top of me, or an outpost.  These rifts will expand, send out groups to attack nearby bases (both of PCs, NPCs, and even other elemental types) which they can destroy and take control over, giving them a foothold to launch further attacks.  It is a dynamic landscape that keeps questing even more fun and gives a true sense of urgency to the meta-plot of RIFT (i.e. that the planet, Telara, is under increasing stress and attacks from invading elemental forces, endangering the survival of the planet as a whole).  It gives a great reason (particularly to me as a roleplayer) to fight different wander groups of monsters, because, well, they’re probably on their way to lay waste to some town/village/outpost of friends of mine.  If the Quest NPCs aren’t there (since they were driven out or slain by the invaders), you aren’t doing the quests, after all.  To seal a rift you fight different waves of monster, and the better you do (as an individual and as  a group) the better rewards you get.

The game itself has so many great little features that I can’t truly list them all.  Individually, each is something so small that it isn’t a serious decider, but these little influences pile up every hour I play.  There’s a reason player characters can resurrect (when resurrection spells being used so often would totally change how life was lived by a society)!  If you die, you can “soul walk” (cooldown 1 hour) which gives you 15 seconds to run around before you resurrect.  This saves you from the vast majority of running back to your corpse.  Characters who cast spells actually use their equipment, something that’s a super nice change from games like WoW where a weapon just sits on my character and never gets used.  “Public transit” (done by giant portals) is instantaneous, instead of the long wait taking a gryphon(or equivalent) taxi in another MMO.  There’s a chat channel specifically for every 10-level range (e.g. 10-19, 20-29) which is great for finding other people to quest with.  You can get a mount from the very beginning (I didn’t have the money {or collector’s edition} get mine until level 17, but I enjoyed running around for a while), instead of having to run for soooo  maaaany leeeveeels.

The main drawback I’ve found is that, well, I don’t know anyone else who plays.  So far, my server (Faeblight, Defiant side) seems to have a great population of nice people willing to answer newbish questions without trolling.  Added to that, I haven’t really yet been looking for a guild/group to play with.  Still, with WoW being the heavyweight in terms of total population and in terms of people who I know who play… The social aspect (as I’ve told many people many times, the only reason I play WoW is this fact) always leans towards WoW.  Still, I’m really enjoying RIFT, particularly since I seem fairly burnt out on WoW (don’t get me wrong , raiding is still hella-fun, but daily quests, leveling, professions, even daily dungeons… they bore me to death already…).

If anyone plans on trying out RIFT, try out Faeblight and we should quest together.  I’d love to have people to chat with online and talk about the game.  If you already play, drop me a line (in the comment section or send me an email) letting  me know what server you play on (if you are already pretty established).  The more people who play RIFT, the more likely I am to play it.

Next week (or, maybe, before next Wednesday), I’ll write about Portal 2.  I’ve already completed both the single and cooperative campaigns, and thoroughly enjoyed both.  I’ll give more detailed feedback some time I’m not feeling so vaguely ill.

This is the part where he kills you,

~Mr. Pacman


Real Life Games – Part Two

Posted: April 18, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

Last week I wrote a long, pretty detailed post about Humans vs Zombies. This week I’d like to focus on why I thought that and similar activities are important in a relationship.

Playing video games together is a great bonding experience. It helps you to grow together through cooperation skills, healthy competition, and spending time having fun together in general. I don’t feel like it fills the entire need of a couple’s interactions however.

Having hobbies outside of “gaming,” is important because, well, most people have more than one hobby. You need something to fall back on when you decide that you simply aren’t in the mood to sit at a keyboard, or in front of a television set. There are a few activities in particular, that I very much enjoy, that still fit within the “gamer” context but fall just outside of “gaming.”

The first of these activities is Humans vs. Zombies. You can go to to see if there is a game held in your area. Essentially, Humans vs Zombies is a real life, 24-7 video game that you play with your friends outside as sort of a highly advanced version of tag. The game requires players to make quick decisions, work on a team, and in general, be awesome.

The second of these activities is one I have only very recently (in the past week) been introduced to. Model painting (for war gaming) is a great outlet for pent up creativity. I don’t actually have much interest in playing the game (I believe William is planning to try it out) but designing, building, and painting all of the landscapes, buildings, vehicles, and little figures? Totally awesome! William and I have spent a great deal of the last several days painting, and picking up random junk (like some weird plastic child’s toy I had) and saying “Hey, do you think this would make a good sky bridge if I busted this piece off and painted it?” It’s so much fun creating together, and so far we’ve worked together very well. I’d post a picture if I wasn’t ridiculous amounts of lazy (see: post date).

I think that life outside of video games is obviously important, and being able to share some of those outside hobbies with a significant other makes them all the more enjoyable. (I’m not, however, arguing that you should like every single thing they like, or vice versa. There should obviously be activities that you do apart from one another.)

Gaming Cooperatively – Competitive Fun

Posted: April 14, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

A brief look into next week:  I received my copy of RIFT on Monday and have been playing it quite a bit.  So far, it is tremendously fun, though I haven’t done much beyond the solo questing experience.  (I’m trying the Defiant on the Faeblight server, my character is currently a level 15 cleric named Tzimios.  I have a level 2 Mage named Koldis on Shadefallen to try out the Guardians more later.  Yes, I wanted to try out RP servers, so both are RP-PvE servers.)  I’ll try to give some feedback and general perspectives on this next week.

Concluding the two-week segment from last week on Gaming Cooperatively, I’ll be concluding this discussion with some cursory talk about how to have Competitive Fun for all parties involved.  This is a topic that may bear returning to later, should I go through a larger section of competitive gaming (to be honest, it’s been a while since Cynthia and I have played a competitive game against each other), but for now I want to talk about the Purpose, the Type of Game, and the Way You Play.

The Purpose is rather simple, really.  Why do we play?  More than that, why do we play with other people?  Further still, why do we play with people we care about?  Simply put: to have fun.  This is a very particular sort of fun.  It starts as anything we enjoy, then (filtered through the social nature of games) it becomes what we can enjoy around others, then (filtered through the nature of the people we are playing with) it becomes a sort of fun we can enjoy “with” others.  By this “with,” I mean in a manner where both parties create more enjoyment than would have been experienced separately and neither party is destructive towards the other’s enjoyable experience.

What Type of Game do we play cooperatively and competitively?  Generally, this is a game where two parties are on [roughly] equally footing.  This doesn’t need to be as simple as an FPS where people have identical weapons, but needs to be a situation where gameplay challenges both parties and does so in a way that doesn’t frustrate them.  Left 4 Dead comes to mind.  As a Special Infected, you have very different strategies for victory that the Survivors do.  You can die, you will die, but the point is to pick off the Survivors.  Real-Time Strategy (and Turn-Based Strategy) games also come to mind, where people work in the long-term (ignoring rush-matches like Starcraft, which I barely think has any S in RTS.  It’s a Real-Time Tactics game.  See Supreme Commander for something more along the lines of my vision for a true RTS.) to different, sometimes competing goals.  These are perhaps some of the most fun, because you can agree to work alongside your fellow players (or computers), but you are doing so only insofar as it serves your goals.

The Way You Play is the real key to any success in playing competitively with friends/family members/significant others.  This is not a “success” in the terms of “Oh, look, I got the most kills that deathmatch game,” but more a “Oh, we really enjoyed playing today.  We should do this again another time.”  One needs to remember the Purpose of this sort of gaming at all times.  We’re gaming together to have fun, and specifically to have fun together.  I might beat Cynthia in Call of Duty 100 times, losing 0 times.  She might (and probably would) beat me 100 times in Halo <insert number here>, with me winning close to 0 times, but, well, neither of those would be fun.  Even supposing that we could enjoy such a single-sided battle, from either side (which neither of us do), the other member would probably be having little to no to some sort of negative enjoyment.  We need to have a sort of fun that fuels both our interests.  This is why you play games (or a game) that both of you are good at (alternating Call of Duty and Halo, or maybe playing some Tribes if both of us are good at that).  Playing in larger groups of shared friends in shifting teams is really the best experience I can describe, since you have people working with and against people they know.  There is a set-standard for the way you respect each other.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have a little trash-talking on the side, but it must be understood to be non-malicious and non-offensive.  When I frag Cynthia, I should probably say something along the lines of “Hah, didn’t see that one coming, did you?” instead of something like, “Hah, you fucking n00b.”  I never really endorse this latter discourse, but it’s most damaging when its directed at people we care about.  When she kills me, I might swear “Goddamnit!” but it’s because I probably did something idiotic (or, more likely, she surprised me from around a corner I wasn’t paying attention to), not me implying she’s a cheating or denigrating her success in anyway.

All in all, this probably seems like common sense to many of you.  I very truly hope it is.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many people try to play together who don’t understand these things and the results are never pretty.

Oh, and by the way, today is my birthday.  Hurrah. 🙂

~ Mr. Pacman


Real Life Games – An HvZ Teaser: Part One

Posted: April 10, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

This is the first half of a post about HvZ. This post deals with what the game is and why you should play it. The next post will tackle what it is about HvZ that makes it such a good game for couples and friends to play together.

Right now, for those of you who aren’t on campus with us, it is that time of the semester known by many as “The Zombie Apocalypse.” If you haven’t heard of or experienced this game, known as Humans vs. Zombies, you are truly missing out on a unique experience.

Imagine that for a few days every six months or so, your life becomes a real-life, live-action, 24/7 version of Left for Dead (or whatever other zombie game you’d like to compare it to. Though, Plants vs. Zombies and Minecraft aren’t particularly good parallels of comparison.) You wake up one morning to find that the Zombie Apocalypse is truly (not truly- it is a game) happening and that many of your friends have already become infected. You quickly grab your shotgun Nerf-blaster and try to hold on to some semblance of normality in your day by heading to class (also because no Zombie Apocalypse is going to keep you from getting an A on that term paper). Armed with a nerf-blaster, rolled up socks, and a band on your arm (labeling you as uninfected, so that other uninfected know they can trust– and should help– you,) you run at full speed, adrenaline kicking, toward the nearest building, and then from that building to the next. Did I mention that there is safety indoors? Something about this particular virus can only be transfer by physical contact, in open air. You find some solace in learning that you are not alone. There are others, peering through the windows of almost every building, waiting for an opportunity to escape, and reach their destination.

You begin to truly evaluate what is important in your daily routine. Class? important enough to risk a jolt across the quad. Quick bite at the Student Union Building? Not as much. You form new alliances and friendships with those standing near you by the door, when you learn that they, too, are trying to make it to the building across the Quad. You stop going out at night. You tell your friends that if they plan to see you, they best make their way to Baldwin Hall, because it’s surrounded by Zombies and you’ll probably be there all night. By friends, I mean the ones that are immune to the virus (as in… not playing) because none of your susceptible (playing) friends are going to come. They sympathize, but they’re not stupid. And the one’s that are infected? Well, if you’ve invited them, you are truly hopeless.

There are also a few essential rules of survival that you learn rather quickly, or… well… join the other side. (some of these are very Truman State University specific.)

Rule Number One:
Avoid the Quad. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t you know that the Quad is where Zombies practically live? Rain, snow, sleet, lighting storm, or droplets of pure death falling from the sky? doesn’t matter. There are Zombies in the Quad.

Rule Number Two:
Avoid the library. Can you access what you need/type your paper in the dorms? Then do it. Can you wait to check out that book until after the infection has been cured (or at least until after you’ve been zombified)? Do it. Let me tell you something… There is ONE exit from the library. ONE entrance to the library. Where is that entrance/exit located? ON THE QUAD. If you do ~have~ to go to the library, do NOT, I repeat DO NOT go there late at night. News flash: The library closes. Other news flash: Zombies KNOW when the library closes. Other other news flash: There are Zombies in the Quad!

Rule Number Three:
Travel smart. (this is many rules in one)
–Travel in groups
–Travel light
–Travel with the basics you would need if you were stuck somewhere for a long time.
For me, I carry the following in a small, light, easily accessible shoulder bag: Money, phone, phone charger, snack, and socks. (I’m what they call a “sock ninja” in that I do not carry a nerf blaster. I use “sock grenades” and speed as my only means of defense.)

Rule Number Four:
Go to missions. Missions may lessen your chance of survival in the short term, but they are the only means of survival in the long run. If missions are not completed, the infection will never be cured, and your fate will inevitably sealed. Go to missions!

Rule Number Five:
Have so much fun you can’t stand it. This is, despite my in character writing, a game. It’s arguably the most fun no-purchase-necessary, outdoor multiplayer game ever thought up. Enjoy it!

Rule Number Six:
Do not overestimate your abilities. Playing HvZ doesn’t magically make you faster, stronger, more agile, or able to scale small buildings in a single bound. If, in real life, you wouldn’t be very confident in your ability to get to the other side of a tall fence without the use of a gate, it’s not the best idea to test this ability while being chased down by brain-thirsty zombies. I had to learn this one the hard way. When you’re running, full of adreneline, you approach a fence with the following thought process, “Oh shit, a fence! Well… they’re far enough back. I can probably manage to get myself over this thing.” And your mental image of such is something like you launching yourself upward by one foot in a hole of the chain-link fence and then perching spiderman-like at the top before hopping down gracefully to the other side. What actually happens is you trying to cram your tennis shoe into a hole that is much smaller than anticipated. You realize you can’t possibly “launch” from this stance and elect to swing your free leg over the fence. Again, you overestimate your leg length or underestimate the height of the fence. Either way, you now have your knee bent over the top of the fence and you try frantically to pull yourself up to it. You manage to get to the top in a position that is as far from a “perch” as a person could possibly get, and you manage to throw your other leg over. Now for the hop down, which should be easy compared to the acrobatics you’ve just tried to accomplish. You push off and let go of the fence. Guess what? That first leg that you got up there… the one that was rested on top of the fence at almost a right angle from the rest of you before your leap? Yeah, it (along with some of your thigh) was caught on the rough cut thick metal wire at the top of the fence. Given that all of your weight cannot be held by such a small unequipped area of your body, it rips… a lot. Have fun going to class with a hole in your pants from the crotch to your knee.

In a nutshell:
Humans vs. Zombies is an extreme form of tag.

The game begins with a set number of players (1-5% of the # of total players is usually good) who become infected. For the first 24 hours these subjects show no signs of infection. They walk around with arm bands (those “uninfected” markers) like anyone else, except they ~know~ they are infected, and they have a strange urge to spread the infection. The infection is spread through human physical contact of any kind, provided it is outdoors (depending on the game-rules you set, anyway) and takes approximately one hour to take effect. Those infected by what are known as the Original Zombies (OZ for short) become normal Zombies, and must wear their band on their head (ninja style across the forehead) to acknowledge that they are infected. They may also infect other uninfected through human contact. A human has two main ways of survival against a Zombie. The first is out running them. These Zombies are not your typical stagger and moan with outstretched arms Zombies. These are sprint at you like a mountain lion without hesitation or apology Zombies. These Zombies will own you. If you are not a track runner, I suggest option two. Option two is a human’s arsenal of defensive mechanisms (we’re not allowed to call them weapons, because they are NOT weapons, or guns.) These mechanism consist of nerf darts, and sock grenades. Both of these mechanisms have proven in studies to stun a Zombie for up to 15 minutes, though, strangely, if used on a Zombie while the human is “safe” (in a building for example) the Zombie seems to only be rendered harmless for one minute. (I’m sorry I keep falling in and out of character…)

For the Zombies to win the game, they have to kill/zombify all of the humans. In a way, everyone both wins and loses if the Zombies win. Everyone wins because everyone is a zombie, and everyone loses because well… everyone is dead.

For the Humans to win the game, they have to complete a series of preset missions to either cure the infection or escape the quarantine (Depending on the particular storyline. The Zombies also have missions designed to stop human missions, or to make them harder.

Gaming Cooperatively – Working Together

Posted: April 6, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

My next miniseries… Well, no, a duo isn’t a “series,” however “mini.”  This week and next will cover Gaming Cooperatively.  This week will be about Working Together, the sorts of things you typically think of when you hear the words “gaming cooperatively.”  Next week will be Competitive Fun, which will be about how we can game cooperatively in a competitive context.  If you’re thinking “Hey, I know what gaming cooperatively is!”, read on and you’ll probably see the way we game together in a slightly different way.  I won’t make claims on if that’s a better way, but it’s served me well since I’ve realize the [still growing] extent of it.

When I say the words “cooperative gaming” and “working together,” one’s mind (at least for me) naturally goes to thoughts of, well, cooperative games.  These are games that are specifically designed so that another person can play alongside of you, generally in a typically-single-player environment.  Back when Half-Life was new, or just a few years old, my dad and I played with the Sven Coop mod, which allowed us to play the story of Gordon Freeman together.  Both of us had finished the game independently before, but the fun was significantly renewed when we were surmounting obstacles together.  To this day, we still love the Serious Sam games for their over-the-top cooperative-friendly action.  Though Serious Same can certainly be played alone, at least for me, it’s no where near the fun as when you play it with someone else, a dynamic duo facing off against nearly-endless hordes of enemies with weapons of over-the-top destruction.  Games like Left 4 Dead are specifically engineered to get you to play together actively, rather than merely side-by-side, requiring a constant communication to make sure you all stay alive (especially if you’re playing against 4 other people playing the special Infected).   In World of Warcraft, whether you’re raiding or just leveling, the feeling of spending time together accomplishing shared goals is something every game should experience.  The social environment of an MMO is unlike any other.

These are all great games to play in groups (I particularly love playing L4D with several of my college friends and, often, our families), but there’s another side I want to mention as well.

In these past games, the cooperation was explicit, often employing the players in redundant or nearly-redundant roles.  There are a few games where cooperation happens in terms of complementary roles.  This happens, to an extent, in World of Warcraft and other similar games.  Once you reach max level in an MMO, you are able to pursue high-end “end-game” challenges that require a group.  This group is rarely, if ever, totally redundant in nature.  When raiding, different people fall into different roles, playing different parts that they enjoy for highly differentiated reasons.  (Excuse the excess of “difference” in that last sentence, but sometimes the horse needs to be beat a few more times post mortem.)  I don’t think this stereotype is entirely true, but it is the stereotype: Girls play healers.  I know many fellow WoW-players that like healing (or tanking, or dpsing) significantly more than another one of the roles.  Their friend/significant other/family member may, and probably does, enjoy a different role more.  They are able to play what may, in many regards, be considered two different, but not separate games.  (I must here note that Cynthia prefers tanking out of all the roles.  The stereotype might be a trend, but it’s not a fact.)  If WoW was a dps game, or a tanking game, or a healing game, there would be far fewer people playing it and far far fewer people playing it together with friends.  It is a diverse game, however, allowing people of different tastes to surmount what are largely the same goals.  Sure, it’s a very different victory to successfully heal the Lich King fight than it is to dps it (especially with those damned val’kyrs), but you’ve worked together to defeat an obstacle together that you could not have finished without each other.

Minecraft has, within the last few months with my experience with/within Survival Multiplayer mode, proven a particularly excellent example of this.  Cynthia and I love playing this game together.  It is almost the opposite of WoW, however, for the fact that we have identical mechanics but completely separate goals.  I generally love digging deep into the earth (or under the sea) and constructing things there.  My particular passion, and this is probably the combination of the roleplayer and the sci-fi-lover in me, is the construction of biomes/biodomes.  My first singleplayer game eventually ended with me having created an interlocking network of tunnels and chambers, the chambers usually possessing glass roofs.  Some produced food, some wood, others were (in my mind) springs that provided water to the inhabitants.  I hit the point where I never had to venture above ground (where monsters spawn at night).  I was a survivor in a world with an unsafe surface, whether it was radioactive or covered with zombies, and I used human ingenuity to survive and thrive.   My little civilization could have supported many more souls than myself.  Cynthia, however, often enjoys things that climb skyward.  She likes constructing aesthetically pleasing and intricate buildings that take a far better capacity for visual imagination that I usually have.  Where I build something spartan and utilitarian, she’ll make something with all the details that make it look more realistic, more lived-in, and generally much more interesting.  When we play Minecraft together, we are [almost] always on the same spot, pursuing our different passions in a way that, ultimately, makes a far more impressive product that either of us could have built on our own.  Our ideas also inspire each other to make new, inventive plans that far surpass what we planned originally.

Gaming Cooperatively seeks a play-style bettered by the interaction between two (or more) parties, where the result is more enjoyable than it would have been individually.  Working Together need not be doing exactly the same task together (though this can be considerable fun), but can instead give each party a distinct, individually-satisfying role that allows the group to achieve something greater.  Playing differently doesn’t mean playing seperately.  It might even be a closer interaction than identical roles would have allowed.

The family that games together, stays together,

~ Mr. Pacman


The Two Best Games For Couples

Posted: April 2, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

I want to make a point to start really reviewing games at some point, when William and I have a chance to demo a lot. Our review will be very focused on how games are to play *with other people,* to set us aside from just any other subjective review.

To sort of dip my feet into the waters of video game critiquing, I’m going to write this post about the two games William and I play most frequently, and what makes them stand out from others.

World of Warcraft
Coming in second place for Best Game for Couples, World of Warcraft has a lot to offer in multiplayer (since the game is made for multiplayer, and there is just no way to play outside of the multiplayer). MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) are, in general, a very couple friendly environment. Unless you intentionally join opposite factions, the game is a cooperative and very diverse experience, with an entire world full of places to explore, fun NPCs to meet, quests to complete, competitions, dungeons, raids, world events, and best of all… other people. Being in a guild with William is no less socially involving than being in the same real life circles of people, except with a guild there is an added camaraderie of working together in the game.

I can’t say enough about the ingenious of Minecraft. A seemingly simple game, Minecraft manages to make poor graphics and rudimentary controls work to its advantage. The basic premise of the game is based on moving, manipulating, and using cubes of different elements. You take a block from a tree, wood, and you make it into planks, and can make those into sticks. By combining different things (ex. a stick and coal) you can create new things (like a torch). This provides William and I an opportunity to create an infinite possibility of things together, and just, in general, share our creativity with each other, creating buildings and homes for our characters. The game easily appeals to almost any kind of gamer. The game typically has monsters that come out at night, though they can be switched off, and farm animals. A recent addition to the game, you can now tame wolves as pets. Multiplayer servers are available and plentiful, all with their own unique set of rules and play mode. There is also a single player mode. Another asset that Minecraft has is that it is a very good game to get a non-gamer interested in playing videogames. So, if you have a significant other that doesn’t share your love for computerized realities, this is a good game to start with.

Overall, I enjoy playing just about anything with William, and I hope to get more reviews out to you in the future.

Hey, all.

This is obviously a ways past PAX East 2011 discussion in most of the world, and in this blog as well (Cynthia’s talked about PAX East 2011 quite extensively.).  I, however, want to talk about both what I feel is the core theme of PAX and the greatest message/lesson I took away from PAX East 2011 (my first convention, PAX or otherwise).  In the last couple months, I’ve had dozens of people end up asking the question of “What’s PAX?” when I try to tell them what I was doing over spring-break.  My answer almost always ended up with “it’s the geek culture convention.”  That is the essence of PAX for me: it’s a place where all geeks/nerds/gamers/whatever can come together and talk about those things we love, principally: gaming.  Whether you’re a tabletop gamer, a video gamer, a card gamer, a LARPer, a wargamer, a cosplayer…  it is the place where you can find others who share that beloved hobby and even more that are anxiously willing to learn about that type of gaming.  It is a culture where people work together, succeed together, play together.  My fellow PAXers were friendly, polite, and earnest in our shared enjoyment.  I could look across the writhing sea of 65,000 attendees (quite a sight for me, when my highschool graduating class was 32 people… Yes, I’m from a truly small town.) and know “These are my people.” It’s strange, even to me, to use this sort of ethnographic terms, but I can’t adequately express it in any other ways.  These are my comrades in arms, my compatriots in crime, my fellow players of games…  I could strike up a conversation with any random passerby and we could, within the first minute, be talking about an aspect of gaming we both loved.  Hell, there were even other White Wolf lovers there.  I’m an introvert by nature, though perhaps not as bad as the old stereotypes of geeks and gamers, but there was this nearly palpable air of commonality that allowed me to be an extrovert for the weekend.  It let, from my observations, everyone be an extrovert for the weekend.  We wore our gaming-hearts on our sleeves, shirts, hats, scarves, everything.  We were ready to be together in this corporeal way that is often so distant from our hobby, but lent an arcane vitality to the orchestration of Great Meta-Being That Is PAX-Attendees.

The message I gained, the lesson I learned, from PAX East 2011 was one that directly connects to this “geek culture.”  Let me first start out by stating, in case I haven’t before, that I am a Philosophy and Religion major at my university, graduating this May.  As a lover-of-wisdom, I’ve had extensive exposure to all sorts of perspectives, particularly ones that deal with social justice (my specialty is Ethics, which I feel is very connected).  I do not, however, always see everything I do in that social-justice light, something I always endeavor to remedy.  Cynthia and I attended several incredibly interesting panels at PAX that brought up issues that I had either never considered or never contemplated in appropriate depth.  Two I will directly discuss here “The ‘Other’ Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter? and “One of Us.”  The former was about (obviously) gender in gaming and feminism.  The later was about various marginalized groups (represented on the panel by and and a feminist site I can’t recall off the top of my head, but will put in the comments soon).

The first and most shocking thing about “The ‘Other’ Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?” was in its description: They asserted that “feminism” was being used as a “bad word,” and, honestly, I have to agree that it often is.  This is perhaps my biggest “what the fuck” moment.  I told you earlier that I was a philosophy major for this very reason.  Feminism is a broad field, containing many different perspectives.  “Feminism” at its heart, however, refers to the belief that women are equals and should be treated as such.  Radical, I know.  If you disagree with that basic premise, I’m tempted to just say “f.o.a.d.”, but will try to just say… “Really?”  Women are a growing percentage of the gaming community, one that needs to be represented in the content that the industry produce.  Strong male and strong female characters are great.  Something like Dead or Alive volleyball is just a pile of garbage.  I expect better.  We as gamers should all expect more.

The latter panel, “One of Us,” was principally about those gamers which do not fit remotely into the typical image of a gamer.  Though I am rather close to the typical image (lanky, dark-haired, bespectacled, introverted, wordy, big into reading), my interest in social justice philosophy and practice made it highly alluring.  Essentially: as gamers, we often identify only as gamers and don’t necessarily associate as disabled gamers or homosexual gamers or female gamers or a number of other marginalized groups.  We, I would like to think, don’t generally like when people throw around language like “fag,” “cripple,” etc.   We do, however, (and, yes, even I, unfortunately, do this) put up with it, silently accepting it.  We need to speak up when this language is used and point out that this behavior isn’t something we’re willing to standby passively and allow anymore.  Those who utilize it will be educated, ostracized, or whatever it takes to make it clear that we will not tolerate that sort of intolerance.  “F.O.A.D.” isn’t the best reaction in the long run, but often ostracization is needed to create the motivation for them to accept the education in why these things aren’t acceptable.

I would like to personally ask anyone reading this: If you see me use marginalizing/derogatory language, call me on it.  None of us can see all of our embedded, ingrained prejudices, we need others to help us make those initial realizations.  I am, by this post, resolving to more actively call people on their poor practices.  I won’t accept it in my guild, in my friends, in my games.  I’m not going to ignore the reality of such things as sexism or racism, they exist and important messages about them need to be discussed.  I’m not going to instantly /boot anyone who crosses a line, but I am going to make it clear, once they do, that I don’t find that acceptable behavior and, subsequently, explain why.  Education is the best weapon against ignorance; compassion the greatest weapon against hatred.  This doesn’t mean, however, that we should passively let the “trolls” of our culture dictate our public image as gamers, geeks, nerds, human beings.

Keep on fighting,

~ Mr. Pacman


What Gamer Couples Fight About

Posted: March 27, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

SO sorry for the late post, all. My capstone recital (the culmination of my last four years of study) was on Saturday, and I meant to post but had so much else on my mind, I forgot.
Aside from the normal things that cohabiting people in a committed relationship bicker about (whose turn to do some chore, who left the living room light on all night, etc) and generic couple fights (forgotten birthdays, annoying habits, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, etc), couples who frequently game together have their own unique list of common disagreements and quarrels.

First, I’d like to mention of few of the more common things William and I get into tiffs about, and then I’ll talk about what we (or given the point of view, mostly what I) do to correct and avoid those situations.

One of, if not the, most frequent tiffs we have is dealing with different playing styles. For us, this is most frequently a problem in World of Warcraft, a game that accommodates a great deal of very different playing styles. I consider myself a rather casual player, who likes to raid, but no more than once per week. William enjoys raiding, and commits more than one time a week to it, and is also very deeply knowledgable and involved in the lore of the game. We very much enjoy playing together, but at times, we can get very short fused with each other. In dungeons, for instance, William has a tendency to (in my opinion) over criticize my errors. It’s frustrating for me, feeling like I’m not doing well enough, and I think it’s frustrating for him that I don’t catch on to things (like boss mechanics) very quickly, and sometimes it will take a couple of tries for me to get more complicated maneuvers down. Another situation is when we both want to play, but we want to do different things. He might want to level some lower characters, and I might want to grind reputation with an 85. That’s not so bad, but the situation is worsened by the fact that I want to play our low level Worgens far less often that he does, and since in order to stay in sync (level wise) he can’t play his unless I play mine, I’m effective limiting his ability to play.

The solution here, for us, is to try to understand where the other is coming from, and compromise. He tries to criticize less, and I try to focus more, and spend a little more time working on my skill (and watching how-to videos on youtube.) I play my Worgen sometimes when I really would rather play my 85, and he’s ok when I don’t. And when we are really at each other some nights, we just play together, but separate (meaning we’re both playing, while sitting next to each other, but we’re not playing “together”.)

Another point of irritation that comes up is frequency of play. I don’t play nearly as often as William, and a lot of times, what keeps me playing so often is that there are times when I really don’t want to play, but I let him talk me into it. I get (admittably unjustly) irritated at William because there are times I feel guilted into playing. He gets irritated, but really more sad, because he enjoys playing with me, and when I have a week or so where I almost never feel like playing, he misses that time that we usually spend together.

The solution to this is very similar to the previous; compromise. I play a little more often, and he tries to give me less crap about it. It’s all about understanding one another. I understand that he’s only bummed when I’m not playing because he wants to spend time together, and he understands that I have reason for not wanting to play (work to get done, or just simply not wanting to burn myself out on a particular game)

Another thing that I think creates problems for couples, but fortunately not William and I, is jealousy. Obviously both people in a couple aren’t going to be equals in every (if any) game. One will always be more skilled. Sometimes this is much more prevalently one person, and I think that’s where the problem usually comes in. William and I are both better at a fairly equal number of games. He is a better computer gamer, and I am better on consoles (this is obviously a generalization.) When one person is better at almost every game, the other person can tend to feel shadowed, especially if the “better half” is rather arrogant.

The first solution for this would be humility, on the part of the more skilled player, but more than that, I think that a couple facing this problem should make a great effort to find something that the other person is more skilled at, even if it’s not a game, and make a point to spend time doing that activity (e.g. a sport, a different console, a board game, etc.)

There are many problems that couples who share a common interest, like gaming, face. However, none of these problems can’t be worked through by a couple willing to make an effort to improve. William and I are constantly looking for ways to improve our relationship and how we interact with one another, and I think it is one of the key components of a healthy and successful relationship.

This week the Leadership series concludes by asking the questions of “How should a Member [of a group] behave?” and “How should someone with a Significant Other also in the group behave?”  These are perhaps the questions least-obviously connected to what people traditionally think of as “leadership roles.”  I, however, like to think that anyone can be and is a leader when they conduct themselves in a certain way in front of others.  (This “in front of” is anywhere where other members/GMs/DMs/anyone can witness, whether visually, aurally, or textually, that behavior.)

As a member of a group, one has a number of responsibilities not often discussed.  These are not as overt as a Guild Master’s handing of raid-group logistics or a Dungeon Master’s creation and maintenance of the Non-Player Characters in their world.  These duties are no less important, however.  A member, as with all of the other leadership roles, must remember the sage words of Wil Wheaton: “Don’t be a dick.”  Little is as simply effective as that phrase, but nonetheless I will elaborate.  A member should be a good citizen and by this I mean that they should endeavor to view the actions of their fellows (be they GMs, DMs, officers, or other members) charitably (though not necessarily uncritically).  A good citizen behaves in ways that are conducive to the well-being of the community as a whole, while still conscious of what helps them flourish and find enjoyment.  In a game this often takes the form of acting appropriately: this is not necessarily your character acting in a way that is “appropriate” in the eyes of other characters.  It does mean that you should act in a way appropriate to the game-play everyone at the table (or in the guild, etc.) has agreed to.  If you’ve all agreed to play a game of working together against a common evil, suddenly turning around and stabbing your teammates in the back prooooobably isn’t the best idea.  There are games where that would be totally appropriate and acceptable, but always remember not to damage the enjoyment of other players and the GM/DM.  Doing so will put the GM/DM in an unfortunate situation: they can either let it slide and have their (and probably other players’) enjoyment suffer (potentially fracturing the group) or they can crack down on you and cause a direct confrontation (potentially fracturing the group).  It also either alienates you from other members (if they still want to stick to the original agreement of acceptable game-play) or might alienate the GM/DM from other members (if they decide to go along with your new behavior).  Lesson summarized:  Be aware of the effect your decisions/behaviors have on others!  And don’t be a dick!

When in a group which contains your significant other, the situation can be even more precarious.  If you are both “merely” members, then one can easily slip into factionalizing the group by interacting mostly with your S.O. to degrees that alienate other members and/or the GM/DM.  If you are an officer/GM/DM and your S.O. isn’t, than there is always the danger of you favoring your S.O. over others.  Even more so, there’s the danger of it looking like you favor your S.O. over others.  Both are damaging, but the latter is actually worse because there may well be nothing you can do to stop others from falsely thinking you’re playing the favoritism game.  This also has serious ramifications if you are the member and your S.O. is the officer/GM/DM, but I feel that Cynthia covered that area better than I could in her last post (The GM/DM’s Girlfriend), so I won’t go into it here.  As the O/GM/DM side, when all things are equal, you need to favor the person not your S.O.  Often, even if your S.O. has the slight lead in deservedness, you need to choose the other person.  This is something I know I do more than I should, overcompensating in ways that, objectively, aren’t really fair to Cynthia.  I will flatly admit that 99%, if you see me picking Cynthia in anything like an even contest, that decision was either principally made by other officers (who I rely on to check my judgment at nearly all times as a GM/officer) or by predetermined randomness (as a DM, I might say “if this d10 lands 6+, Cynthia gets it”).

Don’t get me wrong, though, I really enjoy playing with Cynthia.  Gaming is (as you’ve probably figured out by now) one of our biggest/most commonly shared hobbies.  There are times when I, I hope understandably, will choose to do something with her rather than with someone else.  I just have to make sure that I’m not using any power/position/influence beyond just my own time/effort to make that decision.  If I don’t take care to treat her equally with everyone else, it’s not fair to me (for the consequences of my actions), her (for how other people my react to her “being favored” or otherwise not having legitimately earned whatever she has), or other people.  This might the biggest point in this entire post: It’s not fair to someone to favor them.  If you do, they haven’t really earned what they have.  They may well not be able to enjoy what they’ve been given (or even what they have legitimately earned!) and it’s almost certain that other people will resent them for it.

This discussion, or [hopefully not] rant, seems to be complete.


Keep gaming!

~ Mr. Pacman


The GM/DM’s Girlfriend

Posted: March 20, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

You undoubtably have heard, or perhaps experienced this anecdote; a group of people (guild, dungeon party, etc.) are at odds because one member is being treated as a favorite by the leader. Anything they want, they get, and nothing is ~ever~ their fault. This is very clearly a problem.

There is, however, another underlying problem here. If everyone were treated perfectly fairly, someone being personally close to the GM or DM is still going to, at times, be accused of being favored. The unfortunate truth, that both the leader and their significant other have to understand, and accept, is that in order to keep things from getting dramatic, the odds have to actually be against (slightly) the significant other. For instance, if there are two equally able players wanting the same raid spot, and one of them is the guild master’s girl friend, the spot has to go to the other player. I’m not saying that this has ever happened to me, as William’s S.O., but it is something we’ve discussed in case the situation ever arises, so that no feelings are hurt. If a decision comes down to me or another player, I understand and support that William’s choice would have to be the other player.

Another situation that comes up is disagreements. When a guild member disagrees with a leader’s decision, they usually verbalize that disagreement, and I’m no different. The difference is that when you’re talking about someone that the GM/DM loves, there’s a little more weight in the opinion. It’s yet another situation where the GM and his/her significant other have to be cautious not to over step boundaries of a GM to player relationship. William is the GM; I’m not. So when I have opinions about how things should be done, William and I both have to treat that opinion like any other. Otherwise, you end up with a backseat driver for the guild/party, and a lot of built up resentment from other players. I have no more authority over the guild/party than any other player.

One of the most burdensome things responsibilities I’ve noticed, as the girlfriend, is knowing what is discussable, and what is meant to be kept unsaid. As someone who lives with their GM/DM, and plays on side-by-side computers in the same room, I hear things I’m not necessarily supposed to hear. I do what I can to miss most of these conversations (I didn’t originally, and it made certain situations awkward for me) but there are times when I realize what I’ve been listening to is actually a private conversation. It’s not hard (for me) to keep secrets, and to keep other people’s opinions to myself. The caution here is to watch what you say in response to the GM/DM, which for me is usually nothing at all. If someone has a private conversation with William, it’s up to him how to deal with it, and unless he specifically asks for my input on a situation, I don’t give any comment or opinion. I have, on occasion, over stepped those boundaries when I felt very strongly about something, but I try to keep myself in check. There have been occasions when William is in a very heated conversation where I find it hard to help myself from telling him what I think he should say/do, which is why I find it easier to keep headphones on and music playing to more easily avoid ever even knowing the conversation took place.

The reverse of that is also true, and I’m sure that some significant other’s experience it more than I do myself, but it has happened a few times. What I’m talking about is a situation where a guild member has something to say, but they feel more comfortable telling me, and so I’m expected to relay their concerns to William. This is certainly an irritating situation for me, as it makes me feel like I’m being pitted against William. The comments are always negative, and usually quite subjective. For instance, Player A decides they don’t like a particular decision by the GM/DM, but they don’t want to confront them, or cause a scene. So instead they whisper/talk to me, the gf, about their concerns in a way that makes it obvious they want me to alert William to their concerns, and a lot of times, to do so in an anonymous way. My first reaction is alway, “talk to William, not me.” but sometimes this isn’t enough. If they refuse to confront William, I usually do it for them, but I have never done so in an anonymous way. Honestly, that’s not my job. I’m not the guild/party suggestion box. If there was a growing request for such a person, well, that would be fine, and I wouldn’t mind filling the role, but everyone else should have equal opportunity to fill the role. I don’t like being expected to be the barer of bad news, or to go off on William for someone else… especially if I don’t hold the same opinion. Mostly, this is because no matter how hard he tries, William is going to react to the comment toward me. So something that evokes a strong negative reaction, is going to have him yelling at me (even though I know he’s not angry with me, just what I’m saying.) Please don’t put your GM/DM and his friend or partner in that situation. We don’t like having other people’s fights for them.

I do enjoy being the GM/DM’s girlfriend. So, I thought I’d end my post with a few perks of the position (if you can call it a position). First of all, because William plays so often, I am more likely to play more often. Also, being a GM/DM is a very immersive position, and I feel more involved in the game and the other characters as a result. I also enjoy being easily recognized and remembered because I’m directly associated to the GM/DM.

~Ms. Pacman