Posts Tagged Rant
Gaming is a hobby with a very high entrance fee so virtually any gamer out there has some sort of source to research which titles among the plethora out there deserve his attention. For the last seven years Gamestar magazine has been this source for me. I started wading into the market of german games periodicals back in 2003, by 2004 I had discovered Gamestar and started reading it regularly, making it a monthly expenditure by 2005. Seven years. That’s by far the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. Now it’s over.
I’ve been rolling this decision around for the last few months, but last week I finally concluded that I simply no longer need a regular print magazine on gaming and I’ve only grown more firm in this decision the more I’ve been thinking about it. The reason this decision has been taking me quite a while, and I think this deserves to be said here, is that Gamestar is a damn fine magazine. They’re easily the best german magazine on the subject. PC Action sports too much low-brow, prepubescent humor and is writing on a similarly simplistic level. ComputerBildSpiele? Of all contenders they spend most on free titles for their DVDs. but the actual writing is atrocious and it’s worth remembering that they’re a sister company to the populist, sensationalist Bild newspaper, which is a bit as if Fox news hosted a regular show on games. Even while reporting on the subject they don’t treat it with the respect it deserves. PcGames is not that bad, but they lack personality a bit.
Gamestar combines good writing with humor and, most importantly, professionalism and a love for the medium. When politicians and news shows made uninformed statements about the likes of Counterstrike they were the ones to try to bring reason to the debate by showing politicians what Counterstrike really is and fostering initiatives for gamers to represent politically. They’re the ones who created the largest german video game award, based entirely on a poll in their readerbase. They talk about issues within the community and industry rather than just reviewing. They’re one of the few newspapers these days that feature a section correcting mistakes from the previous issue (While it’s mostly typos and word-switches, the over-the-top, made up punishments for the editor in question are fun to read).
They employ some of the best people in the field, but of those I’d like to specifically mention Christian Schmidt and Fabian Siegismund. The former is embarrassingly witty and very quick on top of it. While I assume that some might find less love in his high-brow intellectual humor than I do, he certainly knows how to spike reviews and his work might include anything from impromptu poetry to creating a special persona and staying in character throughout the entire review. His essay on MineCraft is one of the best takes on the subject I’ve seen. It’s hard to be all witty all the time though, so he occasionally phones it in when the subject in question is less than ripe for comedy. Fabian Siegismund, by contrast, radiates enthusiasm every hour of the day. His writing is slightly less brilliant, but he’s got a lot of talent for (voice) acting, so while his jokes are less original the delivery is usually pitch-perfect.
So why am I leaving all this behind? Two big reasons really, firstly certain trends within the magazine and secondly certain trends in me. Part of the reason why I picked this magazine over the others back when I was surfing through the market was that they seemed to value the same qualities in games I valued. They awarded cleverness, innovation and charme and were willing to forgive a few things about execution if the idea was good. Even though they already had a percentile based score system back then they mostly bent it to their will and not the other way around. Then over time they split the whole thing into categories, making it harder to squeeze additional points for well-intentioned products in there. And now last month they split their videos into subcategories. Subcategories! This flies in the face of anything I learned about reviewing in the past years.
Which neatly links me to the second part: my changing attitude towards games journalism. It would be wrong to say that I used to treat their word like god’s will, partly because I at least chose my own god and partly because I never treated Gamestar like the ultimate authority, but they did definitely color my view on things for many years. But after a while along came The Escapist and I started to learn a huge deal about reviewing, whether it’s advice from the forum veterans, reviews by the actual crew or Yahtzee‘s cynical commentary. I guess you could say that my changing attitude has a lot to do with my own position in the world of games journalism. I used to simply devour one source, and even with all the scepticism in the world that’s a bit biased. Then I started reading several sources on a regular basis, more when I was interested in the game in question. And now? Depending on how lenient your definition of the word is, you could say that I’m a games critic myself these days (I’m really more of a reviewer though).
Apart from my new perspective on the quality of journalism that now has me cry foul a lot more often, I can’t help but notice that I now often walk out of reviews having learned nothing new, even if the reading is for completely recreational reasons. I haven’t been giving this development a lot of thought until two months ago Gamestar was reviewing Lego Star Wars 3, and sure enough the usual points about camera issues and funny cutscenes were mentioned, but nothing else. Susan Arendt’s review on the other hand called the game out on issues Gamestar had simply come to accept as part of the Lego Star Wars shtick and even without having played the game I couldn’t help but agree with Susan. This event has since turned exemplary: Gamestar‘s review of Portal 2 has told me literally nothing new in fear of spoiling the experience while Russ Pitt’s Science! review on the subject had me nearly fall over laughing while teaching me all I needed to know. Science! (once more for good measure). Then just today something about a special issue on indie games caught my interest, but sure enough I already knew most of them thanks to well-informed user reviewers.
There’s one potential downside to this, and it’s that even a monthly print magazine for the german market features more information on german games like Risen 2 or 2070 A.D. than a daily updated american webzine type thing, but firstly whatever information is actually worth noticing will likely surface there too, and secondly I already have a firm understanding of whether or not I want to play those games. Plus I’ve met people with similar interests, they’ll be sure to help out (Looking at you there Gildan).
So all in all it’s time for me to leave the shoddy times of ink on paper behind. I’ll probably still return once or twice when they offer an interesting game to seal the deal, but my utter dependence on the medium has been broken.
So Portal 2 is finally here, and I don’t care. Which is surprising, especially for me. At first I wasn’t willing to admit this to myself. I dived headfirst into the hype, the comics, the funny little clips, the potato-sack madness over on Steam, but it failed to create the same feeling of giddy anticipation I feel for Risen 2 or Crysis 2 (the reason I still haven’t played the latter is a lack of spare time… and spare cash). It’s just not there. The game leaves me cold.
It’s highly probable that my lack of enthusiasm simply means I’ll end up playing the game a bit later, once the high price-tag and the internet riot surrounding it are a thing of the past. That’s the same way I played and enjoyed the original Portal, come to think of it. But that’s not guaranteed. Many titles I once pushed off this way are now permanently stuck somewhere on the ass end of my own personal wish list, taking two steps back for every one ahead as new games pop up in there. I’m not saying that Portal 2 deserves this fate, but that’s what it’s currently headed for and whenever I expect something in my brain to jump to action and yell “No! Not this one! You have to play this one!” there’s just silence.
Why is it that I can treat the game with such abandon while seeing its predecessor as one of the greatest games of the last decade? This question puzzled me over the last few weeks. All signs indicate that I should love Portal 2 to bits, but I struggle to even feel anything for it. Eventually I started reflecting on what it was that drew me to the original Portal and things started to make sense. I wasn’t there for the puzzles, no matter how cleverly they’d bend dimensions. If I was then I probably wouldn’t have quit Braid halfway through.
The reason I love Portal is that it did something completely new and made it look easy. Okay, technically Prey did the portal thing slightly beforehand, but I hadn’t played that yet and it didn’t allow you to place them yourself. That soft swoosh sound, the experience of going from one end of the room to the other in the blink of an eye, was one of the few big eye-opening moments this medium produced for me, like swiftly rewinding time in Sands of Time or blowing up walls in Red Faction. It’s that moment when you stare and go “I didn’t know they could do that”. For me, this is what Portal is all about: Taking that one mind-bending moment and refining it. Channeling your desire to explore the potential of this mechanic. The plot and the dark humor don’t hurt, but the real reason those work so well is that they accentuate this core novelty by creating the perfect atmosphere for scientific curiosity.
This is what I enjoyed about Portal. I’d seen the all the parts in previews and articles, but I couldn’t fathom how the machine would work until it all came together when I finally played the game. I will never forget this experience, but it’s not one you can repeat. Now that I’ve seen how the Portal machinery works, I can easily see how any of the new parts of Portal 2 are going to fit into the grand scheme. That ingenious moment when I started wrapping my head around it is gone, and will never come back.
Portal was a very innovative game, but Portal 2 only builds on set ground. Minecraft is probably a worthier successor in terms of doing something simple but very clever that shows us what truly can be done in this medium. This doesn’t mean that Portal 2 is a bad game, and I wouldn’t dare judge it before I actually play it, but for now the love is gone and I’ll have to wait to for a new game to bend the rules of play.
I’m not sure I can take Cultural Studies seriously. If someone shows me a picture of a black man and asks me what I see, I start looking for details. Maybe there’s something odd about this man? If he then says that he expected me to note that the person is black, my first instinct would be to say “Well no shit Sherlock. Am I to deduce you’ve got a working pair of eyes?”. This experience is taken almost literally from our introductory lectures in the subject, and while I don’t enjoy stating the obvious, at least it started some heated discussion about stereotypes. However, in an attempt to bring up a new set of stereotypes our professor provided us with a sexist advertisement from the 1950s (You know the type) and suddenly there was a noticeable pause. The professor asked for our thoughts once more and eventually someone commented, his voice thick with disgust: “Well in society women are seen as weaker”.
Note the tense. “Are seen”, not “were seen”. Right after I heard that I was struck by an odd thought: Is that even the right thing to say? It’s not that I don’t support the notion of equality. Equal pay for women and more females in chief positions are two areas we definitely need some work here (though the attempt to shoehorn women into executive level occasionally bug me), and I try to keep my personal life as unaffected by stereotypes as possible whether it’s admitting that I understand notions of discomfort past physical pain or just throwing my friends the occasional mean look when they state women can’t drive. No, the reason this threw me off was attitude. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but eventually our tutor was kind enough to make the issue blatantly obvious: “Of course we as academics know how our point of view is influenced by culture and society, but other people don’t”.
Make no mistake about it, this is intellectual elitism and I can’t help but wonder: Is this really where we want to place ourselves? Us here, them there and a big wall in between? Are we just going to silently judge people from afar with an attitude of fatalism? Does such low esteem of society not foster the very injustices we try to point out by putting us in the awkward position of being disliked by the people we study? Is “women are seen as weaker” not a sexist remark by and in itself? Should we not stop telling everybody that they’re doing it wrong and start encouraging them to do it right?
I feel this is an issue I might have to address again at some point: Where do I stand? Can I accept that what I do flies directly over the heads of most people? That they are thick? For now I feel it’s very heartening to find that my immediate reaction is as violent as it is: No! I can not and will not hold people in such low regard. This is not the world I want to live in.
As of today I’m back in the world of academics. The University of Vienna just had me take a compulsory language test in order to prove my English is on high-school graduate level, which is an awkward term considering the widely fluctuating standards within the Austrian school system. It’s those jarring differences that make such a test necessary anyway. Now I probably shouldn’t talk about it too much before I get the definite results end of the week, but I do think it’s fair to assume that I’ll likely pass. Funnily enough I’ve been missing this standardized large-scale test setting a bit, not because I find the experience pleasant, but because I find it a lot less unpleasant than other people do. Which isn’t to say that I enjoy other people suffer, but simply that I value my ability to stay calm and give the impression of being completely detached and that I like to see how rare a gift it appears to be.
The second big thing I currently dedicate time to is League of Legends, though my enthusiasm has cooled considerably over the last few days. I’m not rightly sure why I keep playing it actually. It’s a well-designed game, granted, but the novelty has now worn off and the community is still atrocious. The experience has recently climaxed in me being reported for… something or other. The story involves a particularly inept tank lacking a good six levels behind the enemy team, me, in my classic role as support character, and an enemy team tearing the aforementioned tank to shreds after he decided to jump out of our base on his own. Then there was the predictable bit of dialogue in which he insults me for not joining his suicidal efforts and me politely asking if he had his brains replaced with ravioli to think that would be a good idea. Except, you know, I phrased it a little less disagreeable. This netted me a few minutes of silence so I assumed he had moved on, but apparently he had just continued to build this grudge whenever I ran over to defend the other side of our base instead of following him on some pointless vendetta.
League of Legends only gives you other player’s names before a match, so it was only after our crushing defeat that I learned that my affable friend was in fact just three levels short of reaching the meta-game level cap (His behaviour certainly didn’t give this away) and that our third man, who’d been mostly silent but had ultimately agreed that my play style was disruptive enough to warrant a report, was looking back on a monumental career of four games including this one. Apart from showing how widespread arrogance is among both old and new users this also speaks to the haphazard quality of the matchmaking services. The game decided to team me up with somebody nine levels below me as well as someone fourteen levels above me, at the same time. I have yet to face repercussions for my crimes, so I guess at least the players deciding my case in the community tribunal must have had some sense, but it was still an unsettling experience.