Several entries in this journal are in reaction to essays found in Well Played 3.0, which can be read here.

KenLevine_02

Title: Ken Levine Talks Player Participation and Breaking Away From Linear Narratives

Author: Kimberley Wallace

Source: Gameinformer

Date: 03/23/14

Ken Levine is instantly recognizable. Like Sid Meier, Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, or Cliff Bleszinski, he is behind the critically acclaimed and insanely popular Bioshock franchise. You’d think he’d keep at it for another 10 years or so, but Levine has moved on from Irrational Games. He disbanded the majority of the development team, kept a few close friends, and is now in the process of creating a small team focused on games with strong, narrative focuses. What he’s working on will probably be revealed in the next year or two at the earliest, but he has already gone out and laid down the framework of his new, interesting game design philosophy involving what he calls “Narrative Legos,” and he gave a panel on this at GDC 2014.

The subtitle for the panel actually defines Narrative Legos. It’s “building replayable narrative out of lots of tiny pieces.” What Levine means by this is that developers should start creating more narratives that build and morph into a unique story that’s determined by a player’s actions in a game. Sure, this is evident in titles like inFAMOUS or The Walking Dead, but he would view these as superficial compared to his ideas. Levine gets down to the nitty-gritty of narrative construction with characters, environments, and more. For the panel, he specifically honed in on characters and how they can be written and placed in a game so that a player can truly care about their well-being, what they have to offer, what separates some from others, etc. This can be accomplished by having a diverse cast that all have different goals, personalities, appearances, and histories. With this, the decisions a player makes will have varying impacts on all the characters. Siding with one person will make another antagonistic; choosing between two characters offering you a weapon/ability/item will have good and bad consequences either way; and so forth. As you can see, the structure of the narrative could directly impact the gameplay, who lives or dies in the story, certain environments in positive or negative ways, etc.

He criticizes linear stories as only simulating just “people,” not actual, dynamic characters. Narrative always takes a backseat to games and doesn’t really affect how players play and what decisions they make since they’re led to do whatever the developer intended. Levine sees this a disconnect between developers and gamers, and he wants to bridge that by having developers create a malleable narrative that is then shaped by the player, whereas linear narratives present narratives with a premade shape that can’t be altered.

While this is all good and dandy, I see a problem here. Levine acknowledges that games built around systems (he uses Civilization as an example) are fine and have their place. However, if he’s saying that the whole of linear narratives is inferior to his Narrative Legos philosophy, I disagree. Linear stories, while some games do them poor justice (like some first-person shooters), include some of the greatest stories I’ve experienced. The Last of Us is a linear narrative. It’s a preset story with preset characters and preset events, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I enjoy experiencing tales developers have to tell that are their own. There’s barely any variation or shades in other people’s experiences with the game, which makes talking about it and analyzing it more uniform. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, these are an assortment of games with linear narratives, but they were incredible the way they were, just as movies and books are (but games, even still, are less linear than these).

There is a place for the Narrative Lego stories that Levine wants to tell though, and I would love to see more of them in the future from other developers. In contrast, they’re sure to provide deeply personal, one-of-a-kind stories that feel special and close to players. They’ll serve as a pretty decent reflection of the kind of person a certain player is, which – in building this narrative with the “Legos” a developer offers – gives one a greater sense of pride and attachment to the story, characters, and the whole game itself. Levine pointed out that Skyrim (among others I’d list like Dark Souls and even the original Resident Evil) is a basis for his vision for narrative’s future in games, so I’ll be waiting to see if developers will heed this legendary game developer’s advice.

On a side note, looks like Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor will be a step in the right direction with its robust “Nemesis System,” but this remains to be seen completely.

fallout-3-poster-art

Title: Fallout 3: How Relationship-Relevant Decisions Craft Identities That Keep Bringing Us Back to Enjoy The Horrors of The Nuclear Wasteland

Author: Alex Games

Source: Well Played 3.0

Date: 03/31/14

There’s no man more qualified to talk about games then a man named Alex Games, and he lives up to that name with a nice essay that touches on how powerful games can portray morally grey issues and horrifying yet captivating worlds. He opens up with describing the absolute devastation and depravity of humanity left in the world of Fallout 3 and asks the important question: “Why would anyone want to play in such a world, let alone keep coming back to it?” I’ve asked myself this question before since I adore titles like The Last of Us, Gears of War, Dark Souls, Resistance, and Dead Space. These games’ worlds are depressing, hopeless, and dark, host to harrowing enemies and filled treacherous traps. Why would anyone ever want to visit places like these? What do they have to offer that’s “fun” and “entertaining?”

Games gets to the core of this with a scenario he encountered in Fallout 3, where he was asked by a young girl to save her brother, who had been captured by a malicious group of cannibalistic vampires that killed their parents. But there’s more to this story than he was led to believe. Upon finding the vampires, he discovers that they’re actually decent beings. They have rules, standards, and only feast on humans in self-defense or to keep on living (it is never done for pleasure). They punish those that needlessly murder anyone and welcome in those who are like them with open arms. Their killing of humans may seem morally reprehensible at first, but it’s a necessary evil they must do to keep on living, and they acknowledge it’s unfortunate.

Of course, players who stumble upon this side mission wouldn’t figure this out if they went in guns blazing, but if they talk with The Family’s (the vampires’ group name) leader, you’ll eventually discover that the boy actually killed his parents because he was a vampire who had kept back his thirst for blood for too long. It was an accident he couldn’t prevent; the boy sought refuge with The Family to live with them lest he do something like this again.

It’s a situation that would be hard to deal with, and Games says it’s one of many moments in Fallout 3 that present “a spectrum of possible responses from the civilized to the violent, and in the process to examine some of the deep complexities that underlie human ethics and moral behavior.” It shows that – for Games – “Fallout 3 becomes a space full of opportunity to explore not only its world, but ourselves and what it means to be human” and is “an experience of self-reflection and reflection on what it means to be human, and like all great art, allowed me to explore within myself, what lies beneath the surface of the human condition.”

This is what makes games like this worth coming back to and exploring. They allow us to connect with a side of ourselves that we’ll hopefully never experience in real life. No “good” person would want the world of something like Fallout 3 to become a reality because it would be dangerous and soul crushing, but in a safe, virtual environment with no real consequences, a lot of people love to experience what it would be like and what we might do in a post-apocalyptic situation. It seems paradoxical since video games (and all of entertainment) are about escaping and tuning out the noise of the world to be immersed in a happier, more desirable place. But books like The Road, TV shows like Game of Thrones, and video games like

Fallout 3 proves this wrong to an extent. Some video games are definitely about carefree joy, but we also like to challenge ourselves emotionally and personally with games because we discover more about ourselves and become all the more wiser in the process. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games is a telling example of how much people like to do this due to its critical acclaim and popularity.

mass-effect

Title: Mass Effect: Leveraging A Science Fiction Childhood

Author: Matt McLean

Source: Well Played 3.0

Date: 04/04/14

Just like other entertainment media, specific video games have the power to speak to us uniquely. For those who love past U.S. history and culture, Bioshock: Infinite and Assassin’s Creed III are games they need to play. For people that adore medieval settings and fantasy, Skyrim and Dark Souls are made for them. And for Matt McLean, who loves science fiction and space, Mass Effect is a no-brainer. I bring these up because it’s interesting how some games just “click” with certain people due to their interests, and you can see that in how McLean talks about this franchise.

There’s an enthusiasm and personal touch to his short essay that makes it not only a good critical analysis, but also a passionate love letter to Mass Effect. I like how he brings up that he’s been enamored with science fiction since he was a kid, reading books, watching movies, and using his imagination to be constantly absorbed in it. We all have something we gravitate toward more than others, and its fun and natural for us to want to tell others about it. McLean sings his praises for Mass Effect, saying “the first game takes on the responsibility of introducing a large, detailed world and focuses on fostering a sense of awe and vastness, encouraging exploration. […] The conviction and confidence of that world perpetuates in other parts of the games, grounding the story and character interactions in something that feels quite tangible.” The games give “a lot of freedom to experiment with characters and choices in the game – the freedom of creating the same epic space adventure story in any number of different molds, much as I did as a child using my imagination.” I could go on including more examples from his essay, but his conclusion is the most powerful example of his love for the games.

By providing a galactic playground, powerful story customization, and top-notch character interactions, the games accommodate the energetic story permutations that we once crafted as children. Whether it’s an archetypal cautionary tale or musings on the future of technology and society, science fiction has always been about imagining the astounding – Mass Effect lets the young nerd inside of us participate in and ultimately take with us the best the genre has to offer.

Although I personally haven’t played these games and am not a diehard science fiction fan, I definitely love things like Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Transformers, so I bet I would love Mass Effect, too.

He reminds me of how excited I become when any kind of game is announced that appeals to my interests, such as medieval and fantasy. While others may only care about if the game itself is good or not, having it rooted in a certain realistic/fictional setting (like science fiction) can allow some players to look past minor or even fairly significant flaws to appreciate what’s excellent; they elevate and notice minute features, appreciating more often than others what’s going on in terms of the story, interaction, environment, etc. Therefore, McLean acknowledges that his strong, positive view of Mass Effect won’t “directly map” for others, but for those who share a similar love for science fiction, the game allows for “the same personal connection to the science fiction themes” they valued and became so absorbed with as children.

Although not to the same degree, I could say the same about me when I play the newer LEGO video games like LEGO Lord of the Rings or LEGO Marvel Superheroes. LEGO Star Wars and its sequel entertained me to no end when I was younger since I used to buy the sets, making them more than just fun games to me, but an opportunity to relive the many LEGO battles and stories I created as a kid through these games. Also, as an admitted “fanboy” of the original Spyro the Dragon games, I recently played The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning and thought it was pretty decent even though a lot of people hate it. Perhaps my love for the original trilogy helped me like this game more than others? Either way, I also gushed over Knack before it came out since it’s influenced by those games (but, unfortunately, the game turned out to be mediocre and repetitive).

My point in all this is to point out the differences in how people approach certain games and why it’s fun to see. McLean is so obviously a massive nerd of science fiction and proudly admits it, whereas most of the authors in “Well Played 3.0” probably couldn’t say the same thing. A lot of them may love Mass Effect, but hearing about what makes it so great from a levelheaded yet appropriately biased perspective is exciting to read. I can almost feel his passion for the franchise as I read his work, and it makes me want to play the games even more.

Mario-Kart-8-2

Title: Mario Kart 8 is Gorgeous, Fast, and Incredibly Fun

Author: Jose Otero

Source: IGN

Date: 04/05/14

It’s something that I don’t tell many friends, but I am a true master of Mario Kart Wii. I earned my “Gold Wheel” by beating every single championship with three stars and hold a regional record (the only one to my name since I don’t competitively game) for an online challenge that the world could participate in. Did I do it with a reliable, classic controller in my hand? No. I did all of this with the motion controls of a Wii Remote…like a boss.

Next to NASCAR Rumble and Burnout 3: Takedown, this is one of my favorite racing games without a doubt. But oddly enough, I consider myself to only be a casual fan of the genre. I play racing games on and off with one catching my interest every 2-4 years. I’ve been tempted to buy games like Mario Kart 7, Need for Speed: Rivals, and Motorstorm: Apocalypse, but I felt inclined to play other games. With my Wii U being neglected and the triumphant return of Mario Kart to a Nintendo home console after five long years, Mario Kart 8 is a must-buy for me.

Jose Otero begins his article with a description of one of the exhilarating races he had with an early build of the game. He says he won with luck by getting a ‘Red Shell’, but producer Hideki Konno says it has nothing to do with luck (which makes no sense whatsoever since items are gained by chance). But whatever it was, the game is nevertheless fun, beautiful, and a competent racer overall. Otero begins by praising the art direction with and design of the tracks, which I’ve always loved about the Mario Kart series (there’s a whopping 32 of them here!). Everything runs at 60 frames per second, too, which shows what the Wii U is capable of as a console that has the same amount of power as (perhaps even more than) the PS3 or Xbox 360.

He continues by saying that while the game doesn’t do anything particularly innovative, it “tosses in enough fresh ideas to kick-start it past the two incarnations on Wii and 3DS.” In Mario Kart 7, strikingly new mechanics were added to racing that opened up so many more opportunities for new racetracks. The karts could transform into gliders and underwater vehicles at certain points, changing the way players had to control their karts on a whim. I never experienced these things for myself since I never bought it, but in Mario Kart 8, these things will return and be fine tuned along with the new anti-gravity feature that allows cars to race up any surface. It already sounds like a far more exhilarating game than Mario Kart Wii!
He describes some of the racetracks, which range from slightly redesigned classics to all new courses like Water Park and Thwomp Ruins that have unique traps and a heavy usage of the anti-gravity feature. New items are coming to the experience like the ‘Piranha Plant’ and ‘Boomerang’, which, respectively, bites nearby racers and can be tossed up to three times to knock out cars in front of you. And while this isn’t covered in the article, Otero links to another article he co-wrote where Hideki Konno says that players will finally be able to customize races by having no items, only one item, and so forth. It’s something that fans have always demanded due to the infamous ‘Blue Shell’ (which I dislike to a certain degree as well), so this has made a lot of people happy, including me.

While he says there are issues with how the GamePad is integrated with the TV screen in regard to co-op and several major features he wasn’t able to try (like Battle Mode or the movie-sharing service Mario Kart TV), “The core racing experience at the heart of Mario Kart 8isn’t only intact; it’s better than ever. And it benefits from a steadfast approach to carefully preserving old ideas while blazing a trail forward with new ones.”

As someone who’s taken a significant hiatus from Mario Kart, I think it’s high time that I dust off my Wii U and get ready to sharpen up my rusty skills before this hits the U.S. on May 30. But the big question remains: Will this top my fond memories and experience with Mario Kart Wii? When I take hold of the wheel and return to this series like a legendary figure that’s coming out of retirement (boy, does this sound pretentious), I guess I’ll find out.

world-of-warcraft-wrath-of-the-lich-king-19018-1920x1080

Title: Ding! World of Warcraft Well Played, Well Researched

Author: Crystle Martin, Sarah Chu, Dee Johnson, Amanda Ochsner, Caro Williams, and Constance Steinkuehler

Source: Well Played 3.0

Date: 04/09/14

I don’t get World of Warcraft.

After reading about and playing the game for a couple of hours, the graphical presentation is satisfactory considering that it was released in 2004; the aesthetic design of the environments, items, and character models give it a unique and appealing identity; and the rich lore and history – which goes beyond the game into comics, books, etc. – alone nearly compels me to delve into its world to explore what mysteries and excitement the narrative provides. But I just don’t see myself having “fun” with World of Warcraft. The passive gameplay doesn’t feel engaging or exciting…it’s monotonous and too systematic; the steep learning curve for leveling up and defeating bosses requires too much time outside of the game doing – what still baffles me – what seems like school assignments and hours of studying; and the slow traversal, long battles, and time investment required to effectively play it doesn’t seem worth my time and investment. To put it frankly, this game bores me out of the gate. What it does have going for it (again, especially the intriguing narrative and aesthetics) doesn’t save it from being a convoluted, lengthy, and dull gameplay experience.

Oh, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate why millions of gamers love it. Far from it! In fact, I find it fascinating and mind-blowing how much World of Warcraft teaches people to practice cooperation, managerial and management skills, math comprehension, and their creativity and imagination.
I like how Williams opens up the essay by comparing the game to the ship of Theseus. It’s a smart, accurate illustration of how the game has dramatically and subtly evolved over time to be something that feels, looks, and plays differently from when it first launched, while yet retaining the original game’s core appeal and formula. Indeed, the fact that World of Warcraft has the ability to be updated in nearly every way at any time gives it a staying power compared to other games released during its time, which have not aged as well.

I also enjoyed Ochsner’s take on how identity is formed in relation to the narrative. I can imagine how character creation in other MMOs would benefit from what Blizzard has done, giving players the option to play as pre-described character classes, have their own spins on original characters, or just go bonkers with no plan on how to level up and define their characters. For the most part, it makes a player “feel responsible for their character and consider what experiences they want that their characters to have throughout the trajectory of the game. They are then careful to play the character in a way that is consistent with that path.” Most people love customizing their character’s appearance in a game for an hour or two, but World of Warcraft takes it a step further by having personalization continuously play a prominent role in how someone fights, what s/he unlocks, what good/evil choices s/he makes, etc.

Ochsner continues by mentioning how players can completely focus on the social “raiding” instead of the narrative. Although I would personally never do that if I played World of Warcraft, this is a great illustration of how players can approach any kind of game in various ways. Everything is laid out for the player, but s/he can decide to hone in on the narrative, gameplay, or even both, opening up the game for more people with different tastes and playing styles. Either way, there’s an incredible amount of diverse social interaction between players of different backgrounds from all over the world, which is something that can’t be easily done through other technological mediums. The list goes on: The visual elements of characters (mostly clothing) communicate players’ statuses and histories; it’s incredible how much information we can gain just by looking at someone’s avatar. There’s also the astounding amount of “scientific” graphs and models that people create for others to study and memorize for hours; the surprising use of math to navigate, compare armor and weapon stats, and figure out where to “level grind;” and the professional and ethical gathering of accurate information on wikis and other websites – done by a host of people indirectly working together – is inspiring.

There’s so much depth and great conversation in this jam-packed essay that it’s hard to choose what to specifically point out. I think it’s best to take all of them into consideration and just marvel at what a single video game can accomplish. World of Warcraft fosters friendships and helps people gain new ones. It teaches players how to analyze and interpret the stats of leveling up and items, which can motivate them, respectively, to strategize and how to wisely buy, sell, or trade with others. And strangely enough, it can serve as a demonstration of how to live responsibly by committing to a group, being on time for meetings, remaining content and working hard in your assigned role, and doing research by studying information and then communicating it to others.

I remember Eli Neiburger’s essay on Pokémon and how he said it inadvertently teaches its players to do a lot of things you should be learning in an educational environment, and some of those things can be seen here (players using math and charts to play better, collaborating to amass massive databases, etc.). World of Warcraft does have its following of stereotypical gamers people like to label as the “losers” of society, but they’re only the red herrings. Many people who play this game are skilled and intelligent in specific areas that can be applied to great careers! I can easily see a good amount of the future’s managers, sociologists, mathematicians, journalists, historians, and scientists arising from the world of Azeroth.

I may not get why World of Warcraft is fun, but I do think it’s fun to see the enthusiasm and appreciation gamers have for it. While I’m off thinking about other MMOs that are far more appealing to me like The Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2, I’ve got to give credit to World of Warcraft for having such a major influence on these games and the game industry as a whole.

Final-Fantasy-X

Title: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster Review: Music of the Spheres

Author: Phillip Kollar

Source: Polygon

Date: 04/16/14

I had the pleasure of playing Final Fantasy X over a calm summer a couple years ago. A friend told me that I absolutely had to experience it over any other game in this legendary game franchise. Why? I’d never played a Final Fantasy game up until then.

Sure, I had experience with the RPG genre with Chrono Trigger, Pokémon, and Kingdom Hearts (which actually has Final Fantasy characters in it and remains one of my favorite game series), but I never felt compelled to play any of the Final Fantasy titles. However, when I finished the tenth one for myself, I’ve had a change of heart. I intend to play Final Fantasy IV, VII, and the upcoming XV whenever I get the chance. But what aspects about X won me over? Of all the Final Fantasy titles to be released, this one was actually remastered in HD with bonus content, remade soundtracks, and its confusingly titled sequel Final Fantasy X-2. Philip Kollar reviewed this nice package for Polygon, and I’m going to look at what he agrees with and disagrees with me about X in particular.

The first aspect of the game Kollar points out are the characters. As is the case with games ported from Japan, the English voice acting can be a hit-or-miss thing. X does suffer from awkward voice acting, but I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as Kollar implies because there are some moments where it’s humanly convincing. He segues into the characters’ primary traits and notices how they would be annoying in most other games. But here, it really works for the characters and gives the diverse cast a great sense of development since they function as a tight-knit group that must work together (which means a lot of intriguing conflict and interaction). I totally agree with him, especially when he talks about the game’s setting and story. He sums it up best: “It has a visual aesthetic, culture and history that sets it apart from average fantasy role-playing fare. … [The plot plays] out in exciting and surprising ways, right up to an ending that made me misty-eyed the first time I saw it.”

Then he gets to the gameplay, and just like him, we both enjoyed how the turn-based battles were structured. Instead of feeling lethargic and basic, the game is great in providing fairly quick battles where you can truly strategize at every corner. I found myself switching between characters due to their differing yet equally useful traits and moves, providing this excellent sense of flow as battles played out well when I took the time to think about what I had to do. Unlike another game I reviewed recently, the battles in this game are challenging in difficulty due to how enemies always vary in their strengths and weaknesses.
He follows this up with the “Sphere Grid,” which is a progression system that he describes as “brilliant” and something that “ensures that each character ends up feeling powerful and useful with minimal need for grinding out levels.” I also really enjoyed this unique way of making each character level up, especially since it works in such a way where I can branch out with certain characters and give them nearly any stat or ability that I see fit. In other words, characters aren’t assigned to a single “skill tree” to level up in. They’re actually part of one, ginormous skill tree, and I can make them go wherever I want.

However, I disagree with what he said about there being a “minimal need” to level grind. There were several moments in the game where I had to spend at least 30-40 extra minutes doing excess battles before facing certain bosses. In fact, I almost bowed out near the end with the final boss fight, which had me battling 4-5 extra hours before I could defeat him. That was an absolute pain that sticks out from my experience, but it was definitely worth it to see the end of the story.

From here he talks about X-2, which is an odd change of pace from the first one in terms of tone and gameplay, but nevertheless has a light-hearted and jocular appeal. Although I’ve heard that people either love or hate this game compared to X, I can’t help but be interested in how I would react to X-2 and its changes. If I ever purchase this HD collection of JRPGs, I’ll be sure to play this one to see what I think.

After reading this review and others, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster seems to be worth the purchase just to own X. While Kollar says the graphics show their age with “gawky, repetitive animation, low-detail textures, and a lack of lip-syncing technology,” no one should skip out on this package due to the wonderful amount of bonus content, including extra boss fights and features in-game that weren’t released in North America. I’ll be sure to keep this on my ever-growing list of games to buy, not only to play X-2 for the first time, but maybe even to go through X just one more time.

awst2whflseehbsliuej

Title: Why Fanboys Act Like Jerks

Author: Keza MacDonald

Source: Kotaku

Date: 04/19/14

I grew up a PlayStation fanboy. I lived, breathed, and played everything PlayStation. I can guarantee that many exclusives on Sony’s systems – such as Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (man, that’s a lot of sequels), and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep – will always be among my favorite games of all time. I own every console produced (except the PSP), bought the PS4 on launch day last year, and primarily play games on Sony products to this day.

But I’ve never been a PlayStation fanboy in the modern sense. No, I never defended it unless I could back up my statements with facts, and if proven wrong, I’ve thanked people for correcting me. Although I did not become a major fan of Nintendo until my mid-teenage years (which I hold only second to PlayStation), I owned a Game Boy around the age of 6, and when I discovered the joys of Pokémon Crystal much later on, it served as the launching point for me to buy a Wii and Nintendo DS to play Mario titles, Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda, etc. I also love the SEGA Genesis (Sonic the Hedgehog all the way), Xbox 360 (Halo and Gears of War are a blast), and playing games on my laptop. And, of course, I’ve never vehemently argued with people over “which console is best” or “why this platform is terrible.” I see no point in debates like these, and normally choose to stay out of them unless I’m put on the spot to engage in one (which I try to handle as civilly and calmly as possible).

What is my point in saying all of this? I want to show what being a fanboy is truly about. My love for PlayStation does not blind me to the features and games that other platforms have that are just as good (if not better) as what Sony offers to me. I don’t feel fully inclined to defend the company if they do something wrong or have a console that has objective inferiorities compared to another (such as the Xbox One’s better social features). I’m also very enthusiastic about PlayStation and fully aware that it is inferior to what a PC affords. However, my long history with Sony and its games have stuck with me more for most of my life. It currently brings me more joy than any other platform, and as long as that lasts, PlayStation will always hold a special, nostalgic place in my “gaming heart.”

Ew, perhaps that’s too maudlin since I’m only talking about games, but reading Keza MacDonald’s article has made me sad for what “fanboy” has come to mean. I honestly like to call myself a PlayStation fanboy because I hold this platform in a higher regard above all others, but I don’t idiotically or angrily bash other platforms or the people who play on them. Just as I have different tastes and personal history with PlayStation, this works the same way for someone who grew up with the Xbox, Nintendo 64, or what have you. Again, all platforms have their pros and cons, and it’s okay to pick sides if you’re the kind of fanboy I advocate for (which MacDonald calls “endearingly human”).  But a fanboy in the modern sense is…well, that’s a different story.

I guess the Internet has paved way for the new fanboys over the years, and MacDonald provides fascinating studies and points on what they are, how they operate, and why they exist. Her most interesting argument includes the section where she talks about how our minds interpret the world in a way that supports our beliefs. Just as these fanboys twist facts and even make up their own to bolster their platform of choice, people like to conjure up ideas, theories, and “proof” that support their worldviews, favorite sports teams, etc. Everybody does it, and I’m sure you and I do it as well to some extent. It’s the way we work, and seeing that with fanboys is interesting indeed.

While I find the term a bit primitive, the tribalism point is also a great, accurate conclusion to make. As humans, we do like to identify with groups of people and join hands under one banner. You see it everywhere: Team Edward versus Team Jacob with Twilight fans, David Tennant versus Matt Smith with Doctor Who fans, and House Stark and House Targaryen versus a whole bunch of other ones with Game of Thrones fans. All of this rivalry is exciting because it generates competition and passion. Of course, it can get way out of hand, but when it’s handled appropriately and amicably, it’s something that can just be a lot of fun.

Lastly, her strangest point claims that having passion for something like game consoles involves the same feelings one has in a romantic relationship, and quite honestly, that makes sense to me. MacDonald quotes Dr David Lewis-Hodgson, who says that “fanboyism” is like falling in love.

What happens then is that you get a tsunami of a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the brain, which gives you a huge buzz. This happens with products, they can do exactly the same thing. […] The sight, feel, taste, touch of the product will evoke these huge responses in the brain, like getting a high.

It may seem like an extreme example to make, but I know what he’s talking about. Although this isn’t PlayStation, I remember the day I purchased Super Smash Bros. Brawl for my Wii. I had never and never will anticipate a game more than that one, and when I got my hands on it after playing Melee for so long, it was as though I had reunited with a best friend. It’s weird, yes, but I can’t lie about the “good feelings” I’ve had when opening a new game or console that I’ve been waiting for.

Unfortunately, the repulsive type of fanboys that have emerged over the years will continue to exist under the houses of Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and PC. And speaking of PC, I have a bone to pick with “the master race” that likes to trumpet how much better their platform is than consoles. As a PlayStation fan, I know that PC is superior and the overall “better” platform choice. I simply choose to stick with PlayStation for the exclusive games, convenience, and familiarity. So, the pretentious display they always put on for “console peasants” is unnecessary and further cements MacDonald’s claims that many people just can’t get by without riling others up for any good reason. As long as a gamer has fun with their platform, that’s all that matters.

Anyway, they’re just one more example of what’s wrong with today’s rampant “fanboyism.” If everybody just gamed on whatever platform they like to play the games they want, everybody wins in the end, which would make all of us “Glorious God Gamers” (see photo above) who see the value and merit in everything. That’s what Sony’s Kevin Butler made clear at E3 2010: we may pledge to one platform, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the pleasures of gaming that others provide. His somewhat goofy speech makes me smile to this day…even if it’s mostly about Sony’s underutilized PlayStation Move.

super-mario-bros-1-ending

Title: What Makes A Game Ending Memorable?

Author: Shin Hieftje

Source: Gameinformer

Date: 04/21/14

Game endings are tricky. Bioware was likely dumbfounded by players’ negative reactions to the finale of their story arc for Mass Effect; some players found the choices one has to make near the end of Bastion to be profoundly deep and emotional, whereas some found them superficial and lacking; and some games just close in a way that’s confusing, bizarre, and even upsetting like in Assassin’s Creed III or Killzone: Shadow Fall.

Just as Shin Hieftje says in his article, endings are one of the determining factors in how we remember the games we play. I’ve heard people say that everything about Mass Effect 3 is simply amazing, but hate it because of its conclusion. That carries a lot of weight, so there’s no doubt that game endings are important and a great topic to discuss. Of course, there’s only so much you can do with an online article since people have short attention spans these days, but Hieftje makes do by listing two games that handle two types of game endings very well: Red Dead Redemption and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

The first type of ending he lists is “Closure,” and Red Dead Redemption utilizes it in an unexpected fashion that ends up being brilliant (there are spoilers from here on out). The game’s main character, John Marshton, is actually killed by the men he’s been doing work for during the entire game. Edgar Ross is their corrupt leader, and he trots away on his horse triumphantly when he sees Marshton’s body crumple to the ground. After they leave, his wife and son find his body and bury it, leaving the player stunned at what just happened. You’d think the game would end there, but you actually get to play as the son when he’s grown up. You’re given a short, simple mission to kill Ross in a dual, and once you do, that’s when the credits finally roll. This is justified revenge at its finest, which many games haven’t accomplished in the unique way this game handles it.

Although not as clever or hardly unique, I’m reminded of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s epic conclusion. After the trilogy’s main antagonist, Makarov, kills the best friend of the legendary Captain Price, the final mission sees that you play as him. Oh, but this isn’t any ordinary mission. You go all out with a full assault on Makarov and his men in a Juggernaut suit with a massive machine gun in hand, making your way to the top of a building where you put an end to him in one of the most exhilarating quick time events I’ve ever played. While the game is far from being one of my favorites in the franchise and has a mediocre story overall, the ending still stands as the best. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.

The other ending he lists is “Climax,” and since I’ve played Ocarina of Time (unlike Red Dead Redemption), I agree with Hieftje on this one from personal experience. The story ending itself is completely predictable (Link saves Zelda), but the way it plays out is not. Instead of one, epic fight with Ganandorf in his tower, the player must evacuate the collapsing building in less than three minutes with Zelda after you fight him. But does it end once you escape? No, you must defeat Ganon (Ganondorf’s bestial form) using everything you have except the Master Sword (which is flung and trapped with Zelda outside of a protective sphere Ganon has generated so she can’t help him). The climax of the first battle is already great, but it just continuously builds to unpredictable, thrilling proportions as these other events play out, making the ending even more memorable.

I’m reminded of several games that have this element of surprise, such as Pokémon Red and Blue. You battle your annoying rival throughout the entire game, and once you beat the final Pokémon champion at the Elite Four, he confesses that a young man actually defeated him moments before you came in, making him the real champion to face. This turns out to be your rival. I remember sitting in shock as I found this out, feeling my excitement build as I realized he was my final obstacle. I couldn’t let him stop me, so I managed to beat him with only a couple Pokémon to spare. It remains my favorite Pokémon battle out of hundreds upon hundreds I’ve overcome due to the personal stakes involved, challenge it offers, and, yes its climactic nature.

There are other types of great endings that this article doesn’t mention, and one that specifically comes to mind is the – shall we say – “Anti-Closure” ending. This type is a slippery slope because it can either leave players in angry confusion or baffled in a way that makes them positively reflect on it. The Last of Us is a prime example, which concluded in a way I never saw coming. When the screen goes black, there are many questions unanswered and a situation in the story that’s left hanging, but despite this lack of closure, I’ve thought about that game’s ending more than any other I’ve played. It has made me realize that it’s perfect just the way it is; I don’t need a sequel because its open-endedness is what makes it so special. The same goes for other titles like Limbo, Ico, Braid, and more. Some games just don’t close well on an ambiguous note depending on the story in question, but the other games mentioned are perfect for it.
In this discussion of game endings, I coincidentally end my Reading Journal as well. In total, I have written over 21,000 words in response to various game articles, reviews, and videos, and it has been an excellent exercise in helping me to contemplate more on the news I enjoy reading every day. When it comes to game endings, the best kinds are the ones that stick with us for years upon years, which is proof that games can have real value and an impact on the way we think and what we learn. Just like them, I will remember what I’ve learned from composing this Reading Journal as it comes to a close and a new chapter opens for my future pursuits in writing about the wonderful world of video games.

Game Over