Let’s Talk About Gaming Addiction

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has moved to include gaming disorder as part of the 11th revision of their International Classification of Diseases.  According to their website, gaming disorder is defined as “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”  It goes on to say that, to be classified as a disorder, the amount of gaming must be severe enough to impair a person’s functioning in daily life for a time period of at least twelve months.

My initial reaction to this, of course, was an instinctual dislike.  Video games are one of my primary hobbies, and have been since I was a kid.  So when I heard that gaming disorder was going to be an officially recognized thing, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be good.  And the interesting thing is that the pushback against the classification didn’t just come from people who play video games.  It also came from medical experts who believe that the WHO’s definition of gaming disorder is too vague and too broad.

However, at the same time, the classification does make sense.  There are people out there who definitely spend far too much time on video games, so much so that it starts to take precedence over everything else.  And we are long overdue for a conversation about mental health in this country.  Because while conservative politicians love to blame mental health issues for mass shooting events, they never seem to actually DO anything about it.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Gaming addiction is not a new issue, especially in places like South Korea where it has become such a problem that they even have gaming addiction rehabilitation clinics.  So it’s definitely something worth talking about.  But on the other hand, there’s the media, who have a long and storied history of being slanted against video games.  For instance, here’s this story from the BBC, which was originally titled “Computer game addiction: ‘I spend 20 plus hours a week gaming”.

Pffft…that’s weak.  Get real kids.  Twenty hours is nothing.  You hear me?  Nothing!

In all seriousness, if you actually watch the video, it at least explains that the kid who plays “20 plus hours” a week is part of a healthy crowd of friends.  But if all you see is the headline, your perception of that “20 plus hours” is going to be much different.

And if we’re really going to criticize video games in this way, I think it’s worth noting how we consume another medium: television.  According to this New York Times article from back in 2016, a Nielsen study found that, on average, American adults watch five hours of television a day.  So per week, that adds up to roughly thirty-five hours of television.  Yet we don’t see the WHO coming out with a classification on television watching disorder, or the BBC making a video about people addicted to television.  And the only major reason I can think of for this is that watching television is a normalized thing, whereas video games are still seen as a kind of weird new thing that people don’t understand.

This is to say nothing about the fact that binge-watching is not only a term, but a socially acceptable one.  When “Stranger Things” season 2 came out, over three hundred thousand people watched the entire season in one day.  But of course we’re not raising a stink about this.  We might scoff and say “get a life”, but our condemnation never goes much beyond that.

I should mention here that even the WHO recognizes that the number of those afflicted with this gaming disorder are a very small percentage of the people who play video games regularly.  And I’m willing to bet that, more often than not, the root cause of the addiction lies not with the games themselves, but with something in that person’s life that has forced them to retreat into their hobby.  Because video games are typically used as a way to cope with the stresses of life, something I can attest to personally.  While there are some games that are designed to entice players to keep playing regularly over months and even years, we need to understand that the extreme form of addiction the WHO is talking about is not the norm, especially in a country where the statistic of watching over thirty hours of television a week is accepted without so much as a second thought.

In the end, it’s possible to have an unhealthy addiction to pretty much anything.  And it’s time we accepted that instead of adhering to this stodgy old idea of “everything was better when I was growing up and anything new in these kid’s lives is clearly bad for them”.

Because the world is going to change, whether we like it or not.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful day.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Spotlight: Thirty Flights of Loving

“Thirty Flights of Loving” begins as more games should: with some smooth jazz.  After walking downstairs and encountering these fine gentlemen…

 

Stop looking at meeeee!

 

…we make our way through a secret passageway into the basement where we run into our two comrades, Anita (at least I’m assuming that’s her real name) and…uh…Other Guy.

 

 

 

Clicking on either of them brings up a flashy series of images denoting their skills.  It’s clear that Anita is the muscle of the group, as her skills include demolitions and sharpshooting.  Other Guy has a more utility focus, as he is a forger and a safecracker.

 

Evidently he’s also good at weddings.

 

You make your way downstairs to an airplane and the three of you take off.  The scene quickly cuts and it’s obvious something went horribly wrong.  Anita has a gun pointed at you that’s clicking empty and Other Guy has a bullet wound in his chest.  You pick him up and begin making your way through the crowded airport.  But soon enough the scene shifts again.  This time it’s a flashback, as you and Anita are in an apartment, peeling and eating oranges.

 

Why oranges? Why NOT oranges?

 

As you walk toward the door time jumps forward and Anita is joined by Other Guy.  The three of you make your way up to the building’s rooftop and sit down at a reception.  People start dancing.  You and Anita start drinking…a lot.

 

I’m not sure if this makes me want to drink less…or more.

 

The two of you then make your way downstairs to the apartment, where Anita waits for you on the bed.  Before you get to her, the scene shifts back to the airport, where you use a luggage carrier to help move Other Guy.

 

Oh wait, his name is Winston? Ah screw it, I’m still calling him Other Guy.

 

Making your way into the main entrance for the airport, you suddenly find yourselves trapped and set upon by police cameras floating from balloons.  Other Guy pulls out two guns and begins shooting them down.  Eventually, you are allowed to make your way through the entrance where the cops are waiting.  The scene jumps forward and apparently the two of you were able to steal a cop car.

 

Oh no, they’re chasing us through the highway of love!

 

You have a sudden flashback to you and Anita riding together on a motorcycle.  She turns around to you, love clearly in her eyes.  But the scene is quickly interrupted by an on-rushing semi-truck, snapping you back to the present.  However, it’s too late, as you collide with it head on.

And then, in what is either a self-aware jab or a display of pretentiousness, you are catapulted into a museum scene where people are standing around drinking champagne and marveling at various exhibits related to the game.

 

Mmm yes quite…that is a lovely police vehicle…mmm yes….

 

All in all, the game takes about 10-15 minutes to beat.  It’s not very long, and there’s no dialogue at all.  In fact, whenever someone talks it reminds me of the adults from Charlie Brown.  But the big question is, did I like it?

Honestly…not really.  The game is too short and lacks the detail that would normally get me invested in a story.

Now, before someone says it, I understand that was the point.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” is an experiment in telling a short story with all the context ripped out of it.  So you either have to poke and prod to find the context or make your own.

I get what the game was going for.  It just didn’t resonate with me.

But apparently it did with video game journalists when it came out six years ago.  The site Rock Paper Shotgun praised the game in a recommendation back in 2015, saying that “it’s more thrilling, funny, romantic, and tragic than many games manage in fifteen hours.”  Now, I’m not sure if I missed something, but I didn’t feel that emotional at all when I finished the game my first time through a few years ago.

In fact, my reaction was more “wait…that’s it?

 

There’s also a weird section in the museum about Bernoulli’s principle…because reasons.

 

I understand that many video games can get bogged down by bloated storytelling.  You don’t have to look much further than “Modern Warfare 2” as a good example of this (I did a story analysis of the game way back when too).  In the game the main villain’s motivation is literally “I lost a whole bunch of soldiers when a nuke went off, so I started World War Three to drive up recruitment numbers”.  Because logic.

And yet, the context of a story is what makes it worth it for me.  I like learning a character’s backstory, their motivations, their hopes and dreams.  It’s part of what makes reading books so engaging.  You get to see how the character thinks and feels.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” doesn’t have that.  If anything, stripping out the context only made me understand why I like that context in the first place.  Hell, it’s a big part of the reason why I enjoyed “Cryostasis” the game I talked about last month.  And I couldn’t even explain half of what happened in the game.  To me, “Thirty Flights of Loving” feels more like a hollow shell of a story.  It’s got charm and style on the outside, but the inside is just air.

All of this is going to make my next statement seem very strange:

I’m glad this game exists.

I may not have liked the game, but I still think it’s good that the game is out there.  It’s good that independent game developers are able to experiment and get their creations noticed.  They may not appeal to everyone, but the nature of artistic expression cannot always be held down by what is profitable or what has wide market appeal.  Because sometimes, you don’t know what has wide market appeal.  Something new could come along and drastically reshape things.  It’s kind of like how superhero movies experienced a downturn for a while, then Marvel came along and started their cinematic universe.  Suddenly BAM…it feels like we can’t go more than two or three months without another superhero movie opening in theaters and making hundreds of millions in revenue.

I may not have cared for “Thirty Flights of Loving” in much the same way that I don’t really care for superhero movies anymore, but I can appreciate that it exists.  Experimentation should be encouraged, because even failed experiments can teach us valuable lessons.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Spotlight: Cryostasis

 

…I have no idea what this game is about.  At least not entirely.

On the surface, “Cryostasis” doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary.  It’s a survival-horror game where you as the player make your way through the frozen wreck of a ship, doing battle with mutated monsters and making the best of your limited resources.  But there are some unique elements.

For example, your health is determined by temperature.  The colder you get, the weaker you are and the easier it is to die.  This means that the only way to gain health back is to seek out heat sources.  You can regain health by warming up at a smoldering pile of wood…

 

 

…light bulbs…

 

 

…and other, less conventional heating sources.

 

 

This interplay of heat vs. cold also plays into one of the major thematic motifs of the story, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

As you progress through the ruins of the ship, you’ll do battle with the mutated denizens with a variety of melee weapons as well as some guns you’ll find later on.  Combat is slow and clunky, but purposefully so.  Being in such a cold environment and clad in heavy winter gear, you’re not going to be running around and jumping off of walls like an action hero.  No, the game forces you to play methodically.  Because if you don’t, you will die.

 

Hello sir! Do you mind if I…AXE you a question? Ha ha ha…follow my blog for more top tier jokes!

 

So now that the basics of the gameplay are down, let’s jump into the story.

Spoiler alert: it’s weird.

As the story begins, we’re treated to a very optimistic and upbeat quote…

 

I lied.

 

But before we even get control of our character, we’re introduced to this strange parallel plot of a group of villagers and their trek through a dark forest.  It almost feels like a fairy tale of sorts.

 

This plot runs parallel to the events of the game and helps provide some insight into the themes, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

 

After this brief introduction, the player is then given control of their character.  Through a series of flashbacks (triggered by interacting with a faceless figure in a coat), it is revealed that the player character (known as Alexander Nesterov) traveled to the wreck of the icebreaker via sled dogs, but was forced to continue on foot after the ice broke and wrecked the sled.  As Nesterov progresses through the ship, he experiences flashbacks to when the ship was operational, and it becomes clear that some type of disaster took place.

But just when you think you might have a handle on things…this happens:

 

 

The game prompts you to use your “mental echo” ability to travel into the man’s past and fix his mistake so that he survives (because, you know, that’s a thing…that…that normal people do).  These sections are often like puzzles where you have to figure out what to do.  Some are simple and logical, while others are more obtuse and frustrating.  For example, a later section sees the body of a man dead in his chair after a window exploded and pierced him with glass shrapnel.  The simple solution would be to just exit the room and shut the door behind you, right?  Wrong.  That doesn’t work.  Apparently the real solution is to hide behind the chair and let the chair take the hit.  Only then will you be able to progress.

Because logic is for suckers.

 

You get this message upon the completion of your first “mental echo” segment. I love how even the tutorials are cryptic.

 

As the story continues to progress, more flashback events give insight into the story of the ship and its crew.  And we start to get an idea of the major players in the story.  Most notable in these beginning sections are the ship’s captain and his first officer.  The first officer wants to use some sort of divining rod equipment to help steer the ship through the ice, but the captain decides to rely on sheer intuition alone.  This leads to a confrontation between the two men where they argue over the dangers of the course the ship is taking.

 

Famous last words…

 

The captain disregards the first officer’s advice and, predictably, the ship finds itself stuck.  The first officer decides to go behind the captain’s back and send a message back to the company that owns this ship.  He gets a message back and, despite being advised by the ship’s security officer not to share it with the captain, does so anyways.  The contents of the message are kept hidden for a while, but its effect on the captain is evident.  He gradually grows demoralized and finds that everyone he turns to seems to despise him.  When he goes to the chief engineer of the ship to share the message, the engineer rebukes him and tells him to just go away.

 

 

Eventually there is a flashback with the captain standing on the deck, looking forlorn as he holds the message in his hands.

 

 

After a moment, he releases the piece of paper and it floats away from him.  It is then that the contents of the message are finally revealed: the owners have decided that, following the ship’s completion of its current journey, it is to be decommissioned.

 

 

This feels like a good time to pull that parallel fairy tale story back into play.  In the fairy tale, the people are trying to escape a forest, but the forest seems alive and wants nothing more than to  prevent their escape.  It is in their darkest hour that a man among them named Danko takes charge and leads them onward.  At first, the people rejoice at Danko’s leadership, feeling hope swell within them.  However, as the journey continues and grows harder, resentment begins to take root.  They begin chattering among themselves, becoming doubtful of Danko’s ability to lead.  Eventually the people rebuke him entirely, to which Danko fires back, criticizing them for how easily they allowed themselves to be led.  The people then start surrounding him, clearly intending to kill him…

Numerous parallels to the game’s story can be found.  For example, the idea of man vs. nature becomes a very strong motif in the latter half of the game, with the shifting ice around the ship a parallel to the malevolent forest from the fairy tale.  There’s a “mental echo” segment where you play as someone in a slaughterhouse, and the solution is to open the gates and let the cows go free.

 

Damn liberals and their environmentalism…

 

Not to mention there’s a later, optional segment where you help a polar bear escape from the people hunting it.

But I digress.  As the story continues it becomes clear that something bad happened to the ship’s nuclear reactor considering…you know…there’s a giant hole where it used to be.

 

 

It’s also revealed that the crew began to suffer some kind of massive medical emergency, which appears to stem from some kind of radiation leak from the reactor.

 

 

On top of that, the ship’s layout starts to become more surreal.  Doors begin to disappear, entire areas shift around you as you interact with things, and there’s even one really bizarre scene where, after activating an old-fashioned film projector, you’re forced to battle enemies shooting at you on the screen before one of them walks through the damn thing into the room itself.  All of this seems to imply that the ship you travel through during the game might not entirely be real.  But it’s hard to say.  The game is metaphors layered on top of parallel allegories.  It confuses the hell out of me sometimes.

In any case, following his thrashing by the rest of the crew, the captain makes one last desperate move.  He orders the ship full speed ahead in an attempt to brute force their way out of the ice.  During the attempt, he is injured as the first officer and security officer break into the bridge.  They order the ship in reverse, which only makes things worse and ends up dooming the ship once and for all.  While the crew deals with fluctuating temperatures and radiation sickness, the main officers hatch a plan to take a helicopter and abandon the ship and its crew.

One popular theory is that the captain of the icebreaker is the parallel to Danko in the fairy tale, and I can see why.  They both lead their people.  And they’re both rebuked by their people when they fail to lead them to safety.  The parallels between the two of them are numerous, and it seems to be the most solid conclusion.  However, it is only but one interpretation, as I’ll explain shortly.

As the game nears its close, the two parallel tales come to a head.  In the fairy tale remember, the people are circling around Danko, ready to kill him.  But Danko finally sees that it is not hatred that drives them, but fear.  His resentment is then swept away by a wave of compassion, which causes his eyes to start glowing with light.  The people misunderstand what’s happening, fearing that the glowing is another symptom of Danko’s anger.  But then, Danko rips his still beating heart out of his chest, the sheer light of it obliterating the forest and giving way to a new land.

Danko looks upon this new world with a smile, then falls over dead.  Because happy endings are for losers.

On the icebreaker, the first officer and the security chief carry the captain to a helicopter piloted by the chief engineer.  The crew watches anxiously as the helicopter begins to take off, leaving them all behind.

But it’s not over yet…remember that whole flaming heart thing from the fairy tale?  Yeah…the ship’s nuclear reactor functions as that parallel as it decides to go all ker-plooey and explode.

 

Hooray! Everybody dies!

 

The helicopter is vaporized, and the following scene implies that the explosion transformed the crew into the monsters you fight throughout the game.

So yeah, that’s it.  That’s the story.  I mean, there’s no way things could get weirder or anythi-

 

 

 

 

Hold on a second…I have to go make sure nobody spiked my drink…

So the final boss of the game is Father Time.  No, I’m serious.  I’m dead serious.  The title of the level itself is “Chronos”, which is the ancient name for the personification of time.  So yeah, the giant blindfolded man with the hourglass is literally Father Time.

And you must do battle with him by shooting mystical orbs at the people who appear around him.

Yeah it’s definitely one of the most out of nowhere moments I’ve ever experienced in a game.  I mean, this game was bizarre to begin with, but when this happened I think my jaw literally dropped.

Anyways, after defeating Old Man Time (I can’t believe I actually typed that), he rewards you with an opportunity to go back and change one singular moment that alters the fate of the ship and its crew entirely.  There are multiple ways this can take shape, but for this playthrough it takes the form of the chief engineer.

 

 

There was that scene earlier in the game where he basically told the captain to piss off.  Well, you can change that by having him express sympathy for the captain, a small act of kindness that averts the tragic fate of the entire vessel.

 

 

The story then shifts back to the beginning scene, with Nesterov approaching the vessel by dog sled.  Only, this time people are waiting for him.

 

 

After the sled falls through the ice, the captain appears above and extends his hand, saving Nesterov from falling into the water.  He is joined by the chief engineer, the security officer, and another officer.  Together, the five of them head off toward the ship as the story reaches a close.

 

 

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with this craziness…

Like I said before, the fairy tale story is a clear parallel to the tragic tale of the icebreaker.  And like I said, a popular interpretation is that the captain is Danko’s parallel.  However, I’ve also heard it as the ship’s crew being Danko’s parallel, although I don’t particularly agree with that assessment.  It seems more fitting for the crew to be the parallels of the villagers in the story, as they gradually succumb to fear and begin fighting among each other.  Another interpretation could be that the ship itself is Danko, as the captain does personify the ship during an early scene in the game, saying that to be a true captain the ship must “respect you”.

There’s a lot more to unpack with this game, but I think I’m gonna leave it alone for now.  This post has gone on long enough.

I know I made light of the game’s weirdness at points, but in all honesty that’s part of what makes the game so fascinating to think about.  It’s so weird and so out there at times that it makes you want to understand, makes you need to understand.  And there are lots of things I didn’t even go over, like the theme of confinement or being trapped that’s a motif throughout the game (many of the enemies are horrifically constrained within their armor, with one tough enemy having only a keyhole on his helmet to see through).  There’s also references to other obscure Russian works of literature and art that I haven’t even begun to delve into myself (the game’s subtitle “sleep of reason” is one such reference).  But despite how cryptic and obtuse it is, the game has a charm to it that cannot be denied despite some of the technical shortcomings (i.e. the game chugs along at times, even on powerful hardware).  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem to be available on any digital storefronts.  In fact, the only way I can see buying it now is via a physical copy from Amazon.  So if you’re interested in trying it out, that might be the only way to do it aside from other…less reputable means…if you catch my drift.

In any case, thanks for reading my long ramblings about some obscure game barely anyone’s ever heard of.  Have a wonderful rest of April and check back on the third Wednesday of May for my next post.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Video Game Movies

With the release of “Tomb Raider” this past Friday, we find ourselves with another movie based on a video game.  Only, this time it seems like the movie has fared decently well.  It was still outperformed by “Black Panther” at the box office (or “buried”, as news outlets like to put it…you know, because puns), but people who liked the video game also seem to have liked the movie as well.  Now, I haven’t seen the movie myself, but from what I’ve heard it seems like there might be one big reason for that:

It mirrors the video game almost exactly.

 

 

Now, I can’t speak for everybody, but I think what most people want to see is an adaptation.  They want to watch a video game they love made into movie form.  They don’t want to see Hollywood get all cute and switch things around to try to make their own version of the story.

Which is exactly what happened with the 2016 “Assassin’s Creed” movie.

If you’ve never played any of the “Assassin’s Creed” games before, here’s the rundown: they center around a device known as the Animus, which allows a user to relive the memories of their genetic ancestors.  The first game has you playing as Desmond Miles as he wakes up in a mysterious location, kidnapped by an unknown organization with sinister motives.  The sections in the present day are very brief and low-key, building up an overarching mystery as to who these people are and what they want.  But the majority of the game takes place in the Animus.

Apparently the movie didn’t get the memo, because from what I understand the majority of the film takes place in the modern-day.

Seriously, how do you take a game that features super cool stuff like jumping off tall buildings and landing in a pile of hay, and make a movie where the main character only does that twice and the majority of the movie is people sitting around talking about shadowy conspiracies?  In the games, the modern-day segments are largely kept in the background, an overarching element to the franchise’s story.  But the main focus has always been the Animus segments, with whatever assassin character it happens to be for that game.

Now while I can’t speak for the quality of “Tomb Raider”, having not seen it myself, the simple fact that it has fared better than most other video game movies would seem to indicate that it at least did something right.  I honestly think people just want to see something that compliments what came before instead of trying too hard to be its own thing.

Another failed case study of that can be found in the 2008 “Max Payne” movie.

 

 

 

In what seems like another incident of Hollywood trying to play cute, “Max Payne” only shares surface level elements with the game.  The movie keeps the names of most of the characters and the drug known as Valkyr, which plays a crucial role in the story.  Other than that, the progression of things seems  entirely different.  In fact, the main villain of the game doesn’t even die in the film.  No…instead they keep her alive so they can force in a post-credits scene to hint at a sequel.  Of course, that never came to be because of how poorly the movie did.

Hey guys, I don’t know if anyone told you, but the game already has a sequel.  And it’s certainly far better than whatever you had planned.

The sad thing is the movie should have been good.  All of the elements were there for them to turn the game into a stylish, gritty revenge movie.  But instead, they tried to twist things around to give their own personal interpretation on it.  Maybe they thought they could do better than the game’s writers did?  I don’t know.  You’d think with the history of video game movies being so terrible they’d stop and think “maybe this is a bad idea”.

I think a large part of the problem is that the people who make these movies either have never played the games themselves or just don’t have respect for the source material.  Or possibly both.  It’s almost as if they just read a synopsis of the plot somewhere and wrote a script based on that.  You’d think that if you really wanted to adapt something and do it justice, you’d actually bother immersing yourself in it.

But I guess that’s just me.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post and have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Difficulty vs. Fun in Video Games

 

With the release of “Super Mario Odyssey” and the success of the Switch, Nintendo has once again proven itself a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the video game industry.  I own a copy of “Odyssey” and I have to say it’s a great game.  It’s pure and simple fun to play, leaving you with a big smile on your face.

Ever since its release, “Odyssey” has been drawing rave reviews from all over.  However, there were a few who weren’t pleased with the game, and it often boiled down to one simple complaint:

The game was too easy.

This is a common criticism to hear from gamers.  “Games these days are too easy.  Where’s the challenge?”  Having played a decent amount of “Odyssey” over the last couple of weeks and reading this complaints online, it got me thinking about the intersection of difficulty and fun when it comes to video games.

What it came down to for me was two basic questions:

  • Why were older video games harder?
  • Should games be more difficult?

So with that being said, let’s get into it.

 

Why were older video games harder?

This isn’t just a matter of perception either.  It has been scientifically proven that older games were more difficult.  But the question remains…why?  Well the answer is actually quite simple.

I talked about this a couple of years back, but in the 1980’s arcade cabinets were king.  And it is well known these days that arcade games were specifically designed to DEVOUR ALL OF YOUR QUARTERS.  They were purposely difficult for the sole purpose of getting you to spend more money.  This meant that, when systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES for short) were being designed, the audience for those systems were made up of the very same people who played arcade games.  So game developers had to make their games difficult enough to appeal to them.

 

 

So yes, older video games were harder, but because they had to be in order to be successful.  Today’s video games are easier because the audience has shifted.  When Nintendo released the Wii in 2006, it tapped into an audience of casual gamers and people who had never even played games before.  As time went on, video games became far more mainstream of a pastime.  Because of that, games were made to be easier to help ease newer players into the medium.

There are other factors in this as well, such as the shift to being three-dimensions.  This made games exponentially harder to design and program.  But for the most part it had to do with that change in audience.  Which leads me to my next question…

 

Should games be more difficult?

There are a series of games out there known as the “Dark Souls” games.  They are known for being punishingly difficult, and actually become harder if you die.  Now, I’ve never played any of these games, but a lot of people really enjoy them.

When I was playing “Mario Odyssey”, I recognized that the game was fairly easy.  Nothing came across as overtly difficult, and you unlock new levels very quickly.  There’s not a whole lot of challenge to the game, but something I realize after thinking about it is that I don’t care.  It doesn’t matter to me that the game isn’t that hard, because it’s just fun.  It’s a blast to say to yourself “hey…I wonder if there’s anything up on that platform”, make your way up there, and then be rewarded with a Power Moon (the game’s main objective is to collect these, as you need a certain amount to get to another level).  The game is designed to reward your curiosity.

Which is probably why there are over eight hundred Power Moons to collect in the game.  That’s no joke.

I think what it comes down to is that there shouldn’t be a set standard of difficulty that all games adhere to.  Games like “Dark Souls” can be fun as well as games like “Mario Odyssey”.  And I think most gamers would agree that those two games are at very different ends of the difficulty spectrum.

A game’s difficulty should be set in a way that enhances its overall design.  For example, if “Mario Odyssey” had the punishing difficulty of “Dark Souls”, it wouldn’t be fun because it would discourage people from exploring every nook and cranny they can find.  At the same time, a game like “Dark Souls” shouldn’t be made super easy because it would lessen the thrill of finally beating a boss you’ve been stuck on for days.

Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Whenever someone says “games are too easy”, I feel like they’re over-simplifying things.  There are plenty of games out there that can offer the challenge some people seek.  Some games even grant you an ultra-difficult mode upon completing the game for the first time.  I think it’s not necessarily that games are too easy, but that games are more diverse.  There’s a wider range of people to appeal to now, so some games are naturally going to be easier than others.  Besides, I don’t always want a game that challenges me.  I don’t always want a game that pushes me to the limit and forces me to fight for every inch of progress I make.

Sometimes I just wanna have fun, you know?

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Video Games

…again.

Let’s face it, I talk about games a lot on this blog.  They’re a big part of my life…being one of the main ways I relax when I’m not busy dealing with my responsibilities (adulting is hard man).  And I’ve come to their defense a number of times, particularly when it comes to the attitude that they’re either pointless wastes of time with no value or, in more extreme cases, that they lead to violent behavior.

When I was younger, I heard this kind of talk a lot.  Violent games cause violence.  For so many people who had never laid their hands on a controller, that just seemed to be the logical conclusion.  Because there is a large amount of history and research behind the idea that people who consistently witness violent imagery become more desensitized to violence.  But while violence was constantly glorified in movies and sensationalized in the news, it seemed that video games were the ones that found themselves in the crosshairs.

Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a worthwhile discussion we can have.  The interactive nature of a video game is something that sets it apart from watching a movie or news broadcast.  But despite all the stories about killers who played violent games in the days leading up to their crime, there’s never been a conclusive link between the games and the violence that the person perpetrated.

One of the first times I can remember games being blamed for something was in the case of the Beltway Snipers.  During the course of the investigation, it was revealed that the younger of the two snipers (Lee Malvo) was “trained” on the video game “Halo”.  This of course led to a whole long crusade against the game franchise, led by then-lawyer Jack Thompson, a notorious critic of video games at the time (he has since been disbarred from practicing law…hmm I wonder why).  But despite the outcry, nothing ever really became of it.  And the “Halo” franchise still continues to this day.

Stories like this were common when I was growing up.  There were so many tales about the supposed dangers of playing “Grand Theft Auto” that I eventually lost track.  Like I said, the problem with all of this is that a conclusive link between games and violence has never been proven.  Even this Slate article from 2007, which seems to lean against video games, admits that these studies have their flaws and that “maybe aggressive people are simply more apt to play violent games in the first place”.  For every study that supposedly links games and increased aggression there is another study that finds helpful benefits from playing them.  That’s not just my bias talking either.  If you look for it, you’ll find that the literature surrounding the effects of video games is scattered at best.

 

And there are games out there that have no violence in them whatsoever. It’s a very broad medium, one that gets unfairly whittled down to a few controversial games in the public eye.

 

 

Another thing that bothered me was just how hypocritical the attitude toward video games really was.  In 2011 people in Canada rioted after their hockey team lost in the Stanley Cup final.  And no one really thought much of it.  Think I’m joking?  Just check out the headline for this CNN photo gallery of the riot:

“Canucks riot: Canadian hockey fans go Canucks in Vancouver.”

Ha ha isn’t it so funny guys?  Look at those silly Canadians.  Aren’t they just so crazy?

 

Nothing to see here…just some Canadians setting things on fire.

 

 

At least 140 people were injured in that riot…all over a sports game.  But do we want to talk about the implications of that?  Hell no.  Because violent behavior over sports is just an accepted thing in mainstream culture.  Even here in my home state, the animosity between Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers fans is nothing short of legendary.  And hockey fans in Canada have rioted even when their team wins!

It’s crazy, really, how skewed public opinion has been toward video games.  It seems to come mostly from the older generations who just don’t understand them.  It’s a natural generational thing…even my generation looks at babies with iPads and gets skeptical, despite the fact that the science isn’t conclusive on that either.  Someone I know from my high school days told me recently that he used to be one of those people until he had a kid and got him an iPad.  After he saw how it helped his child learn to speak and read, it changed his mind completely.

And that’s the key thing here: understanding.  We should be making attempts to understand why this latest trend is a trend.  We should be making attempts to understand why people like playing video games and why parents feel inclined to give their children iPads.  But instead, the conversation surrounding these things are frequently dominated by fear-mongering nonsense and hyperbole.  Is it worth having a conversation about?  Of course it is.  But immediately comparing video games or iPads to hardcore drug addiction is not the way to go.  All it does is muddy the waters and make having an actual dialogue impossible.

Because after all, understanding can go a long way in this world.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Weird Implications of the Horror Genre

I think most of us would agree that many horror movies are just made to be dumb fun and aren’t meant to be taken seriously.  There’s a movie called “Wish Upon” that’s coming out at the end of the week that’s about a magic box that grants people’s wishes.  But there’s a catch.  For every wish the box grants, someone close to the wisher dies!

Yeah…it’s pretty dumb.  But that’s usually the point.  These kind of blockbuster horror movies aren’t really about a story…they’re about spooks and scares and things going “BOO”.

Also gore…there’s a lot of gore these days.

But what if we took these movies more seriously?  It is true that some older horror fiction contained moral lessons or at least satirical observations on modern society.  So what would happen if we took these tales at face value?

Well…

 

Sex is bad

If you’ve never seen the show “Robot Chicken”, all you really need to know is that it’s a skit show involving action figures.  And it’s raunchy…oh so raunchy…

There’s a skit on the show that mashes together “Scooby-Doo” and “Friday the 13th”, with the crew of the Mystery Machine getting brutally murdered one by one by the masked killer Jason Voorhees.  At one point during the skit Velma complains that “the virgin lives the longest in these horror movies”.  And it’s true.  The virgin is the last one alive, particularly in slasher movies.

The excellent 2011 movie “The Cabin in the Woods” references this, stating that for things to work out, the virgin has to be the absolute last one to die, if at all.

But why is this exactly?  How did this become a trope?  Well, as it turns out, horror movies have a weird thing with sex.  Which is that sex is bad.  Very bad.  Unless you’re married.  Which is why in slasher flick movies, the promiscuous cheerleader and the football jock she’s dating are pretty much always the first targets.

The movie “It Follows” literally revolves around a monster curse that is passed on by sleeping with people.  It’s weird, but horror movies apparently grabbed on to this cultural fear of teenagers having sex.  The plot of “It Follows” reads like a paper-thin metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases.

 

You darn kids and yer unprotected sex!

 

It’s like horror movies abide by this strange, Victorian era sense of morality when it comes to sex.  Which brings us to our next topic…

 

Warped Moral Messages

The Sam Raimi movie “Drag Me to Hell” features a female loan officer who refuses an extension to an old lady, who subsequently turns out to be a gypsy or something and puts a curse on the main character which will send her to hell.

Seriously?  I mean, refusing a loan extension is a cruel thing to do, but even the IMDb plot summary points out that she only does it out of misplaced fear for her job:

“Christine Brown is a loans officer at a bank but is worried about her lot in life. She’s in competition with a competent colleague for an assistant manager position and isn’t too sure about her status with a boyfriend. Worried that her boss will think less of her if she shows weakness, she refuses a time extension on a loan to an old woman, Mrs. Ganush, who now faces foreclosure and the loss of her house. In retaliation, the old woman place a curse on her which, she subsequently learns, will result in her being taken to hell in a few days time.”

Given that this movie seems to take place in the modern-day, why not go after the people who caused the housing bubble to burst and created the economic turmoil that likely put the old lady in danger of being foreclosed on?  What about the politicians and the rich people who sat by and let everything fall apart?  I mean, if it’s that easy to curse someone, why not curse the people who deserve it?

But that’s horror movies for you.  They attempt to justify all manner of horrible things through the flimsiest lens possible.  Take, for example, the “Saw” franchise.

If you’ve never seen the movies, the basic premise is that a serial killer kidnaps people and forces them to play elaborate games involving deadly traps.  It’s a franchise that spawned seven different movies and is even spawning another movie later this year, seven years after the last movie came out.  But what bothers me isn’t how many sequels there are, but the motivation behind the killer himself.

In the second movie, Jigsaw tells a former police detective that he attempted to commit suicide after he was diagnosed with cancer.  Evidently, when his attempt failed, he was infused with a new appreciation for life.  And apparently, he was compelled to inspire that appreciation for life in others.

Inspiring an appreciation for life…by physically and psychologically torturing people until they have PTSD and nightmares for the rest of their lives.  And that’s if they survive.

Yep…seems legit.

 

Superstitions are not to be mocked

“There’s a logical explanation for all of this” – Guy who is about to be killed in horrific fashion

A great example of this trope can be seen in “Blair Witch”, the 2016 sequel to “The Blair Witch Project”.  It was…not very good.  Near the beginning of the movie, when the crew is first making their way into the woods, one of the characters makes their thoughts on the legend of the Blair Witch heard and mocks it for all it’s worth.  Then, on the second night, he is chased by some unknown entity and presumably killed.

Just goes to show you kids: don’t mock superstitions.  Because they’ll come true and kill you dead.

And this a common character in horror movies, especially ones involving local legends or folklore.  They’re a skeptic by nature, so they loudly proclaim their disbelief in “silly” superstitions and the like, much to the chagrin of others.

“You actually believe in Bigfoot,” they’ll ask with a mocking chuckle.  “Bigfoot isn’t real.  He’s a myth and a hoax, sustained by people who have nothing better to do with their lives.”

And then Bigfoot will promptly stroll out of the woods, rip the person’s spleen out of their chest, and it so far up their rear end that it pops out their mouth.

Actually, that sounds pretty badass.  I’d pay to see that movie.

 

Archaeology is nothing more than grave robbing

This is a weird one.

I’ve gone on record before about how I enjoy point and click adventure games.  Well I have a couple in mind when it comes to this trope: “Barrow Hill” and its sequel “Barrow Hill: The Dark Path”.

In these games, the central plot revolves around an isolated gas station and motel set near an ancient barrow or burial mound.  In the first game, archaeologist Conrad Morse triggers the horrible events that trap you and other characters in the area because he digs up the mound, taking dirt samples and treasures.  The implication is that he disturbed some kind of ancient spirit by doing so.  And in the second game, which features the spirit of an ancient Wicca witch, goes much the same way.  In the game you find the diary of an archaeologist who dug up the grave of the witch and angered her spirit.

Now, “Dark Path” ends with a message from one of the main characters stating that “there’s a difference between archaeology and grave robbing”.  But the game never makes that distinction.  There’s no point in the game where it points out what would be considered good archaeology.  Because for archaeology to work, things have to be dug up.  But according to the “Barrow Hill” series, that’s a bad thing.

You could argue that it’s more a point about having respect for ancient cultures and tradition, but without any clear indication of how you’re supposed to have respect for these things it comes across as a harsh indictment of the profession itself.  Even if it’s just about not forgetting the past, if we leave it alone eventually nature will erase any trace of these things ever existing.  Even if Conrad Morse hadn’t dug up the barrow in the first “Barrow Hill”, nature would have eventually eroded away the rocks or overgrown the area, which means that people would have forgotten about Barrow Hill anyways.  Think about how many ancient cultures or cities we don’t know about, that we may never know about because nature has long since destroyed any evidence of their passing.

Maybe Indiana Jones could get away with it.  Who knows?

 

I hope you enjoyed reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.