Pop Quiz: How Well Do You Know Your Gaming Urban Legends?

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Thoughts on Interaction

While it’s true that film and video games share increasing amounts of similarities in the form story-telling, direction, cinematography, etc… it’s important to understand, that video games are NOT films.  Films contain no interaction, and therefore rely much less on viewer / character empathy.  That’s not to say that there aren’t films in which the viewer may empathize with the protagonist (or any other character), but film requires this to a much lesser degree than video games.  Most Star Wars fans recognize the Darth Vader character as extremely important to the universe, even though most fans would not condone his actions.  People like seeing Darth Vader, but not necessarily being Darth Vader.

Interaction presents the most fundamental difference between games and film, and proposes the most difficult problem to solve in terms of creating environments that promote morally acceptable situations.  By nature, games require interaction, and game interaction, by nature, should be interesting.  “The King’s Speech” was a great movie, but it would almost certainly make a terrible game.  I would venture to guess that even the most open minded game enthusiast would have trouble getting hyped over a stuttering simulator.

The point here is that while series like GTA may promote the most heinous version of interaction, it makes me wonder what games should be, if not this.  We interact with games primarily to experience interactions we couldn’t otherwise.  We play Madden football because we can’t play in the NFL.  I’m not suggesting that killing in video games is ok, but I am questioning what types of interaction should be acceptable, especially in the case where the interaction also has to be engaging.

Many games manage to create interactive simulations that entail far less violence than Grand Theft Auto.  But even in a game like Minecraft, an experience largely about exploration and creation, there are still skeletons and zombies to “kill”.  The fact is that the popularity of video games is largely due to their ability to allow normal people to engage in activities that they wouldn’t normally.  That will always prompt some people to explore the darker side of our desires, both as developers and players.  While violence certainly isn’t the only type of interaction games could explore, it is one of the easiest.  Violence is prevalent in our society so we’re always keenly aware of it, but it’s also socially unacceptable so there is no chance to explore what it might be like to actually be extremely violent.  Sex is also extremely prevalent in our society, but unlike violence, it’s completely acceptable for two adults to have sex, so there is much less need to explore what sex “might be like” in a game.  And this is what intrigues me; what types of interactions are there that strike the balance between interesting (not readily available in real life) and acceptable?  Driving, professional sports, exploration, all good examples.  It’s not enough though, at least sales numbers say it’s not.  Grand Theft Auto V pulled in something like $800 million dollars in one day.  That’s a lot of dead hookers.  So where does interaction go from here?

Let’s Talk About The World’s Most Interesting Game.

There are a lot of big name games being developed all the time.  Whether or not we realize it, we treasure the time we spend waiting for them.  It’s during this time that we’re free to let our imaginations run wild about how awesome a game is going to be.  Sometimes the game lives up to what we’re hoping for, sometimes not.  Either way, this calm before the storm is always the most optomstic of times.  The best part is, even if a game comes out and it’s garbage, there’s always something else in the works.

With all these games on their way, it’s hard to decide what to be most interested in.  As much as I’d love to play everything, I know that I just don’t have that much time, so I have to be a bit picky about where I put my pre-release hype energy.  Some of those big games, like Metal Gear Solid 5, are almost upon us.  There are those that feel like they’ll never come out, like CyberPunk 2077.  There is one game that, to me at least, towers above them all.  No Man’s Sky.

No Man’s Sky is by far the most interesting game to come along in, well, a really long time.  The thing is, No Many’s Sky is interesting not just for what it is as a game, but for what it represents as a development project.  It’s an indie game from a small studio that happened to hit the right notes at the right time and get thrust into the spotlight.  Because of this, What happens to No Man’s Sky when it launches is going to be nothing short of mesmerizing.

Sony has put a bunch of it’s resources behind locking up No Man’s Sky  as a PS4 exclusive, and it’s a game from a developer who’s only other titles to date were Joe Danger and Joe Danger 2: The Movie.  What’s more, No Man’s Sky is not a Call of Duty.  It’s an interesting game to those like you and me who have our finger on the pulse of the gaming community, but it’s certainly doesn’t have the same hype as something like Zelda U.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on the developer, nor am I saying that Sony shouldn’t have made the deal, I just think it’s hugely risky for both sides.  No Man’s Sky is a really strange product that I think a lot of us are still really confused about, and it’s being put on a pedestal as though it’s sure to be the greatest game we’ve ever played.

No Man’s Sky looks incredible, there’s no doubt of that.  Everything I see about that game leads me to believe that it will be visually stunning and a joy to explore.  But what is No Man’s Sky beyond the neat visuals and the open world?  I’ve watched some of the more recent videos showing gameplay, and it sometimes seems feels like the game lacks focus.  What’s more who critics were raving about how cool No Man’s Sky looked a year are now starting to seem much more reserved.  After having played it, I’ve picked up from several critics that, after having played the game, it might not be as ground-breaking as it once seemed.

No Man’s Sky is very reminiscent of Minecraft which might be a great thing for it.  It’s also largely a single-player experience though, so social exploration and building is kind of out of the window.  Oh and that would be true anyway because, to my knowledge, there is no building anyway.  That’s fine.  No Man’s Sky isn’t meant to be Minecraft 2.  But what No Man’s Sky is supposed to be remains a mystery, and with so much hype and such a huge backer in Sony, it seems destined to either succeed or fail in a pretty epic fashion.

As an independent developer, I feel both excited and terrified for No Man’s Sky.  If it’s successful it could pave the way for more small developers getting big deals and, more importantly, releasing really cool games.  If No Man’s Sky fails it could mean the end of big publishers taking chances on weird little indie projects, at least for a while.  No matter how you look at it though, No Man’s Sky is going to be a really interesting.

If No Man’s Sky is successful it won’t just prove that small developers can make quality triple-a products.  It’ll also prove that the Minecraft formula wasn’t just lightening in a bottle.  It’ll prove that more games can be built more with math than design (not that there isn’t design in the math of No Man’s Sky).  It’ll prove that games that push what we think they can be and do so successfully.  And it will prove that we don’t always have to rely on sequels to sequels of franchise that are 30 years old to be the only games worth investing our time in.

To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure I’m going to play No Man’s Sky.  As of now, I don’t have a PS4 and I can’t think of a great reason to buy one.  Maybe by the time the game comes out I’ll have gotten one, but unless No Man’s Sky is utterly mind-blowing, I might skip it.  I’m much more interested in what No Man’s Sky represents for the industry than I will personally enjoy the game.  I’m rooting for it to be a success because I think it could open a lot of doors for other interesting projects to get made, and that’s always a good thing.

Top 5 Friday: 5 Ways We Can Rebuild Our Image

There’s no doubt that over the years we’ve gotten a healthy amount of bashing for our love of things like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto but 2014 was one of the worst years for gamers as a community in recent memory.  The criticism went much deeper than an isolated incident of violence, this time around the community as a whole was indicted.  I believe that there are few within the gaming community that would disagree that Gamergate was bad for our image, but there is a lot we can do to help win back the hearts and minds of those who might have started to perceive us as less-than-upstanding individuals.

  1. Donate your old games to a children’s hospital.

The idea of it sounds incredibly cheesy, but how many people do you know that actually do this kind of thing?  Donating your old games and equipment to a children’s hospital is a great way to put smiles on the faces of some kids, and even the staff.  Don’t be insincere about it though.  If you like your old gaming stuff, then keep it.  If it’s just sitting around collecting dust because you don’t know what to do with it though, why not give it to some kids who might love it?  You’ll clear out some clutter, make some kids happy, and look like a hero in the process!

  1. Champion good games to those you know.

When a non-gamer thinks about video games I would imagine that their first thoughts are of guns, swords, blood, and bad language.  As a gamer you know that this comparison is like thinking that all movies are summer blockbuster comic-book adaptations.    There is a lot more out there than just violent games, and you know it.  In fact, the success of the Wii is basically proof of that.  People who had never had any interest in gaming were suddenly smitten with the idea of playing tennis and bowling from their couch.  That all happened because people championed the Wii; they took the time to show it to their friends, parents, and grandparents.  So if you’re the parent of a kid, get them some educational games.  Maybe it will push other parents to do the same, and in turn recognize the value of games.  You can also tell your 30-something friends about new games, and remind them that as they’ve grown up so have games.  There are a lot of ways to remind those around you that games are much more than just guns and swords.

  1. Organize a gaming party.

    How about a Mario Party…Party?

A lot of people have forgotten how much fun gaming can be in a social environment.  The internet has done a lot of good for games, but it’s also pushed multiplayer away from the couch.  Games like Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Rock Band, and The Jackbox Party Pack are all incredibly fun games to play socially though, so why not have a gaming party?  You can go nuts with it if you want, making video game themed snacks and flyers.  Just make sure that the people at your party can and want to play the games you’ve chosen for the night.

Pro-tip:  Buy the Jackbox Party Pack and open the night with it.  Because people can use their cell phones to play, everyone can participate.  It’s also downright hilarious, and will get your guests in the gaming mood.  They’re much more apt to pick up a controller and try Smash Bros. if they’re already feeling gamey (like an elk).

  1. Evangalize Minecraft

You might have heard about a little cultural phenomenon called Minecraft.  Not only is it one of the most successful games in history, it’s also one of the most exceptional examples of games enriching our lives.  Minecraft has almost no violence, and promotes an almost endless amount of creativity.  It’s more than just about creativity though.  Minecraft’s grid layout makes it perfect for helping kids learn things like multiplication tables.  It’s hunger and farming system helps teach resource management.  The game is multiplayer too, which makes it great for teaching teamwork.  Even if you don’t like Minecraft yourself, it’s still the most positive touchstone we’ve had in a long time, so use that to help educate the those around you of the positive side of gaming.

  1. Participate in Extra Life.

If you’re a gamer and you’re not familiar with Extra Life, here’s a quick primer.  You play games for 24 hours straight, and people sponsor you, like a marathon.  The proceeds of their donations go to children’s hospitals.  Typically you participate on a scheduled day (this year it’s Nov. 7th), but you don’t have to.  If that date doesn’t work for you, you can participate on another day.  You can also create a team of players, all participating together.  You can even create an event, like a gaming party!  It’s really easy to participate in, and it’s by far the most noteworthy way to help raise awareness that gamers aren’t bad people.  Also, you can combine it with #3 on the list and get the double benefit of both helping kids AND reminding your friends that gaming is awesome.