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Lard-Head Blog

Summertime and a New PC

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So I am getting tired of looking at my same old blog posts, and I thought that now would be a good time to update. I just recently got a slick new gaming PC that I built. It isn't absolute bleeding edge (I can't afford that), but it is pretty nice. More importantly it is truly built as a gaming PC, first one that I've built for the better part of a decade. It is SO nice to be able to play any game I want with the settings cranked again. It has really made me rekindle my love of PC gaming. I've had my new rig for a couple months now and it is running well.

So, this is also rather fortuitous timing with Steam doing their summer sale now. I am going back and picking up titles I missed during my hiatus from PC gaming and getting some relatively new stuff too, and all for next to nothing. Only problem is when you buy a whole bunch of stuff on the cheap, it starts to not be quite so cheap anymore. Not to mention, no matter how dedicated I am in my gaming(I have work and other obligations to see to, not to mention some slight paranoia about gaming induced carpal tunnel as I get older) I am just not going to digest these recent purchases anytime soon. Let alone the stuff I already had and was working on (or not). However, the good news is, with so many games and a slick new rig to play them on I should be pretty well set for quite some time.

Which leads into my last little observation. Summertime and video games seem to naturally go hand in hand. Now, I actually like doing things outside, but it is so stinking hot (triple digits are pretty common where I'm at in the summer) that a nice, cool, air conditioned gaming cave seems so much more appealing at the moment.

Random thoughts I know, but I was ready for a change. So to anyone who reads this, happy summertime gaming!

PC DLC (and why I find myself making more and more digital only purchases)

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I have been gaming for a long time. I have been involved in online PC gaming for a long time too. Something that I have been seeing more and more of lately (and it is becoming more and more readily available with real deal big commercial releases) is digital only game purchases. DLC add on content is nothing new to PC games, but I have noticed that over the last few years more and more real deal major retail release games are also available as digital only purchases. I was slow to hop on the bandwagon, but more and more I am finding that when this is an available option this is how I end up buying stuff (though I am really not totally converted yet). So far I have had nothing but good experiences doing this too.

Normally these major releases don't offer any appreciable price break (not for new games at least, for older games these can be a real steal with some unreal bargains on games you may or may not be able to find easily in stores). They may or may not offer you any bonus content. So why buy games this way?

Convenience.

Plain and simple it is easier and faster for me to swipe my finger across my fingerprint reader to log into PayPal or to type in a credit card number than it is to drive to a store that carries the game. I don't have to worry about the game being in stock. I don't have to call ahead to see if it's available. I can buy the game at 3:00 am (which since a lot of my free time is late at night/early in the morning shopping times are a factor). I don't have CDs or DVDs to lose or for the kids to break (and since I store my key codes in several places, including some on e-mail accounts I don't have to worry about those as much either). Most companies can probably track back purchaser information and help with reactivation of software in the event of losing some information (never tried but it seems plausible). Many games are available either DRM or free or with less restrictive DRM than a hard copy (although some are just a restrictive if not more so, so it goes both ways). They do sometimes, especially with games that aren't brand new, come in package deals, either with expansions or with related games. This happens with physical copies too, but I have noticed that over the last several years these types of sets are a lot less common then they were 10-15 years ago.

There are downsides though. With the exception of the DRM free or limited DRM content this is not as convenient for installation on multiple systems (which 5-8 years ago was a concern for me, but now though I have more than one system I really only game on one). If you don't keep your key codes and/or account info safe and available you could have a major inconvenience in the event of needing to reinstall. You don't get any of the "feelies" (on an unrelated note, does anyone reading this remember when that was actually a term used for the little props and goodies, like cloth maps, that some games came with?), physical manuals, reference cards or other stuff (sometimes that is a benefit too though, since I still have stacks of such items scattered all over from games that may or may not ever get played again). You may have a very lengthy download, even on broadband. Some services that offer games this way require a connection to their server to authenticate the game (this often allows for use on multiple systems, but at the cost of requiring an active internet connection and the company's servers being up, running and not overcrowded to allow you to play the game at all, even offline).

I first tried digital only with a fun little game I had enjoyed as a kid and found was still available through the original company as a digital only version (no copies had survived my childhood). I was pleased with the fact that I got keys to install the game on multiple systems along with the super-uber-mega-all-inclusive-deluxe version of the game. Next I tried it with an MMORPG. I then bought all the expansions for said MMORPG as well as additional paid DLC type stuff. I found it to be very convenient and totally painless. Then I started checking out services like Steam and GOG (which obviously GOG is for older games, but the concept still applies). So far I have been very happy with the experience all around.

All in all I don't foresee physical media game sales disappearing completely any time soon (either for me or for the industry on a whole), but I do see a further increase in the availability of digital only copies of games (especially on PC), and I for one am likely to be buying more and more of them.

Kickin' it Old School

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I know I'm not the only one out there in this boat, but I have found myself playing more an more old games lately. I mean like 90's PC games old. Especially early 90's PC games. I'm not quite sure why this has been the case,but I think there may be a few reasons and I'll use this blog as a place to talk out some of those reasons.

The games that I have been playing from that era have strong story components (a lot of the games I have been revisiting have been some of the point and click adventure type games which had their golden age in the early 90's). That is something I have always enjoyed, but have found myself wanting even more of lately (not that there aren't modern games with good stories, but there were some real winners back then).

As my kids are getting older (and I am getting older) I am starting to feel more and more nostalgic about my own childhood. These games are an opportunity for me to revisit parts of my childhood.

My gaming time is much more limited than it once was and these are games that I already have some pretty decent skills in (even if they are rusty) so there is a pretty small learning (or re-learning) curve. Also, though there are some really massive old games (like The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall) on average these games are shorter than a lot of their modern counterparts (limitations of storage media had a lot to do with that) so they are more easily completed in my limited play time.

As I have gotten older I have both become more patient with games and have become more skilled overall. So a bunch of old games that I had and enjoyed, but never completed can now be completed with relative ease.

I have a tighter budget now than I did a few years ago, and these are titles I already have, so the money to enjoy them has already been spent. Even if I have to buy (or re-buy)an older title, it is generally not very expensive. Old games are a budget conscious form of gaming.

These games are often (though not always) pretty "wholesome" and "family friendly." By that I mean I can play them around my kids (who are not old enough and mature enough to be around "M" titles and even a lot of "T" titles yet). Though the majority of my real gaming time is when the kids aren't home, the ability to play games when they are home maximizes my chances at getting some game time in. Plus, it is enjoyable to share some of these classics from my childhood with my kids when they take an interest in them, and some of these older games have some great puzzle solving and creative thought elements to them that just aren't as common in modern games which is also a plus.

I also enjoy the aspect of "tinkering" to get the games running in the first place. I must say that I like playing around with utilities like DOSBox and ScummVM as well as Windows compatability settings to get some of these old gems installed and running. It is also fun to see what others have done before me in the same vein to preserve some of these classics.

All in all gaming has come a long way, and there are a lot of fantastic new titles out there, but lately, I've mostly been kickin' it old school.

Violence in the Media (and a brief bit on ratings)

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I feel kind of dirty making my first blog post on GS a rant, but here it is.

In regards to the ongoing discussions about video game violence, ratings, etc.,here is my take for what it's worth (it's long and most certainly a rant,so bear with me, or just ignore it if you prefer):

I played a lot of violent video games, listened to a lot of violent music, watchedviolent movies,etc., etc. and turned out fine.

That said, my parents did a very good job, and I am a pretty stable person (or at least that's what I think). IDO NOTthink that violent mediaCAUSES more violence. It does however,psychologically enable those who have a propensity forviolence anyway, and this coupled with irresponsible parenting and a societal trend of blaming everyone other than the people directly responsible almost certainly does have an impact on violence in society.

There has been some pretty interesting research into this topic by a lot of people who are pretty respectable (Lt Col. Dave Grossman being one that comes to mind). To refer to some of the stuff that Grossman presents in the book On Killing (a very interesting read if you are curious about the psychological impact, cost and factors involved in killing, both in the military and other arenas) indicates that there are a number of factors involved in whether or not in a specific situation an individual has the capacity to kill someone, and violent media exposure can have an impact on this. One way is by a method called "operant conditioning." This is a tried and true method used for quite some time by military and law enforcement trainers to create specific immediate reactions to certain situations or images (shoot/don't shoot scenarios presenting armed and unarmed targets to be engaged appropriately are an example of this). Media (especially interactive media like video games) can provide operant conditioning. If you learn to reflexively engage armed police officers in Grand Theft Auto by shooting them, or to shoot the terrorist who pops out at you in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,you will be more able mentally (and thus more likely) to do the same thing in real life. This has been utilized by military forces all over the world as one methodto increase the "firing rate"of their soldiers (the rate at which soldiers whoencounter the enemyactively attempt to fire at andkill them). I don't have the numbers off hand, but the "firing rate" in say, World War II for instance, was remarkably low (something like 15-20% if I recall correctly), but with changes in training (including violent media exposure and operant conditioning) the modern firing rates in the American military at least (I don't have numbers for anyone else) are something like well over 90%. Does this mean that playing games (especially those involving violence and crime) will make you into a murderer? NO! It means that if OTHER factors that contribute to you being a murderer are present you will be MORE LIKELY to go through with it.

Okay, now that I have ticked everyone off, here's the thing. I don't think that violence in media is bad, I think that parents have a responsibility to make sure that they raise their children correctly, and that those children take FULL responsibility for their OWN actions (and the same goes for adults too, personal responsibility is the key). I don't think that we have a duty to prohibit or censor overly violent media, BUT I think that there is a need to be very responsible about who sees it, how they see it, how they perceive it, and really, more than anything, about how we raise our children to be. For adults, this media is and should be available if you want it, for children, it should be in the hands of the parents as to whether or not it is accessible.

As far as ESRB ratings for gamesgo (or other similar systems) or the MPAA ratings for movies, or any of the other ratings systems out there,I think that they are a useful tool or guideline for parents (especially those who aren't familiar with the specific content). They are neither a substitute for good parenting, nor a restriction on what media a child can see (that is up to the parents as to whether or not something is appropriate for THEIR child, and is a judgment call). It's true that there are some political and societal abnormalities to these ratings, but even with those, they still give a decent idea of what to expect. You won't see a full-nude sex scene in a G rated movie (at least not any I've seen) and you won't hear any F-bombs in a game rated E. As a parent (although I am also a pretty media aware one) I use these ratings as a starting point. There is some stuff that is rated as being more mature or intense than would be the default "acceptable level" for my kids that I let them see/play. There is also stuff that is rated at a default acceptable level (or even below) that I don't let them see/play because I object to other aspects of it (morals, values, etc.).

Okay, I'm really sorry for the rant, but I couldn't help it. This is a topic that I care quite a bit about, and have some personal interest in. I'm done now.