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Ninja-Hippo Blog

On Grand Theft Auto and Profound Misogyny

Another month goes by and another review from Gamespot results in an eruption of digital indignation. Whether Gamespot really is living up to the oft-lobbied accusation of controversy-for-traffic, or whether it really does deserve Cliff Bleszinski's spot on the back of the bus is another discussion for another time. The interesting differential this time around isn't just that the good people at Gamespot have attached a numerical value to a game that some perceive to be fury-inducingly lower than it supposedly deserves, but that the reviewer concerned has specified a particular negative point which some have insisted has no place in videogame journalism, or at least not in this particular contribution to it, while others simultaneously rush to its defense. 

In spite of the usual vocalists who have grown their neckbeards out extra-fuzzy and rushed to cultivate a petition to have the reviewer fired (since taken down) alongside others grabbing their fedoras to regroup with their fellow White Knights, I'm sure the vast, quiet majority have sat quietly and contemplated the furor independently and without the need to write a sprited defense, or a death threat. For these humble souls, the great washed, employable masses, I write the following thoughts on this whole train wreck of what is - and you have to laugh - someone's opinion about a video game.

Offense is something that's existed since man and womankind first learned to enhance their guttural noises into a language. First came the word for food, water, shelter, then an appropriate insult to make your feelings about Steve adequately known. **** you, Steve. But in the digital world, offense has taken on a relatively new dimension, paritcularly in the context of the media which we continually turn to for entertainment. In America, for instance, it's not all that uncommon to hear a newscaster fired for a careless remark. A career down the drain for the crime of causing someone, somewhere to feel offended for a moment or so. In Britain, offense caused via social media has even lead to prison sentences if the offense caused is deemed suitably severe.

But what about works of art? Or to set the bar a tad lower, works of entertainment; fction, fantasy and escapism? If we expect our fellow human beings to go about their lives in a manner which causes us no harm or upset, should we expect the same from the characters we watch on TV, read about in books or manipulate in our video games?

My answer is no - absolutely not, in fact - and I have my reasons, if you'll hear me out. Let's examine a couple of case studies:



Birth of a Nation is an infamous piece of American film history which is without a shadow of a doubt, offensive. Why so? For a litany of reasons, but most famously due to its intolerant portrayal of black americans as unintelligent, sexually-aggressive savages with a particular taste for innocent white women. Coupled with its imagery of the Ku Klux Klan as a noble defender of the people, rather than a lawless lynch mob, the film will forever be remembered as one of the most unfortunate entries in America's cinematic library. 

Let's move on to something not entirely unsimilar:


Django Unchained covers the pre-civl war to Birth of a Nation's -post. It similarly explores issues of race and intolerance, and may further be reasonably categorised as a fairly offensive movie. The nature of its offense is entirely and profoundly different to that of Birth of a Nation, though. While a minority of critics slated the film for its veracity, its unabashed use of language we've tried our best to culturally extinguish and its sheer willingness to offend, most were able to see beyond the tunnel vision employed by these interpretations, the missing the cart for the horse. Django Unchained was a movie which wanted to unsettle you. If you felt squeemish or uncomfortable at the sight of a character making liberal use of the N word and treating a human being as his disposable property, the film was doing its job as designed. You should be offended. You should be uncomfortable to be confronted with the very real fact that the world in which you currently reside was literally built upon foundations of behaviour that you're watching right now, appalled to be witnessing.


The key difference between the two films is that one portrays horrendous acts of inhumanity as an expose of a reality we'd rather not talk about in our day to day lives. It's a work of show and tell. Look at this! How does it make you feel? This happened, whether you'd rather not acknowledge it or not. This is still going on today.

Birth of a Nation on the other hand, is not an expose. It's not holding the mirror up to anything. It's pushing an agenda of intolerance, of hatred and close-mindedness, of false history and propaganda and the overarching message throughout is how great is this. It's not just showing you something undesirable, it's actively promoting it. That's something we can naturally and rationately find repugnant, undesirable, offensive.

Before this stretches into the 'longer than anyone is willing to read' category, let's take a look at one final example:



The venerable Tony Soprano, one of the most iconic characters in TV history and without a doubt one of the most despicable human beings to ever walk the fictional earth. His personality is a veritable check list of human indecency; he's an adulterer, a murderer, he lies, cheats, steals. He's a racist, a homophobe, a womaniser and a gluttonous layabout all while managing to sit atop a criminal enterprise which could see himself and many members of his own family in prison or in a ditch at a moment's notice. 

Having said all that, any fan of the series and advocate of common sense in general would surely agree that to accuse The Sopranos - as a show - of being any of the above things would be an exercise in the absurd. The show portrays racism, but in no way is it a racist show. It portrays homophobia in the extreme, even resulting in murder, but it is obviously not an advocate of either. Its lead character treats women with appaling levels of contempt and abandon, but the writers and producers are obviously not encouraging their viewers to abandon their wives and take up a string of sordid affairs. 

The show is an expose, a gallery, a portrait of an individual and a mindset that the vast majority of us would never encounter or experience in our lives. It is allowing you to live vicariously in a world that you would otherwise never set foot in. For an hour a week, it gave us the ability to hang out with people, and be enthralled by people who we would never dream of associating with in real life. Nobody wants anything to do with a thug, a racist, a bigot or a homophobe. But to watch one live out his life, to see what makes his awful mind work the way it does? It's fascinating, and the fact that the Sopranos was as successful a triumph as it was only goes to demonstrate just how willing we are to lose ourselves in the lives of people we would never allow ourselves to become.


And that brings us to Grand Theft Auto and the fateful review which has provoked the only emotion the internet seems capable of expressing, other than joy at cat-related YouTube content. I speak of course, of rage. While I'd never call for an individual to be censored, fired or otherwise made subject to any form of detriment for the mere act of stating their opinion on something as ultimately meainingless as a videogame, I find myself agreeing with the more reasonable underlying protest that Gamespot's review has shoe-horned in a slice of personal ideology that has little to do with the source material and isn't by most reasonable measures a fair reflection of the work it seeks to criticise.

Grand Theft Auto has never been a promoter of behaviors, or mindsets for that matter. Its relentless portrayal of violence and crime has never been a call for gamers to take up arms and begin a life of thuggery, and the thoughts or attitudes displayed by its cast of characters are likewise not there to serve as beliefs the game's developers advocate. Rockster Games do not, to the best of our collective knowledge, believe that the world would be better off if only their fans would take on board Brucie's life philosophy and start injecting Shark testosterone straight into the vein.

The game isn't an advocator of violence, it's a look into the minds of violent people. It's not misogynistic, its misogyny on display. And that's not to say that I cannot sympathise with Carolyn's reservations about the role of women in videogames. Hideo Kojima's character designs didn't look so absurd in the pixelated days of the original Playstation, but to see his incredibly accurately rendered models prancing around with sniper rifles in a bra and thong, I cant help but cringe at the thought that someone out there thinks their target audience will appreciate their design efforts. It's not a demographic I want to find myself included in. 

And there's a time and a place for activism, for putting a harsh question before a developer, asking a publisher what they expect their female players to think of their scantily clad side-kicks, or putting together an op-ed on the representation of females in videogames. Knowing when your beliefs are relevant, and your personal ideology transcient to the discussion is the mark of a decent journalist however, and in this case Gamespot have definitely fallen shy of the mark.




Picking an Xbone with Microsoft

Heh. Xbone. Too easy.

Anyway, this isn't another blog detailing yet another personal reaction to the Xbox One. The gigantic black rectangle has already been disected a thousand times over, both in a reasonable and detailed manner in addition to the usual unhinged and neck-bearded manner.

Instead I thought I'd do a brief exploration of the company which wants you to buy one, and in particular my beef with that very same company. A company a lot of people have a legitimate beef with for a lot of varied reasons. People dont dislike Microsoft because it's products are too expensive. They dont dislike them because they keep releasing a new version of the thing you just bought one month after you thought it was the latest thing. They dont dislike them out of a fear of being identified as part of a hipster sub-culture. Many people dislike many companies for all of these reasons, and an awful lot more, but people dislike Microsoft for the uniquely Microsoft-esque rationale; they've been burned. 

I have been burned by Microsoft. Heck, most of us have. Whether it's buying their latest and allegedly greatest machine only to have it break down on you. And then again. And then again, again. Filling up your tiny standard hard drive and facing the grim reality of a proprietary replacement which forces you to either put up with less storage space or pay twice what you know you should be paying. Perhaps you feel burned by an all too obvious decision to turn all attention away from you and your business in pursuit of an alternative demographic half way through the life cycle of the console you thought had a lot of life left in it.

I've been burned by more or less all of the above. But I stuck with Microsoft, mostly out of a love for the regular weekends I spent laughing my ass off with friends over marathon Halo sessions. I loved that box almost in spite of itself, as indeed I expect many xbox owners do. 

That was until the straw broke the camel's back. That one, weird, defining moment which signals a very clear decision in your brain:- 'Yeah, nah, I'm done.'

 Picture the scene, if you will. It's a weekend. I'm in my living room, that one place Microsoft seems borderline obsessed to capture. I have friends over, packed into a room too small to accomodate them. There are baked and fried snacks present. Some people have decided to turn up in costume (awkward). 


Why are we there? Because it was Arrested Development day, you lunatic. Where have you been? I'd counted down the days. Played all of the Arrested Development facebook meta-games. Re-watched the previous three seasons and sat with a ridiculous grin on my face awaiting the return of the beloved show, cancelled in its infancy and brought back to life heroically by Netflix for a fourth season. Before I advance any further, a quick word on Netflix.

Netflix has become a big part of my everyday life. Television is now something I very rarely enjoy in front of a television set. I watch Game of Thrones in bed, laptop on lap. I catch up on Breaking Bad on my tablet. I go to movie nights at a buddy's house and stream random films via their PS3. I go home to visit my parents and show them how they can watch a whole heap of stuff on demand if they blow the dust off that Nintendo Wii they bought for some reason, because everyone else seemed to have one. Netflix is something that is always just there. When I'm delayed at the airport, the first thing I think to do is download the app on whatever device I have to hand and start killing the minutes until I can board.

Which brings us back to Arrested Development day. There we are. Beverages in hand. Fried goods dipped in cheese. I'd downloaded the Netflix app for the Xbox 360 a few days in advance having never used it before; my fancy laptop remains my screen of choice. I powered up the 'box and prepared for a 15 episode binge of my favorite show only to have an error pop up. Was the box broken? Had my internet connection gone down? 

Your xbox live gold subscription has expired. Please renew your subscription to use this application. 

And there we have our straw, freefalling in slow motion above that poor, poor camel. The omnipotent Netflix. Everywhere at all times. Waiting for you on every device, in every location with a decent Wifi setup. Never failing, never disappointing. And here, for the first time ever, I am being told no - this time is special. Watching your netflix through *this* device is different to watching it through all others. That literal plethora of phones, tablets, computers, consoles and by now probably casio wrist watches which lets you stream your netflix queue without reservation have somehow found themselves outdone by a box which asserts to offer something all of them dont. Something which means you need to pull out your credit card and pay some money. 

What was it? Well, I still haven't figured it out I'm afraid. All I know is I had to open my wallet and pay £5.99 to access the Netflix account I already paid for, streamed over my own Wifi which I also already pay for, through the TV and Xbox I already paid for. What did that £5.99 give me? Nothing. It was literally a ransom payment. If you think you can just *WATCH THINGS* that you *ALREADY PAID FOR* on your *OWN INTERNET* without cutting us in, you're sourly mistaken bro. Pay the pimp and dont let the door hit your ass on the way out.

After all these years, all those burns, it was that one little error message that finally pushed that final nail into the coffin. It was almost a perfect manifestation of the Microsoft ethic. Not asking what it can offer you, but what it can get away with taking from you. And I think I've answered their question.


"Yeah, nah, I'm done...."

Indifference in 2013 - gaming's biggest problem for the future

Nowadays game developers don't have to lose too much sleep over a negative review or a community uproar over a tragic glitch, a shoddy ending or an overpowered weapon. To the contrary, the biggest problem facing developers today is the all-seeing all-knowing ever-present sigh of indifference. The internet has a word for it - 'meh.'

Allow me to set the scene if you will. I'm standing in a grassy canyon, tall rocky walls creating a playpen of mayhem beneath a scorching sun and blue skies. A bright purple alien aircraft flies over dropping an enormous green projectile before barrel-rolling out of view. An explosion follows, three of my team mates are scattered throughout the battlefield like rag dolls. The purple beast turns back into view and makes another pass, only to be swatted out of the sky by something slower but certainly more lethal; a tank rolls by, blasting away at the opposing force before itself exploding into a ball of flames, the victim of a bright red laser beam fired from some unknown corner of the landscape. A team mate sprints by, an enormous alien hammer in his hands. He swipes and pulverises one, two, three enemies before a bright blue ball is attached to his face at point blank range. It beeps. It blows. He disappears into a burst of blue electricity.

While all of this is going on, bullets whizz by, friendlies spawn and respawn, rockets fly overhead and impact behind me as I run for cover. A bright purple lance jets across the screen. I hit the deck. Time to respawn.

So what's the problem? Well, it's quite a doozie. I'm bored. REALLY bored. Amidst all of this carnage and mayhem, a rainbow of alien explosions and projectiles, constant noise and war-zone atmosphere sits a gamer, controller in hand, with a blank expression on his face and a complete disconnection from the events on the screen. At the end of the day, it's just another round of matchmaking. You'll probably play ten in one sitting. You'll earn some points. Your space-dude will unlock some new shiny colors and you'll be back playing another ten rounds tomorrow.

Or at least, some will. Me? I've reached the apex of indifference. I've sighed, laid my controller down and uttered the most vile and distressing word facing the industry, and about one of my favorite game franchises of all time no less - 'meh.'

I take the disc out of the trey and retire it to the shelf, where it has remained for almost a month now. Which brings me to the point of this rambling nonsense (you read this far? yikes).

If one of the biggest, most well-budgeted and sought-after franchises in gaming history can no longer hold the attention of never mind the average gamer, but its most ardent fans, what hope is there for the future of gaming as we know it? Much like the complete market saturation of shoot 'em ups and bullet-hell games that ruined gaming in its infancy, it seems gaming as a hobby has once again reached a critical mass. A point whereby every experience seems the same, regardless of the window dressing.

Be it pew-pew-pewing in Halo or brap-brap-brapping in Battlefield, it's all just one never-ending carousel of matchmaking games and experience points, cosmetic unlocks and levelling up. Reach max level? WELL DONE! I guess? Wait a month or so and the next Battlefield or Halo or Call of Duty, Gears of War, essentially *every* game on the market these days will release its next iteration and you'll be right back to repeating the same tiresome sequence all over again.

Call me jaded, you're probably right, but it seems gaming has fallen into a creative ditch and cant quite drag itself out. The emphasis now is on compelling the gamer to keep playing, keep earning XP, keep unlocking garbage, keep being compelled to play rather than playing for the sheer fun of the experience. 

It's easy to point out the problem, but what about the solution? Well, it's been mentioned in many blogs over the last year or so but it's worth mentioning again - review scores. We're moving in the right direction. Call of Duty is no longer slapped with a 9.5/10 despite releasing the same game every year. Even Halo is no longer a sure-fire AAA critical hit. But we need to go further. Dull, uninspired films aren't met with excellent critical reception for being well-directed with lovely cinematography and an excellent soundtrack. If the movie sucks, it sucks.

Such a perspective doesn't seem to exist in gaming. Reviews are still a very technical affair. Does the game work? Does it have nice graphics? Does it support online multiplayer? How many maps? How many players? What if the game is just plain bland? What if for all of its technical brilliance and competent craftsmanship, it's just not that new or interesting a concept? These are 7/10 experiences but are too often heralded as the best the industry has to offer.

When review scores reflect creativity and novelty of experience, developers will feel more inclined to focus on making their games creative and novel. So long as we're quite happy to tell developers that they've done a fine job on yet another spin of the compulsion matchmaking carousel, we can't complain when that's all the industry wants to give us.

An Open Letter to Microsoft Re; Timed DLC

Hey Microsoft,

How's it hanging? We've had a tough relationship this generation, you and I. I bought one of your garish white boxes at launch, and it only went and broke down on me. Having owned dozens of consoles since the SNES, it was the first of my collection to ever do so. And then it did it again. And then again a third time. But i digress, we're not here to talk about that.

Can i bring up my xbox live account getting hacked? And then hacked again? You said i must have given my information out to a phishing site. Good thing we all know now that your customer service reps got duped into giving that information out, but hey, thanks for blatantly lying about it. Dammit, i digress again. I need to get back on topic. No, to start the topic.

Well, the topic is DLC Microsoft. Specifically timed DLC or as i like to think of it, literally the dumbest, most pointless, most logically and economically vacuous feature of the gaming industry to exist since... hell, i dunno... the powerglove? Let's outline your strategy, first:

1) Presumably spend a sizable amount of money to secure a contract with a developer
2) This contract, in exchange for your money, gets you nothing
3) Repeat, you gain nothing
4) What they will do however, is release the thing they were already going to release anyway
5) Only... they will wait a month or two before the release it on your rival platform


That's right, to re-iterate, you spend large amounts of cash to get nothing. And you wonder why Apple is the most valuable company in the world? When Tomb Raider was demo'd at this year's Microsoft E3 press briefing, i was fairly impressed. It was a decent looking game and a bold new direction for an enduring franchise. And then right at the end you stepped up to the plate and announced the megaton; it'd be exclusive to the Xbox 360! Nah. It'd get exclusive DLC! Nope. It'll get DLC as normal, but if you dont have an xbox, you have to wait to get it!

.....yay? What reaction do you expect from me, Microsoft? "So... i get the DLC as usual, but my friend who has a PS3 has to wait a month or so?" What benefit does that bestow on me? What is it that you think you are offering me? Anyone over the age of ten years old isn't going to seriously brag to a friend that they get to play a downloadable mission right now, whereas you - stinky pants - must wait a few weeks. What sadists do you think take pleasure in that? What do you *think* of your product audience, exactly?

A system that's been short of compelling exclusives for a while now, and this is what you spend your money on? Essentially screwing with the competition? But not even the competition, the innocent, did nuffin' to hurt nobody gamers who happened to buy a console not made by you? And your market strategy is essentially to troll them?

I genuinely cannot think of a dumber and more frivolous waste of your own budget than timed-DLC agreements. Far from the reaction you're looking for, every time you tell me Call of Duty map packs are going to be withheld from PS3 owners for a few months, you don't come off as the grand overlords of gaming, you come off as... well, kinda like a bunch of dicks. Take that PS3 owners!

Yours Sincerely,

Ninja-Hippo, Halo fan, wishes-it-was-published-by-a-different-company enthusiast

The Fresh Prince of Skyrim

Now, this is the story all about how
My life got lolly-gagged upside down
And I'd like to take a starfire
So just protect your knee,
I'll tell you how I became the jarl of a game called Skyrim

In south Cyrodillia born and raised
On a horseback was where I spent most of my days
Chillin' out craftin' enchantin' all cool
And all shootin some arrow into the knee of some fool
When a couple of orcs
Who were up to no good
Startin raping'n'pillaging in my neighbourhood
I paused and drank two potions and my guild got scared
they said 'get in back of a wagon, your gona fight some bears!

I whistled for a guard and when he came near,
he said "Execution time" but suddenly a dragon appeared
If anything i could say this Dragon was rare,
but i shouted "Fus ro dah" and ran off with some gear

I pulled up to Riverwood about seven or eight
And I yelled to the Nordie 'Got a bed and some drink?'
I stole some potatoes,
Got a bed at some Inn
then main quest got bugged and i uninstalled Skyrim.

//Not my creation, but damn it made me lulz all over the place. :P

Remakes and Reboots; a case study

'Reverence and nostalgia are not criterion for reviews, nor should they be' opens IGN's recent review of the remake/release/reboot of Bungie's infamous Halo - Combat Evolved. It's a line which achieves the rare honor of provoking my disapproval literally with the writer in question's opening sentence. Of course, no game should be lauded purely on the grounds of nostalgia as to allow such would be to mislead gamers who never enjoyed the original incarnation into thinking there's a must-have game to enjoy, when the true matter is that the game is only really enjoyable to those who experienced it the first time around. That much, i can agree with. However, to claim that nostalgia and reverence shouldn't even feature as criterion at all seems, to this gamer at least, absurd. Take the blurb for the same review; 'Master Chief's first adventure is an exciting, if aged, experience.' Are we not speaking the obvious here, IGN? Is it surely not utterly defunct to refer to an anniversary re-release of a game ten years old as being an 'aged experience'? Never mind mentioning the fact, is it not even worse to consider this fact as a demerit, as if a re-release of a game TEN YEARS OLD could be anything other than a TEN YEAR OLD GAME? I mean not to pick on IGN in this instance, as Gamespot are guilty of the very same when it comes to a plethora of Xbox Live and PSN vintage arcade titles re-released to enjoy once again. Does anyone really need to be told that Pac Man is a basic return to old-school gaming? Do we seriously need prior warning that Frogger cannot hold its own against modern HD gaming standards? The critical profession seems utterly baffled by re-makes and re-releases alike, taking a near uniform policy of reviewing these new fangled releases as if they were entirely new and of today's expected standards. But naturally - obviously - they are not. To tamper with a much-loved vintage release to bring it up to said standards would completely defeat the object of a re-release, yet to review games by this standard seems to doom every re-mastered effort to a mediocre critical reception regardless of how lovingly recreated it may be, or how excellent a graphical overhaul it might have received. Indeed, this bewildering practice of reviewing vintage games based on the supposed need to consider all games on an equal playing field and all potential buyers as curious review-readers seems at odds not only with reality and common sense, but with other members of the critical writing community. Take film, for instance. Would we honestly ever read about a re-mastered DVD of the Great Escape being dismissed as paltry compared with the special effects on offer in Saving Private Ryan? Would a horror film receive demerits for being too horrifying for those who aren't interested in horror movies? Whatever happened to writing for purpose? A re-make or a re-boot has a specific target audience, and the reviews of those games should have the sense to consider this. How can reverence and nostalgia be dismissed as review criterion when some might argue the entire point of the release is to relive a past glory? It may please Halo fans to know that Anniversary is about as perfect a remake as one could ask for, and i urge my fellow gamers to disregard the handful of reviews which insist the game 'has not aged well.' Nonsense. Having played nearly four hours straight and plowed half way through the xbox brand's first killer app, it's as enjoyable an experience as one could ask for in a reboot of a treasured piece of gaming history. It's high time reviewers changed their nonsensical approach to reviewing our old favorites and allow the more lovingly re-created tributes to times gone by the acclaim they deserve.

Talk about bad luck

So a while back i fell on hard times, as students often do, and had to sell my Playstation 3 to pay some bills. Thankfully soon after i was back on my feet and had all my finances in order, so obviously replaced it as soon as i could. Rather than get a Slim like everyone told me to, i decided to go for the older model because it had backwards compatibility and was cheaper than the Slim anyway. Good decision right?

Wrong. I haven't even had it a month and today i get the yellow light of death. I can't return it because i bought it pre-owned from a friend of a friend, and it's hardly his fault that it's broken. My only solution is to call Sony, however i know from my last PS3 that they'll want at least £100 off me to fix it.

So just to sum up, that's four xbox 360 consoles and three Playstation 3s which have died on me over the course of this console generation. And prior to that i'd never had any console die on me ever, my whole life.

Bad luck or what?

The internet guide to debating



Arguing on the internet is an increasingly popular hobby of the budding computer user, and as such it is important that we take the necessary steps to train ourselves and keep abreast of the competition, lest we be left behind like the rest of our fallen comrades, cast out of the world of amateur debating and into the abyss of every day discussions and you-laugh, you-lose threads.

Rule No. 1

Do not talk about internet debating.

This one's a doozy. If you let slip in the real world that you enjoy online arguements, you may find yourself referred to as that guy from now on. Whenever you're missing from a social event or call in sick for work or school, it will be assumed that you are instead at home, soda by your side, arguing about the pros and cons of organized religion via the interlocking tubes of the internet. You'll be that guy until you eventually manage to garner a new group of friends.

Rule No. 2

Do NOT talk about internet debating.

I could easily have included this information with the above Rule No. 1, but to do so would be to fail to comply with one of the world's longer lasting memes and to disappoint you, myself and my peers. So, in terms of rule number two, you should also consider that letting slip your love for electronic disagreements may also prove a major folly even when done so in the online world. In doing so you go from just another user to a user who has voiced not only his frequency but his LOVE for arguing. All future posts of your creation will be viewed in this light; as coming from a person who just cant get enough of arguing. Why, they're probably trying to start an argument with you right now. FLAME THEM!


Rule No. 3

No topic is off limits.

The internet is a place where you can weigh in on topics you don't know a damned thing about. You've got a post count to build up, after all, and respectfully bowing out of discussions in which you really don't have much to offer thanks to a limited or completely vacuous knowledge on the subject at hand is no way to hit 20k before year's end, is it?

So who cares if you're a part-time sales advisor at your local GAP store - you're every bit as knowledgeable on the effects of extended drug use on the internal organs as a certified brain surgeon! Never been to a church in your life? Who cares! You've got an opinion on religion and with the right amount of preliminary Googling you're going to share it with the world!

Rule No. 4

Straw man is mightier than the pen. And the sword. And everything else.

The straw man is a device you need to become acquainted with. If you want that 'best debater' nomination at next year's OTcars/System Wars Awards (which kinda needs a catchier name, come to think of it...) you'll need to be straw-manning your way through every topic.

Does a person think the Xbox 360 could benefit from more exclusives? Pah, they would say that - they're a communist! And we all know how communism turned out! What do they think about gun control? Doesn't matter, because you've got a sweet link about a guy shooting someone successfully with a gun and that proves them wrong even if they did/didn't say anything on the matter.


Rule No. 5

Philosophy and video game forums go hand in hand.

When things aren't going your way, thrust the argument out of the simple, humble, logical confines in which it currently exists into the stratosphere and start talking in vast, philosophical terms. These will take quite some time to discuss, and can never really be completely refuted, after which most people will have forgotten what you were talking about in the first place, and hopefully the thread will be locked without any conclusion. And you were JUST about to take them down and conclusively prove them wrong. Darned mods!

"Indeed, but if we consider the first ammendment as Aristotle considered the simple atom, then surely this bill aims not only to destroy the very fabrics of freedom, but the basic moral tissues which hold together our collective subconsciousness?"

And they thought you were talking about health reform. Pah.

Rule No. 6

Response is key. Response is key. Response is key.

Sometimes in a debate you can say something silly, and darn it, they had to go and quote you before you had a chance to delete it. Never mind, because there's a way out of it, and if you think simply conceding that you were incorrect is the way to go about it, you clearly need this guide more than anybody.

You see, any error of fact or logic can be combated with the simple act of responding. Respond, respond, respond. It doesn't matter if what your opposition has said is borderline irrefutable, so long as you present SOME assemblence of a reply, the argument chugs along without defeat. Change the topic. Ignore their points and focus on one you feel best equipped to handle. Whatever it takes, just hit that submit button until they get tired and go to bed. Then you win!


Rule No. 7

You get it.

"What's that? You're saying that you think slapping children in the face at random is a good thing? Ok, i get it."

Getting it is a great way to confuse and dumbfound the other party, especially in the face of a lengthy and well thought out post. Struggling to answer their logical and comprehensive positions? That's ok. Instead, reply with a tiny post which seems more or less impossibly small enough to fully refute their fleshed out thesis on global warming with a short, snappy summary of what you believe their argument to be all about. Pivotal to this technique, you must be sure to conclude that you 'get it'. You totally understand what they're saying.

So confused as to how you could possibly think they were advocating the cross-breeding of puppies with alligators, they will typically reply with a frantic and confuddled post, allowing you to comment on their lack of organization and advise them to get it together if they wish to enter into debates with you in the future.

Rule No. 8

Get to know your smileys. Has a person said something a little silly? Are you not impressed with their efforts? Ignore them. Has a person said something pretty intelligent and reasonable? Well, their supposedly intellectual musings fall well short of your lofty standards, and you can make sure they're aware of it with a smiley or two.

'You think that policy can solve our economic problems? :|"

Ouch, that smarts. It's ok though, because they need to know. How about nice users, who roam the boards with a care-free attitude, oozing with politeness and positive comments. A smiley or two can put them straight back down to earth.

"You would know that this is a ridiculous proposition if only you had read my links. ;)"

That wink burns straight through their eyes and pierces the inner depths of the soul.


Rule No. 9

Got links?

Demand links for things which no reasonable person would ever need a link to confirm. Is the sun hot? I'm going to need two links to prove that and no, i won't accept wikipedia. What's that? THIS scientist? Pah, i read his paper a few months back and it was riddled with inaccuracies. I reject your point, seeing as you cannot come up with any accurate authority with which to back it.

What about if they *have* got links? Don't worry, you've read this guide so you're well prepared to deal with such an eventuality. First come up with some means of dismissing their link as biased or untrustworthy. Is it from a newspaper? Cool, that paper has a liberal bias. Score one for you. Is it criticising the president? Of course, the writer is a known Obama-hater!

What if it seems reasonably legit? Well, that's where things get tricky. Here you need to really stick to your guns, even in the face of ridicule, and explain to your combatant that the number of links they have provided is exactly one short of the number you would need to be convinced that what they are claiming is the truth. Should they provide one more, see the step above, and if that doesn't pan out simply demand further proof, putting some new, irrational spin on the exact type you require. Was the last link a decisive article? Ok, now you need proof in image form. Unless you can see a sign on a freeway specifically telling you that the earth is not flat, you aint buyin' it.

Rule No. 10

Know when to quit. Simply disappear in the middle of a debate if things aren't going your way. Maybe you can bump the thread a few hours later when your fellow debaters have left for work, or dinner, declaring yourself the victor while they get on with their lives unaware of their defeat.

Make one, final post on the matter declaring yourself the winner before asserting that you will never return to the thread again. You therefore win by default, as you cannot be challenged further if you are not present to be challenged. You just said after all, that you win and you're leaving. So you win! They can't play ball if you take it home!

Finally, know your limits. Enter into no more than two arguments at a time, and be sure to take some time out between debating sessions to post in threads about cats and the new Mario game to avoid a reputation as a serial debater. You don't want to be that guy.



I hope this guide has been of use to you, and that you can take it on board in your skirmishes on the great battlefield of the internet. Feel free to request a leather-bound copy in print, which will be on sale in Barnes and Noble for $299.99 this Christmas.

Collectibles; just say no

If you've played just a handful of games this generation, the odds would have it that you've experienced some form of collectible meta-game within your titles of choice. If you're a fan of unlocking achievements, trophies and other forms of the geek's answer to street cred, the odds would have it that you've almost certainly spent a few hours of your time toiling your way through otherwise enjoyable gameplay environments in search of liberally scattered trinkets. Welcome, gamers, to the generation of the collectible!

Of course, that's not to say that collectibles are anything new. Far from it. Gamers will recall with a twinkle in their eye the glorious hunt for 'hidden packages' in Grand Theft Auto III nearly a decade ago, crossing off locations on your map and keeping a tally of your discoveries long before the age of the gamercard. The thing is however, that collectibles in Grand Theft Auto made sense. Your time spent with the game, from start to finish, was in a sandbox environment which encouraged freedom, exploration and making use of the toys the creators dropped into your digital play pen. Seeking out hidden packages on the rooftops and in the alleyways of Liberty City was an enjoyable and engaging experience which took you from one side of the infamous, crime-ridden city to the other, allowing you to soak up all the gameplay which came along for the ride without even noticing.

Our fabled hidden packages have found their way into other games however; so much so that they are now more or less a staple of the modern videogame, whether a game needs them or not. Mission designers scatter them about their levels with reckless abandon, achievement criteria demand that you examine every nook and cranny of the environment right down to the last ugly, 'you weren't really meant to go over here' texture in the farthest corner of your favorite level.

And you know what? It sucks. A case study:

Throughout the course of Remedy's 'psychological action thriller', players find themselves tasked (via achievement) with finding the following collectible items scattered throughout the entire run of the game:

100 Coffee Thermoses
91 Manuscript Pages
14 Television screens
11 Radios
25 Signs
30 Secret Chests
15 'Nightmare mode' Manuscripts
12 Can Pyramids

Add it all together and you have a grand total of a whopping 298 items to pick up as you proceed through the game. In reality, this results in a gameplay experience whereby you sit, controller in hand with a print-out guide by your side, stopping every five yards or so to veer off the path slightly in search of one of these absurdly abundant collectible items. Overkill wouldn't begin to describe it.

And what, prey tell, do these collectibles accomplish? What is their purpose? Well, the manuscript pages add an interesting layer of depth to the game, providing more detailed explanation of the story as well as offering some narration on the game's events from Wake himself. Other items like the radio shows and television screens can offer a cool moment or two, but aside from that these collectible items are almost entirely redundant. The 100 coffee thermoses in particular do nothing at all and, as if it weren't bad enough already, Remedy couldn't restrain themselves from placing 10 hidden alarm clocks and a collection of cardboard cut-outs for you to discover throughout the course of the game's first piece of downloadable content.

Gamers the world over can't help but despair; why? Why must the player shuffle their way through an otherwise enjoyable game in search of this relentless mountain of useless trinkets?

And of course, they've found their way into even more genres; genres which never used to feature such feats of tedium. I bring up shooters in particular because unfortunately they too have succumbed to the collectible craze, to varying degrees of efficacy. We can start on a positive note with a look at Bungie's sci-fi epic Halo 3:

Halo 3 took the concept of the collectible and, much like everything else bungie aquaint themselves with, made it good. For one, the collectibles were not scatter-shot throughout the entire game, but placed along the path you actually take while progressing through the campaign normally. Discovering them is therefore more a means of investigating that curious looking terminal as you continue along your mission, rather than googling up a list of hidden trinkets dropped in random corners of the game.

The terminals which you encounter in Halo 3 also enjoy the same attention to detail as everything else in the game, as opposed to being tossed in as a piece of filler. The terminal screens are created so as to look suitably old and mysterious, and offer up some of the series' biggest revelations in terms of the grander narrative string outside of your adventures as master chief. They are also present in a reasonable number, rather than strewn throughout the whole game in their dozens. Discovering them feels like you've unearthed a gem, tucked away in the grander halo universe, which is surely the whole point of collectibles in the first place?

Then we have other shooters which do the exact opposite. I present to you, Modern Warfare 2:

Modern Warfare 2 represents everything i hate about collectibles. The game's 45 pieces of 'enemy intelligence' offer up no subtle additions to the narrative. You receive no heads up on the enemy locations by finding them. They exist for no reason other than to pad out a worryingly short campaign which will effectively garner an obligatory mention in reviews. "The game does include some replay value thanks to the hidden intelligence items to collect throughout the single player campaign." Oh, wow - bonus! Only no, not really. These items aren't enjoyable to find. They offer no challenge. No purpose, other than the aforementioned pandering to critics. It's the gaming equivalent of getting a couple of points on an exam for successfully filling out your name.

And of course, they are tied to achievements. I will beat the game, Infinity Ward. I will beat the game again on veteran difficulty. I will best Spec Ops mode on the hardest difficulties, and suffer through a horde of juggernauts until i have defeated your game as thoroughly as possible. But i wll not suffer through playing the whole campaign again just to pointlessly unlock fortyfive arbitrary collectibles. That is not replay value. That's laziness.

My fellow gamers, only we can put a stop to the scourge of the collectible. Only you can make it loud and clear that we will not stand by any longer and waste hours of our time to get our hands on the platinum trophy that is rightfully ours. I ask you, please, forego that 1000 GamerScore. Let that platinum trophy slip through your hands. Refuse to trudge through your favorite games in misery to get that one, final achievement.

Reviewers, do not give developers the free pass they desire and claim their game includes replay value just because they sprinkled a dusting of gravel over an otherwise delicious birthday cake.

Next generation, let it be known that we will not hunt. We will not fetch, or stray into the ugliest corners of the gaming universe in search of coffee thermoses, nor COG tags. Let it be known developers of the world, we will collect no more!

Five over-used System Wars obsessions

System Wars is one of Gamespot's more curious corners, and at times, easily one of the most enjoyable to visit. It has evolved over the years, shaping and shifting itself into many different forms and even pushing itself dangerously close to outright deletion, if the rumors are to be believed.

Thankfully things seem to have come to rest at a more mellow level. Topic titles are no longer laced with "TLHBO!", users are significantly less likely to find themselves maliciously misquoted in somebody's signature space, and the long-held obsession with 'ownage' has finally bitten the dust.

That said, a number of new talking points have asserted themselves as the new daily cannon fodder of system wars discussion, and it's already about time that we send some of them to join their older, forgotten and equally tedious brethren in system wars heaven (it's a real place).

Hype once had a place in system wars. It wasn't a bizarre, quantifiable currency as it is today, but functioned exactly as the word does in the dictionary (assuming it's in there...). Hype was simply a rough measure of how good the gaming populus expected a game to be. If it was all the rage, subject to continuous threads about how excellent it would be, each of which would gather dozens of posts all stating their delirious excitement, the game in question could safely be assumed to have 'AAA Hype'. This of course, meaning that the general consensus expects the game to score at least a 9.0 out of 10.

This worked perfectly well, with the odd exceptions of games which seemed to have ambiguous levels of hype behind them. Over time however, it was replaced by a rather more rigid system which frankly, makes very little sense. Games are now subject to 'official hype threads' in which users are asked to vote specifically for the score they feel a game will receive. This is not only immeasurably dull, but also rife with unreliability. Users who know nothing about a game vote AAA for the heck of it. Posters who cannot stand the series and have always questioned its popularity will vote 'perfect 10' so that they can laugh and claim otherwise when it inevitably falls short of such lofty expectations.

On more than one occassion, the voting in said threads has been sabotaged following a game's review to lower the hype and avoid any potential embarrassment. And there are further problems still.

When should the hype thread be made? Why do some games have six official hype threads and some have none? Can you change the hype? If a demo comes out and the game appears to be pretty poor, can we lower our expectations? If not, at what point do we decide that the hype is 'locked in' and cannot be altered?

It's all very silly, and seems akin to a government beaurocracy stepping in to make things 'more official'. What was wrong with simply leaving it up to your own judgment?

The battle for 'graphics king' is in a whole other league of 'who cares?' for me, personally. That's not because i'm completely uninterested in graphical quality, but more because we already have a winner. It's been the same contestent winning the pageant every single year for quite some time now. It's called Crysis:

Crysis doesn't just beat other games in the graphical heavyweight championships, it obliterates them. Nothing even comes close. Yet practically every day some argument will arise pertaining to which game truly deserves the title of 'graphics king'. It's a done deal. Further debate on the matter is akin to a boxing match in which one contestent enters the ring and instantly drops his opponent dead with a single blow, only to find the judges still undecided on who won. Crysis wins. Move on with our lives.

Of course that leads us to 'console graphics king', an effort to invent a sub-category in the great pixel-counting competition so that Crysis and its PC brothers and sisters can stop hogging all the glory. Naturally this accomplishes little more than adding daily fuel to the squabbling fire, as gamers battle to prove that their game of choice has at least four more pixels per square inch than whatever title the opposition has on display.

In reality however, the graphics king debate has only become so tiresome because we have reached that point in a console life cycle wherein most developers are a deft hand with the technology they're working with. Practically every week we get a glimpse at a title on the horizon which seems to raise the bar ever so slightly higher in one aspect or another, be it amazing lighting, realistic shadows or incredibly high resolution texture work. Hopping between videos of God of War 3, Halo Reach, Uncharted 2, Gran Turismo 5 and Killzone 3, i cant help but feel that the 'graphics king' debate has entered a new realm of tedium when so many games look this good.

Exclusives are one of the more frustrating aspects of system wars, simply due to the arbitrary manner in which they are used to settle debates. While we may favor purchasing an Xbox for Halo, or a Playstation for Gran Turismo, the significance and importance lobbied at exclusives on system wars is vastly unproportional to the weighting we give them as gamers and as consumers in real life.

For me it seems like nothing more than common sense that a gamer should look for whichever platform offers them the highest quality games when considering which purchase to make, however this mode of thinking is largely ignored by modern day system warriors. Instead, excellent games are often dismissed with the cringe worthy expression of 'doesn't count' because it appears on two or more platforms. Thus, if an xbox 360 owner wished to discuss the excellence of Mass Effect (prior to its recent unveiling on the PS3), they would typically be told that the game 'doesn't count' because it is also available on the PC. And with one sentence, one of the finest games of the generation is practically written out of existence.

Yet i find myself in the slim minority in my distaste of one of system wars' least logical obsessions. To quote:

'One exclusive is worth what, two multiplats?'

Enough said.

A price war thread is essentially one in which the topic creator endeavours to convince the world that a given console or other gaming device costs a great deal more than the price on the box, usually through the tactful use of long lists of 'essential' accessories and peripherals. In truth, these threads are far less frequent than they were at the start of the current console generation, however they have persisted on and off and tend to always present themselves as a revelation which both the topic creator and system wars as a whole is supposed to only just realize.

Now that Kinect and Move are on the horizon, these threads have seen a mild resurgence of sorts as misguided users attempt to convince you that 'true' xbox 360 gaming costs $800, and the price of a PS3 will easily part you with $1000 of your hard earned cash. More amusing are the efforts to make blatantly more expensive devices appear cheaper, or at least higher value, than their less expensive counterparts.

To quote: 'when considering these facts, the Playstation 3 is in fact the cheapest console on the market, including the Wii.'

After five years on our store shelves, the price of the current generation of games machines is more irrelevant than ever. Dozens of different skus, new color schemes, re-designs, slim models and new chipsets allow for varying deals and a whole range of prices available to the would-be buyer, be it through purchasing a console used or venturing onto eBay.

The PC is a strange contender in the system wars world. It's like the coolest kid in school, who is simultaneously picked on relentlessly by the bullies. Over time, the vocal majority of system wars has endeavoured to phase out the PC entirely, instead focusing only on the current generation of consoles and their respective games, much to the ire of PC stalwarts and the moderator team. Thankfully this has been a largely unsuccessful effort, thanks in part to casey_wegner's schooling of new recruits and other miscreants who would seek to banish the PC from all system wars discussion.

On top of irrational arguments to remove the PC's status as a gaming system, enthusiasts of the platform regularly find themselves forced to dismiss ridiculous myths and non-arguments pertaining to the PC and it's value as a gaming system. Be it accusations that a gaming PC requires quarterly upgrades to the tune of $500, or that assembling a rig powerful enough to compete with consoles will set you back in excess of over $1000, the arguements against the timeless Personal Computer are as bizarre as they are unchanging. Today we find ourselves debunking the same myths that baffled us ten years ago.

Thanks for reading, as always. :)

EDIT: I know i said i'd finish this tomorrow, but my ranting could not be contained and so here is the finished article. :P