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cardinalphoenix Blog

Violent media gets such a...bad rap...

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This post was inspired by the story about California today announcing that 2-inch by 2-inch stickers will now be included on violent videogames to ensure that parents are aware of ratings. Check it out here, if you haven't read it already...

The issue has been an ongoing debate for millions of years, it seems like. My friend, Suzanne, was a psychology major in college, and one thing she's told me over and over is that kids who are truly violent, or prone to violent behavior, are likely going to be violent regardless of whether or not they play violent games. Look at what life was like before video games gave us all reasonably controllable fantasies to play out our dreams. Kids went and ran around outside and played games like "Cops and Robbers," "Cowboys and Indians (there's a racially sensitive one)," and "Army Men." Okay, maybe the girls were left out of most of those games, that's unfortunate...I know if a girl wanted to play one of those games with me, she'd be more than welcome, but...most little girls are encouraged by their parents (of all people, who allegedly believe that they're teaching their children the right way to behave and act) to play with Barbies, dolls...they play "House"...not, as in Dr. Gregory House, but you know, Mommy and Daddy taking care of a baby sorta thing...they're given easy-bake ovens and taught how to make cookies, when if they wanted to play some shooting fantasy game with the boys across the street, the girls were yelled at for not being feminine enough, and the boys (not being interested in girls yet) for some strange reason didn't feel like letting the girls play. It was a more "innocent" time.

Still, the fact remains that young children found other ways to be violent. They shot BBs at small animals, beat up other children, broke furniture and possessions (whether public or private), and so forth. Kids always find ways to let out their primal urges, but what I really want to know is...why is it that I, despite being just shy of 29, basically grew up on violent video games (playing the original Mortal Kombat as early as maybe 11 or 12), and was picked on mercilessly at school...and yet, I'm not a violent, depraved member of society who finds pleasure in torturing and killing other humans? Why is it that I manage to keep my primal urges and and desires for death and destruction under control? It can't be because my parents took as much as time with me as possible, to raise me with a good set of moral and ethical values...can it? It can't be because my parents taught me right from wrong, taught me the difference between fantasy and reality...can it? I remember playing the original MERCs game on my Sega Genesis a long time dad used to always joke with me, every time I'd detonate some Mega Bomb, he'd go, "what do you think happens to all the families?" And I'd say, "what do you mean?" He'd go, "you know, the little electronic families of all those henchman you're murdering? How do you think they'd feel?" And I'd say, "but dad, it's just a video game, I don't think they have families." "But Marc, what if they were real?" And we'd have a brief talk about it, and ultimately I felt good blowing up enemy soldiers, but did try and imagine the real life ramifications of such wars being fought. It doesn't take much, ya know? Parents want to keep their kids occupied and give them things to keep them busy but never seem to want to get into it with them. My mom and dad were quite concerned when I got into heavy metal music, but always balanced their worry out by the fact that they knew I was a good kid, who was always well-behaved and polite and was never likely to allow myself to get into trouble...not, get into trouble but avoid getting caught...not get into trouble...there's a difference.

What's crazy is...politicians love to throw around cliches about supporting family values, being a good citizen and spending time with our children...and yet, instead of encouraging parents to pay attention to what their children are into, instead of encouraging parents to take more responsibility when their child does something they shouldn't, and instead of encouraging parents to take a more active role in what their kids see, watch, hear, read and say...they apply mandates like this, which will likely not solve anything. It won't make parents more involved (nay, it'll make them LESS involved), it won't help them be more responsible for how their kids grow up, and it won't bring parents and children closer together or open up the door to conversation about issues like violence and society and knowing right from wrong.

It just gives parents one more reason to say, "good, now I don't have to monitor them 24/7, I don't have to sit and watch what they watch or listen to what they listen to, I don't have time for that, American Idol is on."

A Silent Hill MMOG would be a good idea!

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I'm primarily a solo gamer, straying only occasionally into multiplayer territory, but this editorial by nocoolnamejim about multiplayer features sometimes causing single player games to suffer got me thinking...

Anyone think there's a way to make Silent Hill an MMOG? Wait now, before I blasted, take a look for a second at my thought process...

Silent Hill is a town, possibly close to a small city, maybe with connecting cities around it that are occasionally affected. People -- and not just a couple, but lots of people -- come from miles and miles around to visit Silent Hill, for it's beautiful scenery, quiet countryside and serenity. The first few SH games there were, the characters stumbled upon brochures for Silent Hill, so there's clearly some kind of marketing associated with this place. People know about it, it's not an unknown corner of the universe like Buttface, Baltimore, people know about that town! People have thought about going there for a week over the summer. Maybe it has problems, but Silent Hill is tourist attraction. Look at how surprised every visitor in the games are when they see the place is damn near deserted. They always visit a hospital expecting to see people there, and there's next to no one. But that's another aspect at play here...people are present in Silent Hill when you visit, and although most of them are freaky, strange, antisocial types who don't know all that much about how to make friends, there are still people there. Besides, not everyone is a minion of the town, look at Cybil Bennett (my apologies if I spelled her name wrong, it's been a while since I played SH1), she was an average cop stopping into a diner when she met Harry Mason, and she had a good enough heart to want to help. Sure, she got involved with the wrong fella, and look where that landed her...but still...people visit Silent Hill who aren't necessarily evil, spooky or out to trap and kill passersby. So there probably could be some element of meetings, teamwork, and so forth.

I'm sure the thought comes to mind that most of the stories in Silent Hill games are very personal, and they are! James is looking for his sick/dead wife...Harry is looking for his daughter...Heather, into her past, and Henry into his relationships with people. Well, it easily wouldn't be the first time a game has allowed for players to customize their experience. You could make any kind of character you want, make him or her look exactly the way he or she should, and even give him or her their very own backstory. Why they arrived in Silent Hill, what called them to go there. Are you on vacation? Seeking peace and quiet? In search of answers or tranquility or epiphanies? Whatever it happens to be, and players could be encouraged to be as creative as possible, as this wouldn't be a place where immature people want to dance and sing and mess around online, this would be as serious as possible. As far as gameplay, well...maybe Silent Hill Online doesn't lend itself to the endless questing and level grinding that phenomenons like World of Warcraft and Everquest lend themselves to. I suppose it could play rather like The Sims with a go to Silent Hill at the beginning of your journey, talk to people, see who's present, everything's fine and meet new people in the town, make friends...maybe you could get a job that you could go to...and at random times, possibly linked to your character's motivation for being there, you could get warped to the Otherworld. The directors could come up with any number of different ways for the player to enter the Otherworld, from touching a mirror, hearing a certain name, stepping on a shadow, even falling into water. What you need, or what you need to do, to accomplish your mission that brought you to the town, though, could be almost endless. It would require tons of exploration, clues, discussions with other players, ducking into buildings...sure, maybe Silent Hill isn't nearly as big as Sanctuary or Norrath, but that just means there's more buildings to explore, each one with a basement...cellars...tunnels...I mean, Silent Hill always seems like Springfield from the Simpsons, it has everything! You could find underground prisons, deep down holes and secret could visit a high school, ball field, library, anything a town could have. And as your character meets new people in the town, they could grow in certain ways, accomplish certain general tasks (rather like when you play The Sims have to grow your character by getting a job, working, saving money, building a nice house, furnishing it, etc.), and once you reach a certain level of understanding, knowledge or insight into your problem, that's when things start getting hairy and you begin to get pulled into the Otherworld by whatever means. You might realize you need to research a particular phenomenon and have to find and read a book at the might find a particular object that sparks a memory that makes your enitre motivation change. Things could be wildly unexplainable. You could get injured by a monster that you encounter, and need an energy drink or first aid, so you visit the general store, which is fully stocked with energy gets completely depleted by players, sure, but it'd be interesting for the energy drinks to replenish themselves...the town seems to usually have a mind of its own, after all.

Fact is, this game could be a fully functional town...just...without anyone to run it. The moderators, supervisors, anyone else, could be a sort of Dungeon Master...the people who control the unexplainable events, the ones who pull the strings. First aid kits are found sorta scattered in the existing games, but in Silent Hill Online, you might not always be able to depend on items respawning or appearing in the same spots all the time. You'd have to depend on luck, just like in the existing games. All in all, though, everyone's experience with the game could be ridiculously unique, if the designers used their imaginations and did things right. If they put their focus into the nitty gritty aspects that make past Silent Hill games great (a person's personality, their emotions and fear and guilt and shame manifesting horrible creatures, mind-melting puzzles and searches they need complete and fight and get past in order to complete their journey) and make it more personal, more down to earth, hit closer to home. Who knows? We may find there's people out there with genuine problems in the real world that they feel like trying to solve by visiting Silent Hill. With enough imagination, the designers could install any number of freaky anomalies, obstacles and hurtles for an individual player to have to solve before their character finds peace.

It'd definitely be a long journey to create it, but I think it could happen, :-)

Can't we all just get along?

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People are so picky about the games they like. Anyone who peruses my recorded collection of games on this site will see that the majority of games I give sensational ratings to, mostly 9s and 10s, fair amount of 8s, a game has to be lacking a lot for me to rate it real low. Lowest I can remember giving is maybe a 3.5 or 4. And I'm not necessarily slamming Gamespot reviewers for giving bad ratings, as it is their day to day profression and occupation to be cynical and anal and choosy about what they give good ratings to. I respect their decisions, often agree once I play the game for myself, and appreciate their undying desire to give us the straight up truth about the games we could be playing...even though some of their reviews come off sounding like Simon Cowell, "Don't ever play this game ever ever EVER!" ;-) However, I can't help but wonder why people get hung up on maybe one or two aspects of a game and that let that completely destroy their ability to enjoy it.

Killer7, although not my one single solitary favorite game of all time, is way way way high up there with how unique it is. I showed it to my friend, Suzanne, once and she immediately said she didn't like it because she wasn't feeling the graphic style. I'll grant her that, it's definitely different and not quite as pretty as anime-style animation or realistic CGI or the like. And I'll admit, I don't play Killer7 for the pretty pictures, but the interesting visual effects, crazy off the wall premise and amazingly done stages and plot are enough to make me love it and cry about the fact that there will likely not be another game like it. People get hung up on free-world games because they can't go "everywhere everywhere," people get hung up on shooters simply because the selection of guns isn't wide, voice acting, experience systems...there's plenty of things people dislike games for. I guess I just wish people had room in their hearts for everything! Wow, that sounded really hippy-like, I am very sorry...

What I mean is...there are cartoon-lovers who insist on choosing a side between South Park and Family Guy. I like both and will watch any episode of either over and over and over and laugh my head off the whole time. Because both present me with something slightly different, and I love what both have to offer. There are music lovers who will hear one song by a band or singer and boycott the artist entirely. That's not fair...just skip that track when you have the cd in and hold your ears when they play it live. And there are gamers who let small factors kill their gaming expereince, when if they were a little more open-minded, they could be having the time of their lives. I shouldn't really talk, considering that I've kinda racially profiled Xbox simply because it's a Microsoft product, but...who knows, there's good Xbox exclusives, it comes down in price enough and I make enough money in the future, I may just pick one up and put it in the bedroom, along with a spare TV so my girl can watch her shows, ;-)

4-player customizable rpgs? Besides Norrath?

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My girlfriend, Nichole, and I moved into our own apartment back in November and, in an attempt to keep in touch with our friends, have decided to start a monthly double date/game night with our friends Dominic and Natalia (also a couple). We start things off with dinner and once we're finished eating and shooting the breeze, continue our journey through Champions: Return to Arms. Dominic and Nichole have chosen Rangers, Natalia is more of an in-your-face-and-hit-things kinda gal so she has a Barbarian and I've opted for a Shadowknight, only because I haven't played with him much. I really wish I had gone with my jacked up Cleric, but...I guess I'll save him for our next go around. Anyway, it's not like I've gotten particularly bored playing this game with my dear close comrades, did get me thinking about how much of a severe lack of customizable 4-way rpgs there are. There are a few other 4-player rpgs, like X-Men Legends, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, but they're based on comic books or ancient. And Dark Alliance is only 2-player, despite the second game having 5 different characters, so regardless of a lack of creating and naming your own avatar, you can only play with one other person. Phantasy Star Online on Gamecube isn't bad, has a futuristic style to it and it supports 4-player split screen, but the controls are kind of awkward and a bit of a turn off to people who don't want to look past such a hang up. Norrath and RTA seem to be the best/only 4-player rpgs that are fairy tale-ish in nature (i.e. involving elves and orcs and goblins, swords and magic and such), gives you some decent options to make a character just for YOU, and changes your appearance based on what you're wearing and holding (some rpgs don't do this, which is okay, but depending on the game can be extremely unfortunate). This isn't necessarily a cry out for more games of this style...necessarily...but I do wonder why multiplayer support isn't more prevalent in rpgs. I can understand not including it in turn-based affairs like most Final Fantasy games, as it's enough for one person to sit and wait for their turn to come up again, let alone divide the waiting up among two or more people. But for action-rpgs with real-time battles, why can't there be more customization and options? There's gotta be a studio out there that can take the hack-and-slash formula and make some really incredible twists on the standard style...maybe give characters more varied "actions" to perform? Like instead of just hitting switches and buttons, maybe lifting things, stacking things, building a structure, repairing something, etc.? RPGs could probably learn a lot from all the innovation the DS is making in games. Granted, Playstation controllers don't have a handy dandy little pen that you can use to write all over the screen with, but the activities you feel like you're actually doing with the stylus are really terrific sometimes. I don't know, I've always been a fairly solo gamer myself, so the idea of playing on my own, not only without physical playmates but also without NP-party members, suits me just fine...but occasionally, I like the idea of having three people take a journey with me without having to be connected to the internet. :-)