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Are games getting dumber?

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Being a gamer was pretty tough back in the 90's. We didn't have auto saves or scalable difficulty levels and that blissful thing Google to search up where that missing key is. Games like Mega Man X, Ninja Gaiden and Final Fantasy VI weren't particularly long games in length but you'd spend weeks trying to complete them because they were so damn hard! Every time a boss beat my ass in FF VI I'd slam my controller to the floor, run up the stairs and cry under my bed for a good half an hour, but I'd always go back for more (I repeated this process until I was about 17). But fast forward to 2013 and it's hard to think of many games that you couldn't finish in an afternoon. So why the change? Are we just getting better as gamers? Or are game developers dumbing down their games to target larger audiences? Many people argue that the popularity of games is beginning to harm the quality of them, and we agree with them. Here's why.

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I'm going to use a recent example from my own experience. Dragon Age. The mighty king of an RPG, that divided opinion with its sequel (coincidentally right around the time EA bought out Bioware *raises eyebrows*). Now I'm not going to rant about EA, as plenty has already been said about EA's influence on game franchises but what I will say is this. The original DA was generally considered a masterpiece. It was lengthy, had an engrossing plot with interesting characters and challenging combat that demanded you to micromanage and engage the use of tactics. Dragon Age 2? Not so much. Okay it wasn't really a bad game, but it replaced the tactical combat with generic button mashing to appeal to people who didn't have the patience or, dare I say it, the intellect to deal with the original combat system. Hell, they even removed the overhead camera view, making the game feel more like a hack and slash action game rather than an RPG. And lest we forget the inferior story and generic, tedious characters. Clearly the game was designed with casual console players in mind, but to many people, it felt as if the developers had ignored the fans they made with the first game, in order to sell to newer casual fans. Bioware had made a sequel that was more accessible, yes, but they forgot about all of the things that made the first game great. Did Bioware sacrifice the quality of their game just to make more money? And then there's the Mass Effect 3 debacle (well okay let's not go there).

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Worryingly there are a number of other game franchises that have clearly dumbed down over the years. Final Fantasy and Resident Evil are two that spring to mind. I can still remember my horror playing through the first few hours of Final Fantasy X-2 after the magnificence of X. What they did to Yuna literally made me fall out of love with the series. And XIII was so linear, it was almost insulting to me as a gamer.  

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From lovable high summoner to slutty gun-toting air head. If we look at the top ten selling games right now, sports and shooters make up the bulk of the list. So does the popularity of these genres hold further evidence to the dumbing down of games? I love first person shooters, and I do enjoy Fifa, but it's not exactly mentally stimulating to shoot through yet another COD clone, or play essentially what is the same football game year after year with slightly updated graphics. Call of Duty is a franchise I once revered. Up until Modern Warfare 2 I was a true COD fan boy. But every year they recycle the same gameplay, graphics and mechanics, and lazily theme them slightly differently to make them seem like completely new games. Play the latest Black Ops, and then play the first Modern Warfare. It's the same game! Yet these games sell by the millions every year! And then they have the nerve to charge us even more money for a few extra maps? (some of which were maps from earlier games we already owned and paid for!) What happened to creativity and innovation? But hey, as long as we're dumb enough to keep buying them, they'll keep making them.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fantastic shooters out there, both first and third person, but there is definitely a feeling among the gaming community that the 'hollywood' effect is taking its toll on the quality of gameplay. This is when game developers spend huge amounts of their budget on creating cinematic experiences for gamers which sounds great in theory, but how often have you played a game that had a decent story, and amazing graphics and Hollywood scale video sequences...yet the actual gameplay itself was bad. Surely good gameplay is the whole point. And now more and more games are beginning to use things like quick time events, reducing the player interaction to pressing a single button. I don't want to press X or spin the analogue stick just to watch a pre-rendered animated cut scene of my character leaping across a mountain onto a helicopter dodging bullets, I want to be the one actually doing it! I'm the gamer, give me the control god-damn it! Is the modern gamer just being tricked into thinking games are better than they actually are by HD graphics and cinematic storytelling. Heavy Rain for example is a wonderful interactive experience, but if I was to judge the actual gameplay, the parts that I'm not just watching, I'd have to say it was pretty damn aweful.

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Genres like real time strategy and adventure are now pretty much non-existent at least in the mainstream market. Both of these, by design, require patience and mental intellect. Some of my fondest gaming memories were from playing RTS's like the Command and Conquer series, Warcraft III, and solving mysteries in adventure greats like Broken Sword and Grim Fandango. But game developers aren't willing to take the risks any more with these genres. Why make something fresh, thoughtful and involving, when you can make an 'aliens invading humanity' shooter and make twenty times more money. Is the average gamer of 2013 just less intelligent than the average gamer in 1999 and less likely to enjoy these kind of games? Or has the saturation of shooters and sports sims evolved your average Joe to become less patient and less willing to take the time to enjoy these types of games? I want to believe that game developers are motivated by their creativity and need to make great games, and not just by filling their companies pockets with cash, but sadly I am realising that the latter may be the case. And to further my argument I'll say two words. Downloadable content...

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Perhaps I am being too harsh. We all need to pay the bills right? And if the majority of gamers are casuals who want mindless shooters and sports games who am I to argue with that? Game companies need to make money to stay in business and that's fair enough. And I really hope that it doesn't come across that I am doom saying and stating the games industry is solely becoming a money making farce . The indie and mod community is enough to show me that there is amazing talent that will continue to innovate and seek acclaim first, and profit second. But I don't think anyone can deny that somewhere along the line, the balance between acclaim and profit has been lost. Why, and indeed whether it is even a good or bad thing will always be up for debate. But we as consumers are eating up and handing over our hard earned cash for games that in my opinion don't deserve it (*cough* colonial marines *cough*). We deserve better. So do yourself a favour. The next game that you buy, don't be afraid to try something different. I guaranteeyou that you will find a game like Journey a hundred times more rewarding than the next Call of Duty Super Modern Black Ops X Warfare 23 (or whatever they call it in 2047).

By Imran Almuttaqi

 

Finally a Lara Croft us girls can be proud of!

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lara1.jpg original.jpg

As a girl gamer, from time to time I find that I have to deal with abuse. From the dimwitted COD jockeys I come across on Xbox Live to the moronic WOW players who hassle me the second they hear a female voice on Teamspeak. It's not pleasant, but it's something I've learnt to deal with over the years, and for the vast majority of the time it isn't so much of an issue that it would ever deter me from carrying on my love and obsession with gaming. For example, I have spent many hours on Guild Wars 2, in a guild made up of mainly men, and I have never experienced any sexism or been treated in a derogatory manner or seen any of the other female members being treated differently due to their gender. But one rare occasion where I was verbally abused due to my gender was enough to make me want to write this post.

In one particularly bad session of Modern Warfare 3 I made the mistake of going on voice chat. I was the only female on my team and over the course of the next hour here is just a small sample of what I had to endure.

Dumb b****Why do you keep dying? Are you distracted by the kitchen or something?I bet you are on your periodYou should stick to dancing games or pet gamesSlag! F**k off and suck some d**k The derogatory sexual talk became too disgusting to write down. Now, again, I am fully aware that this represents just a tiny minority of male gamers, and even my boyfriend who is a beast at that game (I suck, hence the abuse) experiences trash talk so he pointed out regardless of gender you will always experience issues like this. But I was pretty upset by the situation. Here I was, being subjected to sexual verbal abuse all due to the fact of my female voice. They couldn't see me. For all they knew I could have been 12. They then had the nerve to friend request me and ask me for my real name and Facebook! Would they have done the same thing if I was a boy?It got me thinking as to why females, particularly in gaming, are so often verbally abused and stereotyped. Could the portrayal of women in games themselves be partly to blame? Let's explore this a little!

girl-gamers_o_193017-2.jpgLet's back up for a second and think of the iconic female heroines in video games from recent times. 

032.jpg 022.jpg 16.jpg 22.jpg 063.jpg 141.jpg jdustd_bloodrayne_2-e.jpg Morrigan-dragon-age-origins-16832427-786

Noticing any patterns? Now I don't know about you, but I can't recall every seeing Solid Snake, Link, Cloud Strife or any of the great male heroes of gaming posing in their undies or sticking out their asses in every cut scene they possibly can. Now the reasons why women are objectified in games and what's wrong with it has been debated and written about a million times, but my biggest gripe with it is that these women are so unreal its laughable. So many of the great male protagonists of the gaming world are fallible, physically and emotionally but that's what makes them believable and that's why we love them. But when it comes to character design for a female lead, so often it's Let's give her really BIG **** make her wear skin tight leather and she's gotta be a badass...and OH don't forget the really BIG ****!.
In recent times, there are signs that change is afoot, and that's great to see. Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 is a perfect example of a woman portrayed in a positive manner. She is strong and independent but without shoving it in your face. Alyx is a realistically portrayed as a very capable woman and she does it all wearing appropriate clothing and a realistic body frame! She's one hot chick you don't want to mess with, but shes not overly sexualised and as a result of this we never objectify her in that way. 
alyx-vance-freeman.jpg
Which moves me on nicely to Lara Croft. She is without a doubt the queen of female gaming icons. But as much as she is courageous, strong and super-intelligent, all too often she is reduced to a simple sex icon. She sells because she has the page 3 figure, the tiny waist and perfect ass, and don't forget her ridiculously over the top chest. She is the 'perfect' woman aesthetically at least, but as a girl I find her hard to relate to because she is so unnaturally unrealistic. I always found her character to be too artificial. That's exactly why I am so overjoyed that Crystal Dynamics reboot of the series finally gives us the Lara Croft her character always deserved. Lara is still the brilliant, resourceful and athletic archaeologist, but gone is her trademark cockiness and over the top, shove it in your face sex appeal. Instead this is the story of a young, vulnerable and naive woman left to fend for herself in a hostile environment, forced to defend herself. We pay more attention to Lara as a person than ever before, experiencing the not-so-glamorous side of a human being coming to terms with own mortality, reminding us that heroes are made, not born. This is a Lara I can relate to. A Lara who has to deal with physical and emotional struggles, forcing her to emerge from them a stronger person.

 

So the point to all this? Well Lara doesn't have a huge chest this time nor is she wearing tiny hot pants and kicking ass with the cocky bravado of Iron Man. She's just a girl pushed to extremes, forced into violence, but more importantly. she's believable. Crystal Dynamics didn't have to rely on the 'sex sells' route. Yes she is still insanely beautiful and she learns to be a total badass but removing the over the top sexuality of her former iterations makes her human, and ultimately it makes her more universally likable as a character. This time around she is appealing for all the right reasons. They could have taken the re-branding of Tomb Raider in so many different ways, but this is for me, was the perfect path. I'm proud of this iteration of Lara. No longer is she the glorification of men's desires but a heroine who women will admire and respect. 

It's refreshing to think that more and more female characters aren't just being depicted as busty action heroes full of swagger and bravado all the while half-naked with their chests about to pop out. Which brings me back to my first paragraph. Do the stereotypes of women in games influence the way men treat women in real life? There are deeper gender issues here to consider outside of gaming of course. This was once a male dominant past-time and hobby. But now gaming is as gender equal as anything else in society yet still girl gamers are objectified and abused and still the vast majority of female characters in games are created as page 3 style bimbos. Either way, I believe that characters like the new Lara are the key to slowly but surely shifting the way women are perceived and treated in the world of gaming. In the mean time, I'll stick to using my Darth Vader voice changer *thumbs up*. Written by Charlotte SaundersEdited by Imran Almuttaqi

Finally a Lara Croft girls can be proud of

by on

lara1.jpg original.jpg

As a girl gamer, from time to time I find that I have to deal with abuse. From the dimwitted COD jockeys I come across on Xbox Live to the moronic WOW players who hassle me the second they hear a female voice on Teamspeak. It's not pleasant, but it's something I've learnt to deal with over the years, and for the vast majority of the time it isn't so much of an issue that it would ever deter me from carrying on my love and obsession with gaming. For example, I have spent many hours on Guild Wars 2, in a guild made up of mainly men, and I have never experienced any sexism or been treated in a derogatory manner or seen any of the other female members being treated differently due to their gender. But one rare occasion where I was verbally abused due to my gender was enough to make me want to write this post.

In one particularly bad session of Modern Warfare 3 I made the mistake of going on voice chat. I was the only female on my team and over the course of the next hour here is just a small sample of what I had to endure.


Dumb b****Why do you keep dying? Are you distracted by the kitchen or something?I bet you are on your periodYou should stick to dancing games or pet gamesSlag! F**k off and suck some d**k The derogatory sexual talk became too disgusting to write down. Now, again, I am fully aware that this represents just a tiny minority of male gamers, and even my boyfriend who is a beast at that game (I suck, hence the abuse) experiences trash talk so he pointed out regardless of gender you will always experience issues like this. But I was pretty upset by the situation. Here I was, being subjected to sexual verbal abuse all due to the fact of my female voice. They couldn't see me. For all they knew I could have been 12. They then had the nerve to friend request me and ask me for my real name and Facebook! Would they have done the same thing if I was a boy?It got me thinking as to why females, particularly in gaming, are so often verbally abused and stereotyped. Could the portrayal of women in games themselves be partly to blame? Let's explore this a little!

girl-gamers_o_193017-2.jpgLet's back up for a second and think of the iconic female heroines in video games from recent times. 

032.jpg 022.jpg 16.jpg 22.jpg 063.jpg 141.jpg jdustd_bloodrayne_2-e.jpg Morrigan-dragon-age-origins-16832427-786

Noticing any patterns? Now I don't know about you, but I can't recall every seeing Solid Snake, Link, Cloud Strife or any of the great male heroes of gaming posing in their undies or sticking out their asses in every cut scene they possibly can. Now the reasons why women are objectified in games and what's wrong with it has been debated and written about a million times, but my biggest gripe with it is that these women are so unreal its laughable. So many of the great male protagonists of the gaming world are fallible, physically and emotionally but that's what makes them believable and that's why we love them. But when it comes to character design for a female lead, so often it's Let's give her really BIG **** make her wear skin tight leather and she's gotta be a badass...and OH don't forget the really BIG ****!.
In recent times, there are signs that change is afoot, and that's great to see. Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 is a perfect example of a woman portrayed in a positive manner. She is strong and independent but without shoving it in your face. Alyx is a realistically portrayed as a very capable woman and she does it all wearing appropriate clothing and a realistic body frame! She's one hot chick you don't want to mess with, but shes not overly sexualised and as a result of this we never objectify her in that way.  alyx-vance-freeman.jpg
Which moves me on nicely to Lara Croft. She is without a doubt the queen of female gaming icons. But as much as she is courageous, strong and super-intelligent, all too often she is reduced to a simple sex icon. She sells because she has the page 3 figure, the tiny waist and perfect ass, and don't forget her ridiculously over the top chest. She is the 'perfect' woman aesthetically at least, but as a girl I find her hard to relate to because she is so unnaturally unrealistic. I always found her character to be too artificial. That's exactly why I am so overjoyed that Crystal Dynamics reboot of the series finally gives us the Lara Croft her character always deserved. Lara is still the brilliant, resourceful and athletic archaeologist, but gone is her trademark cockiness and over the top, shove it in your face sex appeal. Instead this is the story of a young, vulnerable and naive woman left to fend for herself in a hostile environment, forced to defend herself. We pay more attention to Lara as a person than ever before, experiencing the not-so-glamorous side of a human being coming to terms with own mortality, reminding us that heroes are made, not born. This is a Lara I can relate to. A Lara who has to deal with physical and emotional struggles, forcing her to emerge from them a stronger person.

So the point to all this? Well Lara doesn't have a huge chest this time nor is she wearing tiny hot pants and kicking ass with the cocky bravado of Iron Man. She's just a girl pushed to extremes, forced into violence, but more importantly. she's believable. Crystal Dynamics didn't have to rely on the 'sex sells' route. Yes she is still insanely beautiful and she learns to be a total badass but removing the over the top sexuality of her former iterations makes her human, and ultimately it makes her more universally likable as a character. This time around she is appealing for all the right reasons. They could have taken the re-branding of Tomb Raider in so many different ways, but this is for me, was the perfect path. I'm proud of this iteration of Lara. No longer is she the glorification of men's desires but a heroine who women will admire and respect. 

It's refreshing to think that more and more female characters aren't just being depicted as busty action heroes full of swagger and bravado all the while half-naked with their chests about to pop out. Which brings me back to my first paragraph. Do the stereotypes of women in games influence the way men treat women in real life? There are deeper gender issues here to consider outside of gaming of course. This was once a male dominant past-time and hobby. But now gaming is as gender equal as anything else in society yet still girl gamers are objectified and abused and still the vast majority of female characters in games are created as page 3 style bimbos. Either way, I believe that characters like the new Lara are the key to slowly but surely shifting the way women are perceived and treated in the world of gaming. In the mean time, I'll stick to using my Darth Vader voice changer *thumbs up*. Written by Charlotte SaundersEdited by Imran Almuttaqi

The Harmoney of Controversy

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By Imran Almuttaqi

If there's one thing Infinity Ward, (developers of the recently released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2), have learnt, is that controversy sells. Rockstar Games, makers of the infamous Grand Theft Auto series knew this, and ended up selling over 13 million copies and grossing more than $500 million in revenue, for the 2008 epic Grand Theft Auto 4¸a title fraught with controversy. Despite the negative media attention, and even scathing personal attacks from MP's and journalists, 13 million copies is simply a figure you cannot ignore. Bear in mind these are statistics from the day of release, over a year ago. If you find that impressive, try 4.7 million copies in two days. Two days. An astonishing achievement, for the stellar Modern Warfare 2, a game that has quite simply, blown me away. From the dark, dramatic, emotive plot, the intensely exhilarating battles, to the truly blockbuster production values, Infinity Ward have succeeded in creating a savage assault on the senses; something very, very special. Modern Warfare 2 isn't a game; it's a breathlessly cinematic experience.

Yet despite the critical acclaim, the sure-fire BAFTA nominations, and fanatical fan following, a single level 'No Russian' has stolen much of the limelight; one that has attracted a plethora of media attention, due to its highly sensitive and controversial nature. Or at least, at first glance it is. You assume the role of an undercover agent, one who has attained the trust of a Russian ultra-nationalist leader known as Makarov, and have been given the task to accompany him and a handful of loyal followers to massacre hundreds of lives at a Russian airport. The elevator opens, machine gun held in hand, as you are greeted to the sight of dozens of people, queuing, and waiting to board. But before they can react, the men you are with start to fire. Panic ensues, as blood and flesh are torn apart, bodies pile, as security guards desperately try to defend the people with their pistols but to no avail. You're choice is clear. You can fire your gun, killing the civilians, hearing their screams echo in your head, giving Makarov no doubt you are who you say you are. Or you can watch, not fire a single bullet, but watch as his men slaughter countless lives needlessly. If you attempt to stop them, you're cover is blown. You are helpless.

In a time of heightened security, some might view Infinity Wards decision to include such a level as reckless and tactless. 'No Russian's shockingly brutal and disturbing nature has gone so far as to cause outrage amongst some, calling it "unnecessary, cheap and disgusting", "a company that has lost track of the line between controversy and poor taste" says one blogger. Sam Leith of the Daily Mail describes it as "cynical, tasteless nastiness". The Mirror also expressed outrage over the airport scene, backed up by Labour MP, Keith Vaz, a man with a history of jumping on gaming controversies. Mr Vaz stated "I am absolutely shocked by the level of violence in this game, and am particularly concerned about how realistic the game itself looks". But how many of these so called critics have actually played the game? Mr Vaz's statements came a day before its UK release, and let's not forget this is a man who blamed the murder of teenager Stefan Pakeerah on the game Manhunt, even though it was Pakeerah, not his killer who owned the game. And what does how realistic a game looks have anything to do with violence?

The point I am trying to make is that, of course, if someone showed you footage of 'No Russian', you would most likely, agree with everything the critics are saying. But the only reason for this is simple; it's being taken completely out of context. If someone showed you the chainsaw scene from Scarface or the rape scene from Boys don't cry, as a single entity, they are indeed, shocking and disturbing. But taken as a whole, as mediums of art, and in context with the rest of the films, they make up two masterpieces of cinema. "Older" generations, and non gamers are quick to criticise violence in video games, but without properly experiencing them wholly. How much do you want to bet Keith Vaz made his opinions of Modern Warfare 2 based solely from seeing a few minutes of footage? Does Mr Vaz know, for example, that if you carry on the 'No Russian' level, that there is a twist, that the whole operation was a trap, as Makarov kills you and makes his escape, leading the whole of Russia to blame America as they find your body. Infinity Wards shouldn't be getting criticism, they should be praised. "I completely understand why that episode has been included. It, for one thing, validates the sustained campaign of violence that you're about to undertake against 'Makarov' and his terrorist militia" writes Michael Moran of the Times, and I completely agree. Countless video games paint a completely false, clean image of war, where everything you do is good and morally correct. Modern Warfare 2 is filthy; it portrays war as a violent business, where morality has to be ignored in order for victory. In Modern Warfare 2, good people do bad things, and bad people do inspiring things for their country. These themes are constantly explored in cinema and TV, yet when it comes to a video game, Infinity Ward's masterpiece is stripped of its credentials due to a handful of ignorant figures.

I think the reason for this, is the fact that videogames are still stereotyped as a 'niche' market; a mindless teenage past time. This stereotype has to be stopped. The videogames industry is projected to be twice as big as the music industry by 2011, already proving its mainstream appeal. 'Older' generations and non gamers need to see that videogames are so much more than games. They are mediums of art, and outlets of human experience and emotion. Sure, we have mindlessness and immaturity in games too, just as we do in TV and cinema, but for every Goodfellas, there is a Grand Theft Auto 4¸ for every Alien, there is a Half-life, and for every Apocalypse Now, there is a Modern Warfare 2. The arguments raised by the likes of Keith Vaz are rendered useless, simply because Mr Vaz, you don't know what you are talking about. But if you really want people to take you seriously Mr Vaz, buy a copy of Modern Warfare 2, meet me on the battlefield, and we'll sort this out the mature, grown-up way…Hooah!