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The Demands of Dark Souls

Dark Souls is a reaction to modern game design and modernity in general. Its difficult in an era where games are designed to be finished by anyone. It requires total concentration in a world where we usually have our eyes set on multiple screens at any one time. Dark Souls hardly makes sense as a modern video-game and thats what makes it so great.

 Much of the difficulty in Dark Souls is born out of the repetition that the game requires. An enemy will kill you numerous times but in doing so you learn the attack patterns and the strategies to eventually defeat it. From each death there is a sense of improvement, as you become better acquainted with the enemies move-set and starting doing more damage to their seemingly endless health bar. This stops it from feeling banal and tedious. However, each attempt at a boss fight requires the player to traverse an area over which they have already triumphed.   The urge to get back there quickly will often lead to running past enemies on the path and rushing, which can lead to more deaths. This leads to the player wanting to rush more and so being more likely to die.

 Dark Souls is not hard just from being repetitive, its also difficult as it is unflinchingly punishing. A single mistimed roll or a missed attack will almost always result in a large chunk of health being taken from you. Yet, this never feels unfair. Partially, because it is typically due to your own mistakes, but also because, when at full health, the vast majority of attacks are survivable. There are a few exceptions to this, but mostly making a mistake is something that can be recovered from with a swig from an estus flask. Doing so is a tough task as there is the added tension of knowing that a single error will lead to the dreaded You Died screen. The timing of when to use the estus flask is then crucial as there is a desire to use it immediately in order to have the comfort of a fuller health bar, but this often leaves the player vulnerable to another attack. Again, this is Dark Souls trying to stop the player from rushing and to slow down.

 Furthermore, Dark Souls requires constant attention. The game cannot be paused in the middle of action. There are areas that are designated (the bonfires) as being safe, these are infrequent though. Every corner poses a threat and so the player must constantly be on guard and prepared. It is not only enemies that are a danger as there are numerous environmental dangers, ranging from precarious ledges to the cacophony of pressure plates and swinging axes that inhabit Sens Fortress. Giving Dark Souls anything less than your full attention will invariably result in death. Glancing at a phone screen may mean an enemy can get one devastating attack living the player on the precipice of death. The pressure ratchets up, the tension rises and a simply fight has immediately transformed into a near death experience. This absolute, undivided attention that Dark Souls constantly demands is hugely opposed to half-attention that most media requires.

 You have to give your all to Dark Souls to even stand a chance.

 

                                                                                                                          

                     

 

Player Choice

Player choice, as I view it, is the instances in games that allow the player to directly shape the narrative. This has recently been popularised by games such as The Walking Dead and the Mass Effect series. The majority of these choices are minor and come in the form of selecting which line of dialogue the player wishes the character to act out. These can shape relationships with other characters or even the story itself. There are often instances where a choice is integrated into the actual gameplay rather than the simple button prompts that controls dialogue options. For example, in the first episode of The Walking Dead the player must act to either save Shawn or Duck. The only outcome to this choice is Shawns death regardless of your choice, but the choice does play an important role by informing your relationship with Kenny, Ducks father. The choice that they player had was then not true as the outcome was already set. This is one issue with choices in games; that they are restricted to what the game says is possible and not what the player thinks may be possible or even what should be possible. These restrictions are clearly in place due to the limitations of most games for complete interactivity and in order to allow the writers more control over the games story. The purpose of player choice is to allow the player to have agency in the story through direct interaction with the story itself. The story then does not simply float from a set beginning to end but changes course due to the actions that a player takes.

The issue that player choice creates is that the character through which these choices are made is relegated to a vessel for the player to make these choices and not much more. These characters often have their own background and personality, but these traits are overwritten by the player whenever a choice is made. This eliminates the individuality of said character. They no longer appear as a believable person as the distinguishing feature of humans, the ability to make to make ones own choices, is removed. Of course, characters never truly have free will as their decisions have already been chosen by a writer. This is not surfaced in stories where the player has no control over the characters as directly as when there are big button prompts telling the player to make a decision on a characters behalf.

By giving the player a choice over certain actions the morals that a character possesses are entirely replaced by those of the players. A part of the character is then lost in order to allow the player to interact with the game world in this way. There is no longer a full sense of the character, but a hybridity of player and character. Separation between the two is important in order to allow a clear divide between the game world and reality. They interact and interface with each but there must be obvious boundaries. If the game world is considered reality then there is not a point when that world ends. There is then never a time for reflection on that world, the story contained, and how it can be applied beyond the game to everyday life. The credits rolling at the end are the return to reality and relinquishing the hold on fantasy. Essentially, in order to have an impact on everyday life the games world must not be a part of everyday life. 

The Witcher series does not have the issue of the main character being incomplete whilst allowing player choice as Geralt of Rivia has his own moral code. Each moral choice is not then met with the question of what should I do?, but what would Geralt do? In this way The Witcher series is then role-playing as Geralt. You are acting as Geralt rather than Geralt acting like you.

This is not to say that player choice is a bad thing, The Walking Dead would be a vastly inferior without it, but there are issues that come with it which are rarely dealt with. The damage that player choice inflicts on the player character is not catastrophic to the game, but does lead to an incompleteness of one character that can only stick out in comparison to the other characters in the game who are entirely themselves. You shouldnt care for a character because you are that character, you should care because you care for that character. 

Choice in The Last of Us: SPOILERS

The Last of Us is a game about choices, yet the player largely has no agency in those choices. This is important as it allows Joel to be created as a character that is Joel and not a hybrid of himself and the player, as happens in most games that allow player choice in certain, but not all, instances. The player is not Joel. You are playing the game to see what Joel does for himself.

 The precedent for this is set for this in the prologue where Joel forces Tommy to drive past a group of people with a child who are trying to hail a car. All the player can do is watch and question whether Joel was right and if they would have acted differently in that situation. This moment perfectly summarises Joels character. He is not trying to save the world, he is trying to save himself and those that he loves.

 Joels morals and the players lack of control ultimately comes to a head in the conclusion to the game. Joel decides that he cannot allow Ellie to die, even if it means eliminating the one hope there appears to be for some kind of cure. The player is forced into this in a confrontation with a group of doctors. The only option here is to kill them. Joel has decided he has to save Ellie by any means and you are forced to enact these means. The only way out of that is to look away, to stop playing the game and leave Joel to his own choices.

 This whole sequence forces the player to judge Joel. Why would he do this? Is he being selfish? Is what he is doing right? None of these questions are directly answered by the game. Instead answers are implied by Joels character that has formed throughout the game. If the player had been allowed any say in the key choices of the game there would then be a sense of ownership over Joel. He would not stand on his own as a character with his own motivations and reasons for his actions. The previous questions would not then be addressed at Joel but at the player. By not allowing the player to influence his decisions and his morality Joel is then an individual. He is not a mix of player and character like Lee from The Walking Dead. He is just Joel.  His reasons for what he did are his own. They can be speculated on, but only Joel can truly know why. 

Why buy a Vita?

You've been planning that murder for a while now, and the only thing holding you back is working out how to make that insanity plea work. You've tried listening to Mumford Sons and being a Liverpool fan, but, for some reason, everyone still thinks you're sane. When you buy a Playstation Vita there will be no doubts that you are completely bonkers.

                                     

The screen, like most screens, is reflective and so you can see your beautiful, chiselled face in it. Oh no wait. That's just my face. You'd want to avoid looking at your own face as much as possible.

 

Touch screens are the only way you can feel anything anymore.

 

Chie can kick a tank into space.

 

The power cord could probably work as a noose to end your horrible, worthless existence.

 

Chie can kick a tank into space.

 

There are two analog sticks. TWO.  Thats twice as many as one. Handhelds are finally up to date with the beginning of this millennium.

 

CHIE CAN KICK A TANK INTO SPACE

 

I wish Chie would kick you into space.

How to be good at videogames

1.       It's pretty important for you to have fingers. I'd even go as far as to say it's vital. They're needed for pressing on the buttons (I'll explain this action later) and are they only way to do so. No, your nose is not a replacement for fingers. Nor are your toes. Sorry, this is just how the world is.

2.        Having fingers is a good start but fingers on their own aren't enough to be a great game-person. They need to be attached to something. Well call these things "hands", which in turn need to be connected to "arms" (Google it), and they need to be coupled with a body, preferably your own.  

3.       William Shakespeare is dire at videogames. Shocking I know. The reason for this is because he's not alive. Try to be alive if you want to be good at videogames.

4.       Make sure you're playing a videogame. You can't be good at a videogame if you're not playing a videogame.

5.       Videogames are about pressing buttons. No, not chocolate buttons. No, not the buttons on your clothes either.  Please stop interrupting me. They appear on a controller (basically a lump of plastic that makes magic happen) which you hold in your "hands" (see 2). You hold the controller in both "hands". Try to use an even amount of pressure; not too hard, but not too soft. Don't be worried about getting this wrong. Unless you hold it too hard and end up crushing the controller, embedding splintered plastic in your freakishly powerful "hands". If that happens you can be worried.

6.       You want to push these buttons (see 5) with your fingers (see 1). Again pressure is key. Too soft and nothing will happen. Too hard and you will most likely penetrate the controller. This will most likely lead to you losing your finger. As we've established fingers are crucial for videogames. If you lose a finger you will not be as good at videogames.

7.        Is it really worth all this hassle to be good at videogames? The chance of losing a finger, or at least seriously maiming yourself, seems too high. I'd just stick with your competitive cup stacking. 

Kanji Tatsumi: It ain't a matter of guys or chicks

Carolyn Petit in her recent article (Denial of the Self: Queer Characters in Persona 4) criticised Kanjis character for his rejection of homosexuality, as she believes it sends the message that homosexuality is shameful and should not be accepted.  This is not the impression that I got from my own experiences with Persona 4. Youre own reaction to a game is personal and influenced by who you are, and what you have experienced. If you can back up why you feel a certain way, as Carolyn has done, then it is valid. Multiple interpretations are a good thing. Very few games require you to think beyond what is directly shown, and so for two people to have conflicting readings shows a depth to the narrative that can only be positive.

My personal interpretation of Kanji is that his story arc is focused, not on his sexuality, but on the societal expectations imposed on him because of his gender.

Persona 4 certainly strongly suggests that Kanji is gay Throughout the entirety of his dungeon there is a heavy emphasis on Kanjis sexuality. With his shadow-self making frequent suggestions of his homosexuality. He even takes on a lisp and more effeminate appearance to mimic the stereotypical view of homosexuals. The game really drives home the homosexual nature of his shadow-self with the appearance that his boss form takes. It uses two mars symbols as weapons as is flanked by two hulking, scantily clad body builders.

Yet, Kanji is probably not a homosexual.  His shadow self is only a fragment of himself and this fragment is derived, not from his own thoughts and feelings, but from those of others. He recalls the mockery that he has suffered at the hands of girls: You like to sew? What a queer and You dont act like a guy  The fact he does not conform to the social expectations of what it is to be a man is met with the assertions that he then cant be a normal man, and so cant be straight.  Shadow Kanji raises the questions of What does it mean to be a guy? What does it mean it be manly? The answer we are given is that to be manly you have to meet the social expectations of what men do. You cannot, as Kanji does, engage in pastimes that are seen as girly. Society needs to categorise, and when you step outside the lines of one category you are just moved to another. 

New Consoles

You're probably excited that soon enough actual, concrete details will be released about the next generation of consoles.   Soon enough you'll actually be able to own them and post poorly written diatribes about them on forums. That's all people do with them, right? I know I don't play games. I wouldn't lower myself to them.  I read books, y'know? Actual art like Air Force Gator. Well anyway here's a list of my tips for console announcements, and life in general, really.

1.       Lower your expectations. Seriously, they are way too high. Yeah, the current crop of consoles are showing their age, and yeah pre-rendered trailers are rad, but high expectations just lead to disappointment. Its like getting excited that that cute girl has actually agreed to go out with you, and now you're imagining everything that you'll do together, even though you don't really know her yet. More importantly she doesn't yet know just how much you suck.  Don't argue; you're reading this, mate. This is pretty much rock bottom. I wasted my time writing this sh!t, but you're actually wasting your time reading it, which justifies my writing, but what do you gain from reading it? Fvck all.

2.       Read all the comments on any trailers or news pieces on your favourite site. We've already established youre at rock bottom, and the people writing those comments are also there. They just managed to form a crater, they're like an asteroid of homophobic, sexist bile. By reading the comments youll feel better about yourself, because at least you're not those guys. 

3.        Be cynical about the thing that everyone is going crazy for. This will prove that you're edgy and don't just follow the lamestream opinion. Your fellow forum goers will look at you with awe. The guys will want to be you. The girls still won't want to be with you unfortunately.

4.       Ignore everything  and do something productive. Spend that time reading some Pynchon so then you can tell people you've read Pynchon. Did I mention I've read Gravity's Rainbow? 'Cause I have, and that's a big book. This makes me better than you. 

Breaking Bad.

Walter Whites ego is as much the central focus of Breaking Bad as Walt himself is. He is a product of an archaic, in a sense, way of thinking. One that advocates individualism and self-help, whilst rejecting the mere thought of any outside support. Walt is the antithesis of the current crop of people willing to live purely on government aid, with little to no intention of living beyond this.

The American dream may also inspire his motivations, to a degree; he wants to equal or succeed the success that Elliot has experienced since Walt sold his share in the now billion (with a b) dollar company for a pittance. It destroys him that he did not believe in himself enough to carry on at Gray Matter. In a sense he is trying to trying to construct a life that made sense from things he has found in gift shops, as the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote. The money is not Walts intention from his meth cooking; rather he wants a memento to display his achievements. He has already created a notorious legacy through the very public persona of Heisenberg. Even the choice of pseudonym is intrinsically linked to Walt through his love of science. This suggests that Walt needs his ego stroked. He needs to feel superior because in so many aspects of life he is inferior. Its possible this could explain why he became a teacher (teachers are naturally a students superior, as the pupil heavily relies on the teacher to gain anything), and why he has a tender spot for Jesse, who acts as a sort of protégé, and demonstrates that even though Jesse failed under his teachings in school, Walt is talented enough to turn someone with little knowledge of chemistry into one of the most talented cooks around.

In order to get a simple ego boost, Walt has shown himself to be inventive, dangerous, duplicitous, genius, and deadly. He is willing to endanger a child, and even killed a partner other a perceived slight. The murder of Mike in particular highlighted the extents to which Walt would go to protect his ego from those who would dare to tarnish it. It also was one of the few examples of Walt acting rashly, but ultimately it is unlikely to damage him in anyway, other than his own knowledge that he messed up. Yet, it is still a crack in his façade, and, strangely, serves to create a sense that Walt is still human, he still makes errors. Up until then Walt, as Heisenberg, has been utterly infallible.

Episode 8 of season 5, ends with Hank opening a book of poetry by Walt Whitman that links Walt White to Gale, and so to the meth industry of Gus Fring. It immediately appears that Walters hubris, as with many criminals, got the better of him. The previously mentioned, unnecessary murder of Mike has given us the impression that Walt can make big mistakes, even still. However, there is something odd about the book being hidden so poorly in plain sight. His vanity may explain why he kept the book, as he would never throw something away that lavishes praise upon him. Nevertheless, Walt knows that Hank found Walt Whitman poetry when Gale was murdered so why would he keep it where Hank was likely to find it? And if it was there all along, why wouldnt have Hank already found it? Its possible then that Walt left it there to be found. He may actually be out as he said to Skyler, but that doesnt mean the power game is over. Walt needs Hank to know that he outfoxed him. He needseveryoneto know.

We know that Walt wont be caught, or at least not imprisoned, because weve seen bearded, full-head-of-hair Walt on his 52ndbirthday, alone in some diner. He gets away. And he gets away in a good condition, financially, if the $100 tip is anything to go by. I cant even begin to predict what that M60 is meant for. If this half season is anything to go by it will be brutal and devastating in equal measure.

Im somewhat relieved that the next half of this season isnt airing until next year as it staves off the inevitable end of Breaking Bad. Thats something I dont want to think about.

Writing About Writing

Writing (or I guess more literally typing. Though writing evokes a more artistic sense of an ink dipped quill creating pretty curvaceous blobs, rather than the cold mechanical prodding of plastic that typing induces.) is one of the many things I would like to do more of, but falls at the wayside too often; mainly because of laziness and procrastination. I am going to try and change that, though. Over these next three weeks, until I start school, Im going to try and spend at least half an hour each day writing something, anything really, which probably means mostly videogames. I dont have much else to do, anyway.

Borderlands is a videogame Ive played. I didnt like it, unfortunately. I felt the writing and characters were boring, paper thin, and downright irritating in the 4 hours I played. Claptrap is clearly intentionally annoying, nevertheless annoying is still annoying. Oddly, when youre away from the main towns the game is awfully quiet when youre not shooting the numerable repetitive enemies. So much so after an hour I resorted to having podcasts and music on with the game audio muted. I did enjoy the cell-shaded art-style. The loot is also good, albeit samey, and the gunplay is totally fine. Its just that the enjoyable parts of the game, the loot and character progression, happens in menus. With the express purpose of making you better at murdering the dull A.I. I do enjoy seeing numbers go up, but as a secondary aspect to the actual game. In Borderlands those numbers are the game; theres really not much more there to enjoy. So, I stopped playing.

Pyschonauts is also a videogame. I like it a lot. Youve probably played it, or at least know that lots of people like it to significant degree. It has the now expected Double Fine level of humour, and a truly singular conceit: Youre Raz, a kid whos run away from the circus to a summer camp for psychics, with the aim of becoming a Pyschonaut; a sort of special agent of the psychic variety. Its pretty daft. The actually act of playing it involves third person platforming, and some light beat em up combat. The platforming is enjoyable, though its more so the levels themselves than the actual mechanics that provided said enjoyment, due to their diverse themes and motifs. The first level is in a WW2 style, for example. I am completely enamoured with Pyschonauts even after only a few hours. Its simply a unique and actually hilarious game, two things very few games actually accomplish, or even strive for.