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JustPlainLucas Blog

Video Game Addiction Exists

Tell someone, a skeptic, that video game addiction is real, and they'll look at you like you're crazy. Tell someone who's experienced an addiction such as nicotine, alcohol or drugs, and they'll be insulted. Yes, video game addiction is not the same as the aforementioned addictions, but it's an addiction nonetheless. You don't need to be physically addicted to something for it to still be addictive. You just need to lack the willpower to stay away from it. If anything, you can argue that video game addiction is real because by playing games, your brain enters a state of euphoria. You escape to another world, and when things are going great in this virtual world, you experience happiness in the form of endorphin and serotonin. When you return to your real world and things aren't as fulfilling, you return to the virtual world.

For me, I'm not really addicted to video games. I maintain some semblance of balance in my life. I spend the majority of my recreational time playing video games, but I also read and watch movies. I will say I can become addicted to certain video games, and those are the mmorpg variety, of which I've only played a few. It all started with Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, and I played so much of that game, I stopped playing other games. I even made four other characters and started to level those. Later, it was Final Fantasy XI, a game that consumed me so entirely that I turned off my phone when I got home from work, and immediately signed on so that no one could call me at home (dial up at the time). Almost a year this went on before my friends showed up at the door worried about me. It was an intervention, and I quit that night.... only to start up again a few months later. It took about six more times of quitting before I kicked it for good.

I was doing fine since then, still playing games, but enjoying variety. Enjoying productivity as a result of writing reviews, and blogging about video games. Working on attempting to breaking into video game journalism (which petered out due to no fault of my own; the website just up and ended). Even going through a rough patch with a break up, a couple of times being unemployed, things were still relatively fine. But in 2013, Square Enix announced that a beta of Final Fantasy XIV would be released for the PS3, and every single red flag was raised in my head. Half of my brain told me to stay away from the game because of my vulnerability to Final Fantasy XI, but the other side of brain implanted the idea that I NEEDED to try this beta. So, I downloaded the beta, and then here's when you know that you have an addiction. You try to rationalize it.

I told myself I wouldn't get the game, that I'd give up when the beta ended. Didn't happen. I got the game, played it rigorously and told myself I'd move on when I beat the game. Didn't happen. Tried to tell myself I'll only play it when watching movies or Netflix. Didn't happen. Instead, I began to watch shit on Netflix I wasn't even interested in, just so I could feel better by lying to myself, "I'll only play it while watching Netflix." The thing about FFXIV, though, is that its end game became incredibly repetitive. Run this many dungeons a week for this much currency per week and do it again when the cap expires. As soon as you get the best gear, be prepared to do it all over again because we'll release a patch with just enough content to keep you playing until the next patch comes out. It was this kind of monotony that helped me eventually break free.

I quit the first time around January of 14, maybe later, and deleted my character thinking I'd never come back. Patch 3.0, Heavensward, didn't even tempt me to return. But, never say never. The itch returned, and that's another sign of an addiction. When you know something is bad for you, you quit but it keeps calling to you. I tried to resist, but the beginning of this year, I found myself downloading FFXIV again and its expansion Heavensward, and I fell right into the same rut. I hit the game hard, blowing through the original story content, skipping cutscenes that I already saw, and a month in, I was into Heavensward content. I mained a ninja, and eventually beat Heavensward, and that's where I told myself that I would stop.

But it didn't. I started rationalizing again. "I'll get myself up back up to where I was when I first quit, and then I'll take a break and play other games until the next patch comes." So before I know it, I was leveling up every single job and doing not just one relic weapon quest, but two. On top of my daily grinding requirements, leveling the rest of my jobs to 60 and the newly introduced Palace of the Dead, the game consumed me yet again. Nothing else was being played. My reading was put on hiatus and all I could think about was, "Soon as I get my jobs to 60, I'll take a break." But before that even happened, I was planning on other things to do in the game. I was going to get recipe books and try raiding and try primal battles I never did before.

Sometimes, though, to break an addiction, something really bad has to happen to get you to look at yourself and see what you've become. This day was about 10 days ago. I was playing Palace of the Dead (which is a deep dungeon, a dungeon consisting of many floors) trying to finish farming weapons for my other jobs when they become 60, and I had a series of bad runs. Every time a run would fail, I viewed it as a huge waste of time, because I was so close to my goal, and then after another failed run because of immense stupidity by a couple of party members, I had a fit of rage. I took my controller and hammered the closest thing to me, which was my Monster Hunter edition of my New 3DS. I turned the PS4 off and went to bed.

When I woke up and grabbed my New 3DS to go to work, I decided for whatever reason to turn it on, and then that's when I knew I couldn't play this game anymore. Both screens wouldn't turn on and no sound emitted from the speakers. I closed the 3DS and looked it over to see where the damage was, and there was only a slight blemish on the cover. Somehow, though, I hit the New 3DS with my controller just right to affect something on the inside. Great... I have a dead system now because I refused to listen to the sensible side of me that said never try this game.

So, later that night, I logged on for the last time, deposited over 26 million gil into my free company's chest, said goodbye to whoever was on at the time and logged out. I deleted my character, again, and deleted the game, again. Right now, I'm taking a break to write this blog. What I did just before this blog was finally beat Dark Souls 3, after buying it in April. April. Five whole months after buying it. You see, I used to be in a pretty good habit of playing my games relatively soon after I buy them and beating them subsequently later. Fall is coming, and we all know the onslaught of games is almost upon us, and to think that I'd still be playing Final Fantasy XIV and missing on all of those games.....

The worst part of an addiction is knowing that you won't have it entirely shook. I never went through a "real" addiction before, but I can only imagine there's a voice that continues to beckon these people back to their vices. People who have quit alcohol and drugs and cigarettes. These people with their varying degrees of chips walking down the street and smelling cigarette smoke, or passing a bar, or unfortunately going to a party where there's someone doing cocaine on the coffee table. Every day they have to ward off the temptation. Every day now, I will have to ward off temptation. I cannot say for certain that I'll never go back to FFXIV, because I thought I was certain I would never go back to it when I quit a couple years ago. I came back because of an expansion. Will I come back when 4.0 releases? I hope to God that I don't...

I think the reason why I'm so vulnerable to these games is because they simply don't end. There's always something to do, some quest line to explore, some grinding to get your weapon ready for the next grinding step. These are destructive kinds of games if you ask me, because they're time sinks. Dark Souls, Oblivion, Grand Theft Auto. These are games that can be considered time sinks as well, but you eventually come to an end, even with the occasional expansions. Those expansions end and they don't task you with daily grinding, being pressured by a competition to stay current so that you don't feel like you're the one holding the group back because everyone else's gear is only slightly better.

It was so hard for me to pull myself away from it because of that compulsory feeling of progression. What also made it hard to quit was that I was rationalizing by deleting my character, I would only have thrown that time away. I had to become more logical and view the game as more time being wasted if I really didn't want to play it anymore. Now that I'm free of it for now, if I need to do something, I pause, get up and do it, instead of not wanting to do it because I needed two hours to grind dungeons. I can pause and go on the net to look things up instead crafting item number 2387 out of 3000. I don't feel pressured to make every single second in my gaming count anymore. I feel like I can breathe again, and when I returned to Dark Souls III, it was such a breathe of fresh air... until I realized it wasn't really fresh air and killed me. That's Dark Souls for you...

I suppose anything can be addictive. People are fat because they can't stop eating junk food. People read too much and don't get their work done. People can't pay their bills because they're obsessed with shopping. But there are reasons these things become addictive. It makes them feel good. If anything can be addictive, then why not video games? Again, it's not the same kind of addiction as alcohol or drugs, but it can still mess with people who don't have the willpower to resist. I don't think I need to cite any articles of people who have killed themselves from exhaustion or neglected their babies because they were too busy playing World of WarCraft. The industry recognizes that certain games are addictive in nature, which is why we get those disclaimers telling us to take breaks.

So if someone tells you they're addicted to video games, don't automatically become skeptical of them, or feel insulted because you experienced a real addiction. Instead, be open to the fact that they are actually addicted to games and there's a reason for that. There might be something going on in their personal lives that's making them turn to video games to escape to, and those virtual worlds provide better experiences for them than what they have now. Don't become dismissive of them. Talk to them. Support them. If you really went through a real addiction, then it would be that much easier for you to help someone going through a lesser addiction.

Thanks for reading.

Seven Years Bad Luck: How DICE Shattered Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge for the 360 remains to this day one of my favorite games of last gen. I still remember hearing people talk about this weird new demo that popped up on XBLA one day. It was a shooter that wasn't really a shooter. It had striking and unique visuals. It was a first-person parkour game. Running around and jumping from rooftop to rooftop, running along walls and inducing vertigo by climbing pipes scores of stories up was exhilarating. This game was Mirror's Edge, and it was a game unlike any other.

It was also misunderstood by some people, and one particular critic, who shall remain namless. One common critique of the game was that it wasn't a good shooter. Yes, I'll agree and say the gunplay wasn't all the great. Floaty aiming, lack of impact. It was throwaway, and that's exactly what I didw with it. I threw away the gunplay, because Mirror's Edge is not about guns. It's about the freerunning. It's about being in a panic while trapped in gunfire and finding a way out. The game was also brutal on people who didn't have the patience to learn how to tackle the game's levels. It was criticized for its trail and error, but that's what kept me coming back, looking for that one route that would let me slip by all the armed guards, that one platform that I could kick off of and reach that ledge. It was a game that my friend and I really adored and we always wanted a sequel for it.

Thus began the waiting process. Rumors of DICE making a sequel went on for quite some time, but instead of giving us our sequel, they made a new Battlefield game. It's where EA wanted them. Battlefield was popular, Mirror's Edge less so. But then, a year or two ago at E3, a teaser was unveiled for Mirror's Edge Catalyst. A new Mirror's Edge was happening! It was like waking up from a dream and having what you dreamt materialize right in front of you! WE WERE GETTING A SEQUEL!

When news of a Mirror's Edge Catalyst beta was announced, I quickly signed up for it, but I had to wonder... A beta? For a single player game? That's odd... I was one of the many chosen for the beta and was given a code plus another to give to a friend, so I gave it to my friend whose love of Mirror's Edge equals my own. We downloaded it! We played it! We ... walked away disappointed.

Something happened It looks like Mirror's Edge. It plays like Mirror's Edge... but it's not as fun as Mirror's Edge. It was changed. It was changed to fall in line with a certain set of design trends that have become standard fair with today's AAA industry. For starters, gone is the chapter structure of the game's campaign. It is instead an open world game. Now, being set in an open world isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't really fit in this universe. Parkour in Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a lot of fun, but when you start running the same delivery missions again and again, it becomes somewhat of a chore.

What's most likely the biggest offender here is the skill tree system. "Well, what's wrong with a skill tree? I like skill trees," you might say. Let's begin with the fact that the first game didn't have a skill tree and basic moves in Mirror's Edge Catalyst such as quick turning and rolling are locked behind them. There's no point. Faith (the main character) is a freerunner and moves such as rolling is something that should already be learned. It's Parkour 101. Instead, the skill tree system serves as justification for the open world. You can't do certain things to access certain areas until you've unlocked certain moves. And in order to unlock them, you'll be running around the city looking for XP pick ups and running dull delivery missions. It felt less like Mirror's Edge and more like Assassin's Creed without the Assassining the more I played it.

There's also the static nature of the open world. Granted, the game does look stunning from a modern art point of the view, but the city just feels... sterile. There is barely any kind of buzzing going on. There are random people perched on rooftops that don't do anything. There's no one outside of mission givers to interact with. It feels like you're stuck inside a giant department store's mannequin display. It's filler. There's no other way to describe it. Useless padding. Why was this even considered? What is that saying about the current state of AAA games? It can't be worth our money, worth our time playing, unless we're putting in several hours of pointless wandering and running around? That may work in games like Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto and Watch Dogs, but Mirror's Edge isn't any of those. Also, their open worlds actually had life to them. If you're going to do an open world game, you need to breathe some life in it.

I'd like to share a video my Mirror's Edge loving friend shared to me that pretty much sums up why Mirror's Edge Catalyst decided to be like other games.

It's a crying shame really, because Mirror's Edge Catalyst didn't need to be like other games. That's what made the first Mirror's Edge stand out. It did its own thing. The reviews have been coming in and while they're mostly positive, they tend to share the same sentiment. The game didn't need a skill tree, and the open world is nothing but distracting fluff.

I really would love to end this blog by saying, "No dice, DICE," but I'll still end up getting the game. The story related stuff I did play was classic Mirror's Edge, but I'm afraid too much of the game has been altered making it not worth full price for me. Quite frankly, if this game came out three or four years earlier, I might not have been that bothered, but this was one of the few original game I've been DYING to have a sequel and then this is what we get? Thanks a lot, DICE.

So.... let's talk Miitomo

I've been "playing" Miitomo for about a week now. I decided to go ahead and download it because it's a historical event for Nintendo, being their first entry into the mobile app industry. I pretty much knew what I was getting into, though. It's not really a game per se, but more of a random question and answers app with Mii avatars. It's funny at times. It's definitely cute and adorable. But, it illustrates Nintendo's problem when it comes to capitalizing on potential.

There is a lot of potential in Miitomo and I really hope Nintendo evolves this app and turns it into an actual game. One thing I would like to see is more customization. I would go visit one of my Miitomo friends and I would see that their rooms are completely different than mine. I would like that TV! I would like that clock! I'm sure someone would like my globe. The Miitomo Drop panchinko machines are a fun little distraction but I want to see that aspect of the game evolved as well. I don't just want to see more pachinko machines, but I want to see other kinds of games and some that involve actual skill and not just luck.

Even the social aspect of the app needs work. For it being a social app, you can't even send direct messages to friends. Why can't I just go over to a friend's house and say a simple hello? Instead, a random question is generated and why aren't we allowed to create our questions? The appeal of this game is really all about your interactions with people and I've heard some really entertaining answers by people who wanted to be creative. Why not let us be creative with the questions part as well?

The real major problem with Miitomo, however, is that it's "free to start", Nintendo's semantics for free to play. The currency in the game is Miitomo coins and you can only earn a few hundred per day by answering questions and listening to answers, and of course your daily sign in bonuses. "But the game is designed to make money!" Yes, all games are designed to make money, but I've had some serious fun with other apps that are actual games you can play, and there wasn't any cap on how much game currency you could earn in one day.

This is a problem, because Nintendo has a large assortment of clothing to select from and the stock changes daily. Obviously, you're capped on earning coins so you're enticed to spend real money on coins, but at the same time this practice highly discourages people from playing who have no intention of dropping a single cent like me. For a game where the entertainment value is pretty much based on people's engagement and creativity, not being incentivized for taking the time to listen and answer questions harms the overall experience for others. I sign in in the morning, answer a few questions, listen to a few answers until I'm not given coins anymore, and then that's pretty much it.

Then, there are the game tickets. You're awarded tickets when you interact with people and change your clothing, but they come in very infrequently. I accept and send out a lot of friend requests just to drive up my social level and get these tickets. So now, I have over 400 friends but just about every one of them won't be getting their answers heard by me or receiving answers from me. I suppose I could just keep a tight knit group of 20 or so friends, but then again, there's the coin capping thing.... regardless of the size of my friend's list, the activity level won't be that high. Also, I think having the ability to drop off gifts of clothing or coins or game tickets would go really far with seeding the game's social growth.

I do have to acknowledge and praise Nintendo for one thing in Miitomo, though, and that's nothing is censored. Yes, if you type a swear or something offensive, you will hear your Mii say it, and it's actually pretty funny... the first couple of times you hear someone answer "What's your favorite food" with "pussy". You can't even report someone for something really offensive, but you can block them. I've already had to block one friend for going too far in the extreme with his vulgarity, and I love vulgar humor.

I can really see Miitomo growing, to become something truly special, not just a random question generator, but something along the lines of Mii Plaza on the 3DS for cellphones. Then again, I remind myself who published this app, and I don't think I'll ever see that happening.

What would I like to see at E3 2015?

Let me just preface this blog by saying that I haven't been following video games as closely as I have a few years before. I attribute this to the impressions the current generation has been giving me, and that is not so much. I look back at my Xbox One collection, and I see five games; 14 for the PS4. It can be said that I am certainly enjoying my PS4, but around this same time frame since launch, I probably had two to three times as many games for my PS3, and maybe three to four times the games for my PS2.

Moving on, I'm not really expecting much from E3 2015. After the recent release of Splatoon, I'm finding myself more happy with new titles than I am with sequels and unfortunately, that's usually the majority of E3. I mean, Call of Duty usually sounds off first with each conference. So if anything, I want to see fresh new titles, and I want to see some surprises dropped. I remember before the Internet, your main source of video game info was magazines, and you have to wait until E3 was over to hear all about the new games. Page after page of surprises! But now, in my opinion, there are less surprises at E3 each year. Leaks, rumors, etc. Thanks to those, we all already know what's coming during E3, so the question is what more can learn about what we already know.

Surprisingly to some, I'm most excited about what Nintendo will offer us. In my opinion, they've been the best at keeping secrets (while also at the same time being the worst at keeping them) so maybe we'll get some really "Megaton" announcements for new IPs and resurrections of old and forgotten franchises. Did anyone see those Fast Racing Neo shots? AMAZING! Since I'm talking about Nintendo, I would also love for them to announce another title that's exclusive for the New 3DS, so the handheld isn't just known for being a 200 dollar upgrade you need to play Xenoblade Chronicles.

There's also the NX, which of course I think everyone is looking forward to hearing about. Nintendo says they're not going to discuss it at E3... but maybe they're lying! :P There is another surprise I think I would lose my ... stuffing ... over. ANY news on The Last Guardian! This game's been announced before the PS3 was even out, delayed and "canceled" and delayed and "canceled", been through two trademark renewals and is considered vaporware for some time. But, if there's any wish, any false hope that I have for a big surprise during this E3, it's the announcement that The Last Guardian is on its way!

Back to the Xbox One and PS4, though, I'm hoping to hear some exclusives that will really get me excited about those consoles again, more so for the sake of MS. I want to see something fantastic and exciting like Sunset Overdrive. That was a really fun game, and I think MS would do good to have a video game that actually feels like a video game again. The whole "shooter this, racer that" focus is really getting old. As for Sony, a new Wipeout would be INCREDIBLE! Seriously, or, how about a new TWISTED METAL! *drools*

Oh, and I'm hoping that Aisha Tyler catches a serious case of food poisoning and can't host the Ubisoft conference. :P

Anita's Attack On Dying Light

Pardon the tardiness for the topic of this blog. I am trying to get back into writing gaming blogs, and this has been an issue that I wanted to speak about for a while now.

At the end of January, Anita Sarkeesian attacked Dying Light with a tweet. In this tweet, she stated that Dying Light has a Damsel In Distress storyline, and developers should be embarrassed to still employ such a narrative, it being 2015 and all.

A week ago, I came across the scene she was referring to. If you haven't yet finished Dying Light, or plan to play it, be advised. There are ***SPOILERS***. So, here we go.

Anita's claim to Dying Light's damsel trope storyline is when the game's villain Rais kidnaps Jade and the game's hero Crane has to go rescue her. Without any given context, sure, this seems like a trope. "Helpless" woman character can't defend herself, so the strong masculine hero has to save the day, but Anita is a poor critic, because she'll never give proper context to anyone. She's unfairly vilified the game, and now her audience will steer clear of it. So, let me paint the entire picture.

To start things off, within the first five to ten minutes of the game, Crane himself is the one saved by Jade. Crane parachutes into Harran, the game's city, and is attacked by thugs and bitten by a zombie. Jade and her partner come to the rescue. The partner dies holding off the zombie horde, and Jade drags Crane to safety. Yes, the "damsel in distress" is the one saving the hero first, right off the bat.

So, later on in the game, Crane finds Rais and is forced to work for him, Crane eventually is captured and thrown into a pit full of ravenous zombies and has to fight for his life. Managing to kill every last monster in the pit, Rais jumps down from on high to finish off Crane himself, but it goes south. Crane chops off Rais's hand during the struggle, and runs off.

Over the course of the game, Crane begins to start caring more for Jade, especially since he felt partly responsible for the death of her brother. Rais kidnaps Jade in an attempt to lure Crane into a new trap, and he utters a quote "You took something of mine," referring to the amputated hand, "so now I take something of yours." Actually, let me just link Anita tweeting the quote.

She also follows it up with this complaint:

That Dying Light quote is damning because regardless of her strengths she is still reduced to an object in a competition between men.

Let's focus on the "competition" part of her complaint, because this is where the problem occurs. This isn't a competition between men. This is an act of revenge. She is not some object that the two are fighting over. Rais has no interest in conquering her for his own desires, to enslave her, rape her or any of that. He could have just as easily kidnapped Crane's brother if he was in the game for the exact same purpose: to inflict pain upon Crane by taking someone he cares about.

To be fair, the writing of that scene wasn't very original, as Rais continues to say, "...will you be a man and save the maiden?" So at first glance, it does just seem to be a stereotypical case of "damsel in distress". Let's continue on, though, because I still have my brush out and the paint is still wet.

After Crane rescues Jade (and again, it could have been his brother for the same purpose), they're locked in a room with wave after wave of zombies. Here's where the "damsel in distress" trope is no longer an issue. During the whole fight, NOT ONCE do you need to rescue Jade. Her character manages to hold her own.

Following the final wave of zombies, it's soon discovered that she was bitten earlier, but was not given any Antizen, the drug that fends off zombification for a limited amount of time. Crane's last dose was quite some time ago, so he and Jade are beginning to turn at near the same time. Rais, toying with the two characters, throws them a vial of Antizen, and now it would be expected that Crane would give it to Jade, but that wasn't what happened. He wanted to, but Jade refused, and fought Crane and injected him with the Antizen, sacrificing her own life to save his. Then, even as she's turning, she fights off a new wave of zombies and saves Crane yet again, fighting until the last second she turns.

So where exactly is this Damsel In Distress storyline? Even if the game did use that trope, the focus of the story isn't even about Jade. It was always about saving the city and the people within it. Jade was just a small portion of that. Let's also not forget that Jade not only saved Crane once, but three times. THREE times, in comparison to Crane's one. So, what's the opposite of that? Dude in distress?

And also, there are plenty of "dudes" in distress all throughout Dying Light that need help fending off zombies, thugs, even running across town to find their spare pair of glasses. Everyone in the town is helpless and you save everyone. When Jade, a woman, gets kidnapped, suddenly it becomes a major issue, regardless of the fact that she saves Crane at the beginning and near the end of the game.

So why did Anita Sarkeesian attack Dying Light? Because a woman needed rescuing. She would not have had an issue with the game at all, if again, it was Crane's brother, kidnapped for the exact same purpose of exacting revenge on a hero who injured the villain.

Anita Sarkeesian has ignored a very large part of the game, and actually sends the wrong message with her tweet. Apparently, it's okay to be a man rescued by a woman, and not a woman being rescued by a man. Men can get captured (and Crane does twice), but women can't. It honestly makes me question whether or not the trope is even a bad thing. Replace the damsel with a family member and it's still an incentive to go rescue them. You help the people you care about it, and that's a good thing, right? So why does Anita continue to try to make this a negative thing?

I would like to close this by expressing a thought on the game's ending. I did enjoy the game overall, but the ending was a real let down for me. When you finally confront Rais at the end of the game, control is taken away from you. You should have been given a fight worthy of the amount of time you invested in this game (and if you spent the time doing all the side stuff, you'd see it was a pretty big game). Instead, the final confrontation is reduced to nothing more than a QTE cutscene. This is the same issue I had with Shadow of Mordor's end boss fight, and I've been hearing it's an issue with The Order: 1886. In my opinion, this kind of lazy game designing is more troublesome than making use of tropes, because it's anti-climatic and fails to deliver an exciting moment of gaming to be remembered for all time.

So, if I was going to tweet about Dying Light, this is what my tweet would have looked liked.