Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Harlem Shake

If you've been anywhere near a computer, there's a good chance you've seen the internet's latest phenomenon, the Harlem Shake. The first few videos gained such resounding approval from the deep web that a format was created and hundreds of videos were made and uploaded.

Usually, I'm not into the social media hype, but there's something about the Harlem Shake that is strangely attractive. First started in New York by a man named Albee, the dance became popular through various artists and music videos, even possibly inspiring the chicken noodle soup. Albee stated that it was "a drunken shake anyway, it's an alcoholic shake, but it's fantastic, everybody appreciates it."

But what's most interesting about the format isn't the dancing person wearing a motorcycle helmet or the completely random "dances" performed by people in their underwear. It seems most people took the format to heart and included, as one of the key elements, video games.

Some of the most popular ones feature people playing.

Sometimes, memes tend to reflect real life, with a purpose of transferring information. Here, we have a few people, sitting around in a living room playing video games. What can the inclusion of video games in the Harlem Shake say about gaming? Well, for one, it's quickly becoming a household staple. Maybe even a routine part of some of our lives.

The term meme originated from the word gene, once defined as a unit of cultural transmission, imitation, and replication. Even though the context has changed, it still functions as it once did. The Harlem Shake perpetuates gaming culture, including its stereotypes(have yet to find a video featuring a girl holding a controller), creative freedom, bonding properties, and fun. The videos are universal, producing creations from anywhere with an internet connection.

The Harlem Shake spawned many gaming related videos, featuring Slender Man, Nintendo, and Minecraft. No subject remains untouched, but there are quite a few referring to video games and notable characters. And yes, they're all rather funny, with this one being a community feat.

These small windows in your browser offer a glance into the lives of others, allowing us to see what we have in common.

And of course...

I'll just leave this here....

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Art of Video Games: South Florida's First Video Game Exhibition

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Boca Raton Museum of Art, mostly to see its newest exhibition and the Smithsonian's travelling exhibit, The Art of Video Games. I was excited, as giddy as a school girl. Just could not wait!

Unfortunately, we got there an hour early, but at 12PM sharp, we were at the doors, advancing towards the first video game exhibition to ever visit South Florida. Needless to say--excited. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by a sign that said "No Photography." Ouch. My ego was hurt quite a good bit, being that I had already perused the website about this particular topic and found nothing that would deny me my hobby. But alas! It seems photography was not in the cards for me today...

JK. I have pictures from the museum anyway, taken on a camera phone, but it wasn't me. I swear.

Near the entrance of the exhibit, we found these awesome people
wearing awesomely appropriate shirts.
At the very entrance of the exhibit, a projection, playing a short video that rotated the most popular and well known video games: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, etc. Further on, the walls were lined with kiosks that each contained a game console, starting with the Atari 2600, home of Combat and the personal version of Pac-Man, and ending with the Playstation 3. These kiosks concentrated on four main genres: target, adventure, action, and tactics, while also concentrated on the 8-Bit, Bit Wars, Transition, and Next Generation eras. Smack dab in the middle of the exhibit were inviting cubicles that allowed guests to stand and play some of the games. The cubicles had tiny cameras with feeds that were connected to three televisions hooked up side-by-side in the middle of the room. These televisions showed the faces of guests, young and old, disgruntled or amazed by the games in front of them.

People playing games.

The kiosks were the main attraction of the exhibit. Featured games included The Legend of Zelda, Pitfall, Spy Vs. Spy, Gunstar Heroes, Star Fox, Sonic, Shenmue, and Heavy Rain to name a few. They were interactive and informative, each with buttons reflecting one of the four genres. Listeners enjoyed a short lesson on each of the games presented. It was educational, but certainly not boring.

"Original" Sonic in Character Development

Besides the kiosks and cubicles, there were also a few sketches here and there that seemed to be enlarged copies of original artist renderings:

Now, there wasn't really much art, so to say. The exhibit relied heavily on its interactive electronic kiosks as well as its informative looping 5 minute videos and the whole space was small, and not necessarily well designed to match with the entrance to the next exhibit. Even though I had a good time, I was still moderately disappointed. The title of the exhibit displays, perhaps, some kind of art, of which there was relatively few of. It felt more like a history lesson, and for me and my friends, a trip down memory lane. However, the set up and pieces of the exhibit are perfect for a crowd that knows very little about video games. In that aspect, it works very well.

This one was definitely original art.
A troll from Wow!
Later on, at a restaurant, my friends and I were discussing why we felt disappointed, and in hindsight, once we dug each other out of our nostalgic holes, the answer was simple--so much about video games was just not there.At the start of the exhibit, we saw the home edition of Pac-Man, which falls behind the pixelated beauty of its arcade version.And what many video game authorities consider, even in part, as the beginning of video games, Pong, was nowhere to be seen. Now, had this been actually about video game art, this would make sense. Pong might be zen, but it's not really graphic heavy...but this exhibit depended heavily on teaching the audience about the eras of gaming and the history. So where was Pong?

Even more disconcerting was the complete disregard for handheld devices like the PSP, with its sharp graphics, and the GameBoy. The GameBoy! Father of all handheld devices, with games that encouraged immense art collections and fan art, such as Pokemon. And in the Next Generation section, no mention of mobile gaming, which to me, is as much a part of next generation gaming as an Xbox 360. It has reached out to and made gaming accessible for countless people, and yet, no mention.

And no Tetris. Nope. Let me not even go there.

Perhaps it was a lack of space. Perhaps it was a ploy to sell coffee table books. Perhaps just a shameless commercial plug, but most likely a misnomer of an exhibit. Would I recommend this exhibit to an art student? No. A video game fan? For the discounted student price, yes. For the young child or aspiring gamer? Absolutely. The exhibit in itself is a learning experience, I hope, for both viewer and curator.  And if you're looking for a fast ticket to Memory Lane, you'll find it here, but for a price.

Monday, December 3, 2012

#1ReasonWhy: A Hashtag for Sexism in the Gaming Industry

I wrote a post a while back on female characters in video games, and between that and the hate attack on Feminist Frequency's kickstarter project, it seems the conversation has been even more alive. Last week, tweets from women in the game industry explained the top reasons why there aren't more female game designers. After sitting down and reading through most of them, I can't say I'm not feeling a little depressed.

See more mood-killing gold at Kotaku.

And yet, I also feel a strange sense of excitement that these women are standing up for themselves and making their voices heard. Hopefully, this is the first event of many more to come, considering that sexism in the gaming industry has gone on far too long and is completely regressing and undermining gender equality work across disciplines. Even so, Joe OToole sums it up pretty well:

Sexism is still pretty rampant nowadays. You see it in movies, music, and films all the time. Obviously, video games are no different, and while movies and music might be targeted to more adult crowds, video games have a far more open audience that reaches people of all ages. Maybe they don't know it or don't understand, but these games perpetuate these stereotypical norms of our society that haven't really gone anywhere. It's more like we painted over it and let it blend in with the walls. It's not there until you notice the paint chipping. But instead of admitting there's a problem, we just paint right over it again. Must be leaded paint.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Game is Alive

All right, guys.
Let's play a game.

The name is The Game is Alive. You play it on Twitter, through tweets, and it'll feel like a text-adventure game(think of Zork). Imagine that we are the "game engine" and the players. The game has two concepts: lines and commands.

 If you want to tweet a line, you have to include @Game_Alive #line in your tweet.
 If you want to tweet a command, you have to include @Game_Alive #comm in your tweet.

Your tweet will then be retweeted and appear on @Game_Alive's twitter feed.

Here's an example of four tweets:

LINE: It's dark. You feel something clenched in your fist. @Game_Alive #line
COMMAND: Examine fist. @Game_Alive #comm
LINE: You make out the shape of a piece of glass and you're bleeding. @Game_Alive #line
COMMAND: Put the glass in your pocket and search the room. @Game_Alive #comm

Instead of 140 characters, you start out with 123, but you can play as many times as you want.

Essentially, The Game is Alive is made entirely by you! But please try to keep it PG-13. Extremely obscene tweets and illogical tweets will not make it into the game.

The game starts today and ends next Wednesday, for a solid seven days. Follow the feed to keep up with the game.
EDIT: The game lives on! No end date.

The first line is already waiting for you at The Game is Alive. Make your move!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The DLC Debate: Part 1

Recently, I asked readers over at the Facebook page if they'd pay $70 dollars for a game that included Day-1 DLC, kind of like Game of the Year Editions. Out of 11 votes, no one answered yes. A lot of people purchase and enjoy downloadable content (DLC), and then some complain about it. The debate around DLC encompasses more than just pricing, however.

For certain games, like Call of Duty or Battlefield, preordering a game means gaining an edge over other players. This means guns or stats that other players will never be able to obtain. In competitive play, this is the difference between being on top and being average. There's quite a bit of outrage over preorder bonuses in general that offer advantages, simply because it makes the game less enjoyable for those who don't or can't preorder, and adds a whole class of "elite" players. But it all comes down to one thing.

"DLC is just another way for game companies to make more cash." Well, you can't argue there. When Borderlands 2 was released, it offered Day-1 DLC, another 10 bucks for Gearbox Software and 2k Games. And then, magically, all other kinds of DLC were "leaked" or announced. Next Tuesday marks the arrival of even more DLC, and since most range from $10 up, that's somewhere near $30 or $40 dollars over a base price of $60, for a whopping $90/$100! And it's pretty unlikely that developers just pulled these out of their ovens. It's quite probable that this DLC has been ready to go since the game came out, which means most of this content could have easily been included at initial release.

So my question, then, is why won't we pay $70 or so dollars for a game plus all current DLC from the day its released? Well, since there's no intrinsic value for games, we can't say $60 is too high or too low--just the minimum amount most gamers are ready to pay. It all comes down to the psychology behind 3 x $10 over a small span of time and $70 dollars right then and there. One looks like it'll burn a hole in your pocket.

Of course, this isn't to say that DLC is bad. It can expand the longevity of a game, refreshing it's replay-ability and making it more current over a span of time. If you release all the DLC within the first two months of a game coming out, what good does that do for replay-ability? And since most of this content is available at the time of release, why NOT bundle it? Even if it costs a bit more? The gaming industry has already been pushing the boundaries of customers--what will they pay,what will they not--with collector's editions and GOTY editions and rereleases and super secret give-us-more-money editions.

What do you think about DLC?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Political Games: A Gift and a Curse

The gaming world has often tried to keep its wires from getting tangled up in politics, but since 2004, political video games have begun to surface. According the Entertainment Software Association, the amount of political games has tripled since then. Some liberal, other conservative, political video games aim to entertain and educate at the same time.

Strategery 2012 is one such game, where you can play as Romney's election team during the primaries and then as Obama's team during the general election. It follows the format of Nintendo's popular military turn-based strategy games, the Advance Wars series. As the player, you go up against several opponents as volunteers, press secretaries, and fundraisers, each with a minimum "credibility" score. It's a funny, quirky game that gets across the amount of thought, dedication, and work that can go into an election.

While many are slightly biased and contain the opinions of their developers, as well as cracking jokes about candidates, some of these games try to teach political fundamentals. Gerrymandering is a huge issue in the United States, mostly because no one knows about it. But the good folks at the USC Game Innovation lab created The Redistricting Game, focusing on teaching players the basics of redistricting. Even though it didn't catch the media's eye, it's one of the best examples of gaming that promotes civic action.

Yes, it is.

Besides actually making these types of games, some companies are promoting the current election. Even though most politicians aren't much into the world of button mashing, Obama included, Microsoft got in the game. During the Presidential Debates, Xbox promoted "Election 2012" on Xbox Live, offering, for those who watch three of the four debates, free Halo armor...in gold! During the debates themselves, Microsoft also polled viewers, and, no surprise, lots of democratic and male voters.

Gamers also find themselves rooted in politics, especially those who are already involved in it. The U.S. Libyan diplomat, Sean Smith, who recently died during an attack on the American Embassy in Libya, was a huge member of the Eve Online community, a sci-fi based MMORPG. In fact, after his death, tributes were made in his name, "Vile Rat," as players, friend and enemy alike, renamed their space stations in his honor.  In game, he was as hard a diplomat as he was in real life. One of his friends online, Alex Gianturco, who he also met in real life, said "If you play this stupid game, you may not realize it, but you play in a galaxy created in large part by Vile Rat's talent as a diplomat. No one focused as relentlessly on using diplomacy as a strategic tool as VR."

Lachowicz's WoW
Character, Santiaga
But not all politically oriented people are praised for their hard work in the gaming community. One World of Warcraft player was "deemed unfit for office" based on her involvement with the popular MMORPG. Colleen Lachowicz, democrat and level 85 Orc rogue, was the subject of a smear campaign by the Republican Party of Maine, who claim she's unfit for office due to her "double life" and violent comments online. Lachowicz hit back:

I think it's weird that I'm being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I'm in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What's next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!
What's really weird is that the Republicans are going after my hobbies instead of talking about their record while they've been running Augusta for the last two years. Instead of talking about what they're doing for Maine people, they're making fun of me for playing video games. Did you know that more people over the age of 50 play video games than under the age of 18? As a gamer, I'm in good company with folks like Jodie Foster, Vin Diesel, Mike Myers, and Robin Williams. Maybe it's the Republican Party that is out of touch.


Politics and video games may not always get along, but the truth sits in an industry with unlimited potential for educating and informing the public. Last year, the gaming market was worth $56 billion dollars, "more than twice of the recorded-music industry, nearly a quarter more than the magazine business and about three-fifths the size of the film industry." And it's only expected to rise from there. Australia and the UK have seen the potential and already offered tax incentives for video games. It shouldn't be long before the U.S. is on board. Video games are the future of civic engagement, and though some may disagree with much of the medium, it's long-reaching, powerful, and most importantly, fun. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From Horror, With Love

With 1.3 million copies sold, Amnesia: The Dark Descent ushered in a new genre for indie games: Horror. Soon, the market flooded with chilling features like Deep Sleep and Hide. But there's something eerily different between indie games and the mainstream titles we love.

Indie game developers have more leeway in terms of what they can and can't do in their games. This means more opinions, more vulgarity, and most importantly, more gore. Even pixelated games like They Bleed Pixels don't skip out on the guts. That's not to say that indie games are bloodier than mainstream games, but they can forgo a narrative and only leave a world of terror in the hands of the player.

In fact, it seems that some horror indie games focus less on the narrative and more on the overall experience, ambiance, and mechanisms of the game. In Slender, the only driving narrative force are the notes you put together, but in between finding them, the only narrative is the one in your head(usually muffled by screaming).

He only wants a hug.
A lot of them feature a protagonist with amnesia, furthering the idea that there is no narrative. It's been erased, and it's up to you to find it. This makes it easy to assume the identity of the character since all the details are left out, and creating that player-game connection that makes the suspension of reality all the easier. And as with many of these indie games, the controls depend on curiosity and becoming the movements rather than just playing them out(Super Meat Boy is a great example, since the player is the tutorial).

Because indie games are focused on mechanisms, innovation, and immersion, they offer a different experience than titles like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. And while mainstream games were once the go-to of horror, there's been a decline in this genre, or more of a shift, from mainstream to indie, who have been listening to the complaints and the disappointments of gamers and gone to work. 

We've seen it all when it comes to those typical horror features, but in indie games, we're not sure what to expect. Games like Fatal Frame succeeded in leaving a footprint due to that idea of the player having no real control. In the game, you're equipped with a camera, and that's all you can use to defeat enemies. Just...passively snapping pics. And this certainly creates a level of panic. But we see less and less of this innovation in mainstream games and some seriously disturbing advances in indie games.

Hopefully, they can bring the horror genre back.


In the spirit of Halloween, I'd like to give two lucky readers a chance to own a really fun, indie horror game for Steam tonight. Just move on over to the Facebook event page and leave a comment there in the thread about your favorite horror game, character, what you like about the genre, anything you want! Just make it horror-related. Be sure to  leave a "like!"

In light of its amazing-ness, one person will win Amnesia: The Dark Descent and experience the fear for themselves. Another reader will win Home, a creepy horror pixel adventure.

Contest closes at 10:00PM EST tonight. Winner announced tonight!

Good luck!

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