Category Archives: Personal and Opinion

Most posts fit in here. Things where I write from the heart about all manner of subjects. As is the norm on personal websites these days, I remind you once again that everything I say here is my own opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employers — past, present or future.

1682: The Middle Ground

Stop talking. Sit down. Be quiet. And listen. Listen.

I think we can all agree that the concept of “rational discourse” in video games on social media is rapidly going out of the window with each passing day. But it’s not too late! Everyone can work together to save this. But you’ll all have to do different things. Are you up to the challenge? Let’s take each of you in turn.

Those advocating for social justice

You’re fighting the good fight. You know this. Ultimately, there are plenty of human beings who are decent folk who believe in what you are fighting for. Many of them don’t speak up for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Some of them don’t want to speak up for fear of ostracisation. Some of them believe that, from their personal experience, things are fine the way they are. Some of them simply don’t want to get involved.

Your cause is just, and some weight is lent to it by the unpleasant behaviour others display towards you when you stand up for what you believe in. That does not, however, mean that you need to stoop to their level. Dial back on the “neckbeard” and “virgin” comments — disagree without insulting, otherwise you’re simply doing the exact same thing that those who use “SJW” as a pejorative are doing — and you might find more people taking your points more seriously. Likewise, deliberately poking the fire by posting things like that Beyoncé “Feminist” picture that did the rounds recently and saying how much you’re looking forward to the “nerds” getting angry over it really doesn’t help, and just makes you look rather childish.

Also, stopping this silly behaviour where anyone who doesn’t agree with your viewpoint automatically occupies the diametrically opposed extreme ideology would be a great idea, too. (Someone who disagrees with your progressive views on gender is not automatically a men’s rights activist, pick-up artist or red piller, for example.) By extension, neither your overall ideology nor your interpretation of something is automatically, fundamentally 100% correct. Both are open to criticism, discussion, disagreement and debate. Those who do so are not “wrong”, nor are they necessarily “attacking” you — though some may be. Engage with the discussion and help people understand each other — even if you’re not able to change someone’s mind — rather than escalating arguments.

Those advocating for the growth of feminist criticism of games

As someone — I forget who, I’m afraid — pointed out on Twitter the other day, the growth of feminist criticism of games simply mirrors every other art form out there. It’s not a bad thing.

What is less good is that there’s not a sufficient diversity of voices. Feminist criticism is all very well and good, but we should also take other viewpoints into account. Opinions from different sexualities, positions on the gender spectrum and different socioeconomic backgrounds should be welcomed, sought out, embraced. And that means taking the white, cissexual male viewpoint as seriously as that of anyone else. While it’s easy to argue that this is the “default”, “easy mode” position to write from, given gaming’s history, it doesn’t make it any less valid. We should also take care that a single ideology — most commonly feminism right now — doesn’t start to take over sites intended to cater to a broad, mainstream audience from a variety of backgrounds. Otherwise you get the opposite problem that the feminist critics are, in many cases, fighting for — and that’s when people start to push back.

There’s a place for feminist criticism of games, then, but there’s also a place for people who subscribe to different ideologies and want to read things in different ways. We should embrace all the different, diverse ways of looking at things rather than treating one as the “correct” way.

Those who have expressed anger at the above two groups

I understand where you’re coming from. It’s easy to feel threatened when someone from outside your demographic starts to criticise something you’re passionate about — particularly when they do so in a manner which feels like you’re being personally attacked for the things you love.

The smart thing to do is to write or record a well-considered rebuttal. The smart thing to do is to engage with the discussion. The smart thing to do is to respectfully disagree, outline your beliefs and take things from there. Or, in some cases, the smart thing to do is to walk away and simply continue enjoying that thing you enjoy, safe in the knowledge that you like it and it doesn’t really matter what some stranger somewhere on the Internet thinks about it.

The un-smart thing to do is to start yelling, using abusive language and saying that you hope someone you disagree with dies, gets raped or has something otherwise unpleasant happen to them. What happens when you do that is that they then become aggressive, too, start publicly shaming you, calling you a neckbeard virgin and setting their own pack of (dick)wolves on you. From there it escalates, with what was once a simple difference of opinion becoming campaigns of harassment on both sides, the conclusion of which is something along the lines of the whole Zoe Quinn debacle which unfolded recently, in which no-one on either side particularly comes out smelling of roses.

Those who wish we could just get back to enjoying games

I understand completely. However, one thing to note is that the “good old days” you want to return to were a very different time from now in many ways. In 2014, we’re in a situation where it is possible to do an in-depth literary-style analysis of a narrative based game, or to pick apart the artistic influences evident in a more abstract title. That doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to do so, of course, but saying we should just stop trying to take games so seriously isn’t the answer, either.

Rather, much like what I mentioned regarding feminist criticism above, we could do for greater diversity of voices. There’s still a place for light-hearted ’90s style games journalism, in which the sheer joy of being a gamer is expressed. There’s a place for helpful, “objective” buyers’ guides. There’s a place for in-depth, chin-strokey dissections of creative works. And there’s a place for criticism based around a specific ideology — though as noted above, it’s important to ensure we have numerous different ideologies represented, not just those perceived as “the right one”.

The trouble we have at the minute is that the amorphous blob that is “games journalism” clumsily lurches from one thing to another, never quite managing to get that balance perfect. What we need is for outlets to distinguish themselves from one another more strongly, with each ultimately becoming a good home for those who enjoy different types of coverage. At present, however, sites end up with in-depth feminist criticism clumsily rammed up against coverage of the latest DLC for Minecraft and “do you remember?” retrospectives of games from years gone by. Vastly different groups of readers are constantly butting heads with one another, and while there’s value in making people step out of their comfort zone and confront viewpoints that they might not share, this is not the optimal means of doing so.

What’s the answer? Bollocksed if I know, but then I’ve washed my hands of the whole affair. If I had my way, I’d just relaunch PC Zone with its original team, in the ’90s, and exclusively read that until the end of time.

1681: New Start

So it was my first day at my new job today. I can’t really judge a lot about what it’s going to be like as yet, since as a sort of “induction” day coupled with the fact that my company network access isn’t set up yet meant that I’m yet to do any actual work, and it might even be Thursday before I get to really “do” anything.

I’m cool with that though, not because I don’t want to do any work, but rather because this is giving me the time to try and settle in a bit, learn all the rules and regulations (of which there are many — my new employer is very safety-conscious and consequently there are a lot of common-sense rules you have to make sure you follow at all times) and get to know a few people.

I spent most of today with my team, who all seem like thoroughly pleasant people. I felt mildly awkward to be sitting around watching people work over their shoulder, but my teammates all seemed more than happy to allow me to do so while talking to me almost constantly. I was glad that they were so open, helpful and honest with me because it made me feel like I was already welcome in the group rather than excluded as “the new guy”. I realise it’s probably irrational to expect to be excluded from a clique on one’s first day but, well, it’s happened before: one of the schools I worked at in particular very much had a number of established cliques, and I didn’t really fit into any of them for a while — most notably the one that consisted of my head of department and her friend from Maths — until I somehow managed to strike up a friendship with members of the English department in their top-floor hideaway far from the trials, tribulations and, well, bitchiness of the ground floor.

I don’t doubt that there will be cliques and friendship groups at my new employer. It’s sort of unavoidable given that there are several thousand people working there — it’s literally impossible for everyone to know each other. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in an organisation of that size, however; so long at the members of a team all get along with one another and with members of the teams with which they have the most frequent interactions, all will be well. And so far, that appears to be the situation, which is nice.

I’m up early again tomorrow for more training, e-learning and sitting down for some time with the people outside my team with whom I’ll most frequently be collaborating. From there, who knows? Either way, I’m feeling good about it so far; most people I spoke to today had been with the company a good few years and didn’t seem to feel like they were “stuck” — there appears to be plenty of opportunity for training, advancement and even shifting around to completely different departments, so who knows what I’ll end up doing in a few years’ time?

Hopefully it won’t be panicking over where my next paycheque is coming from. I’m hoping those days have been left far behind me.

1680: Prologue

It’s strange to think that I’ll be “going to work” tomorrow like a normal person. It’s been around four years now that I’ve been working from home — longer still if you count the brief, dark period in which I did supply teaching, a period I am keen to never, ever return to ever again — and thus the prospect of having to get up and actually go out to work every morning fills me with mixed emotions.

I’m not relishing the prospect of actually having to get up at a sensible time (likely 7am), of course, but it will probably be good for me in the long run to get into some better habits. For the last few months in particular, it’s been all too easy to lie in bed until the middle of the day, largely because I haven’t had a whole lot to actually get up for, and that, in itself, is somewhat depressing. Now that I have something to actually do every day — something that requires me to get out of the house and interact with other people — I’m hoping I can get my daily routine back into something at least vaguely resembling normality, because things have been messed up on that front for a good while now — though not, at least, as bad as it was shortly after my ex-wife left (I can actually say “ex-wife” now, which is kind of nice in a horrible sort of way) and I was staying up until 5am, then waking up at 5 in the afternoon.

This aspect of getting out, doing stuff and meeting people is appealing, though. There’s every possibility the people I will be working with are a bunch of jerks, of course, but I doubt that will actually happen — largely because I’ve already met several of them throughout the interview process, and they all seemed to be thoroughly nice people. I won’t deny it will probably be an adjustment for me — being in an environment where people are actually doing things together and talking to one another is a stark contrast to sitting on your own at home, not saying anything out loud literally all day in some cases — but, again, it will be a positive one.

Mostly, though, I’m just happy at the sensation of forward movement after feeling like I’ve been somewhat stagnating for the last four years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been grateful for the opportunities I’ve had from GamePro, Inside Network and USgamer and feel I’ve gained some valuable experience as a result. I will not, however, miss the feeling of instability: the knowledge that one day, you might wake up and your job just isn’t there any more; likewise, I will not miss the perpetual air of aggression and drama that surrounds my former occupation these days.

And, most importantly, I will not miss the feeling that there’s “nowhere to go” — no way to progress; no way to move upwards because all the slots “above” me are already taken, and once people find a comfortable position, they tend to stay in it for a good long while. I don’t begrudge those people those positions, of course, but it does tend to lead to a somewhat stagnant industry with a limited number of voices. It’s for this reason that I’m particularly sad about my departure from USgamer; I was just starting to make a name for myself as a specialist in Japanese games, and lots of people were appreciating that fact. Still, I plan on keeping that up on the side thanks to MoeGamer — we’ll have to see how practical it is to keep that up and running and updated while I’m working a full-time job. I’m sure it can be done — it’ll be a hobby now, rather than an obligation, and that means I can enjoy being passionate about it rather than churning out clickbait bullshit. (I’m spending a whole week talking about Tales of Xillia 2 at the time of writing; professional games sites can’t enjoy the luxury of doing that, least of all for a game like Xillia 2.)

Anyway. I should probably stop waffling on because it’s starting to get late, and I need a shower and some beauty sleep, in that order. Think of me starting my new job tomorrow — feels kind of like the first day at a new school at this point — and here’s hoping I’ll have positive things to say when I return in the afternoon.

1679: Countdown

Tomorrow is a bank holiday here in the UK — a public holiday to you Americans; I’m not entirely sure why we place so much emphasis on the “bank” part, aside from the fact that it means the banks are usually shut — and also my last day of “freedom” before I become a cog in the corporate machine.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m actually quite looking forward to starting my new job. It’s a daunting prospect, of course — it’s a new place of work, new people to work alongside, a new role and a whole new industry to be a part of — but it’s something that I’m eagerly anticipating, rather than dreading. Why? Well, partly because it’s something new to do, and something that will help me feel like I’m leading a more “normal” existence — as pleasant as the freedom of working from home can be, it’s a lonely existence that can become surprisingly stressful and trying after a while, particularly when you have no-one around you to bounce ideas off or just vent a bit of stress — and actually building a career rather than just constantly treading water.

The other reason is something that’s become readily apparent since I stepped back from the games industry. In fact, it was already becoming apparent when I was still involved with it. And that “something” is the confrontation that seems to be at the heart of the various parts of the industry’s interactions with one another on a daily basis.

Frankly I don’t want to get into a discussion of what’s been going on recently because it’s all been done to death elsewhere, and it tends to lead to frayed tempers on all sides. If you’re that curious, I’ll point out that it started here, passed through here and will hopefully end here and leave you to make your own mind up, perhaps with some of your own research filling in the blanks. If you’re shocked at what you read — if indeed you can be bothered to read all of it, since there’s a whole lot there — then good, you should be; there are plenty of things under discussion that need examining without one side complaining about “social justice warriors” and the other complaining about “neckbeards”. But unfortunately that’s never going to happen because the games industry has a collective mental age of about 14 — and yes, I count all sides of the debacle in this group in this instance — and is thus unable to discuss anything reasonably or rationally without immediately jumping to the most extreme viewpoints possible.

I’m happy to be out of it, frankly. My new job may be in a somewhat more stereotypically “boring” sector — utilities — but I can pretty much guarantee that said “boringness” (and I use that term relative to the dynamism of the games industry) will bring with it a lovely atmosphere of calm in which people don’t feel the need to aggressively state and restate their views on a daily basis; in which Internet hate mobs aren’t dispatched to harass and belittle other people; in which I can just get on with my work, come home in the evening, switch off and just enjoy some video games.

Two more days to go then. Hopefully my posts towards the end of this week will continue with a positive outlook!

 

1678: Old Man of the Forest

Been a little while since a Final Fantasy XIV post, so here’s one for your delectation: I was fortunate enough to be around for our Free Company’s first clear of the Extreme difficulty version of the Ramuh boss fight this evening. I’m thrilled about this; I’ve never been present for a first kill before, and it’s an enormously satisfying moment, knowing that 1) you’ve been part of the culmination of a group of people’s efforts, and 2) your own skills and abilities are up to the task of taking on some of the game’s most challenging content.

I’m glad. One issue with MMO endgame play is that after a while, you’re so well-geared that a lot of the challenges you’d normally take on become quite easy, and progressing becomes a matter of doing things almost by rote: you know that in this dungeon, you can afford to pull this many enemies before having to stop and fight them; than in this boss fight you need to stand here at this moment in order to make sure you don’t die. I don’t mind this aspect of play at all, as it happens — I actually rather like the heavily “choreographed” nature of many of the endgame encounters, as it’s really quite an awesome sight to see eight people moving as one to dodge incoming attacks and position themselves appropriately to deal as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. But the fact remains: a lot of stuff is quite easy.

Which is why I was keen to challenge myself with the Extreme difficulty boss fights — particularly those against Good King Moggle Mog XII, Leviathan and Ramuh, all of which I was yet to clear. I gave myself a double challenge for the first two by tanking them as a Paladin rather than going as my main class Black Mage; it was a lot of fun, and helped me gain some confidence in what goes on when you’re tanking an eight-player encounter. For Ramuh, however, everyone needed to be on top of their game, and as such I was back in my lovely dark blue yukata — my current Black Mage outfit — to take on the old, somewhat electrifying presence of Ramuh.

I’d held off taking on the Extreme primal fights because the initial three against Garuda, Titan and Ifrit were all very difficult — unsurprising, given the Extreme moniker, of course, but I found them rather stressful rather than just challenging. Moogle, Leviathan and Ramuh were all a different matter, however; these were just plain fun fights in which yes, you needed to know and understand all the mechanics well in order to succeed, but they were enjoyable in that everyone had something interesting and useful to do; no-one was stuck just standing around flinging damage or “tanking and spanking”.

It was also a great opportunity for bonding with the Free Company members. It’s always nice to have the opportunity to do things together with other people, and as we’ve all been progressing at slightly different paces and discovering the things that we each enjoy doing, it can sometimes feel like those occasions are rare. Tonight was a great example of people pulling together for a common goal, though; we’d decided that we were going to beat Ramuh, and by gosh we sure did at that.

Now it is after 4:30 in the morning and I should probably get some sleep. I anticipate dreams filled with an old, bearded, lightning-flinging man.

1677: Twin Sticks

I love a good twin-stick shooter, though I must confess I wasn’t really aware of it as a sub-genre of the shoot ‘em up until Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360. (Fun fact: that game, more than any of the other early titles on that console, was the reason I picked up my own 360. Fast forward a generation and I find myself unable to justify a PS4 for Resogun — a game which is, admittedly, jolly good. Hmm.) I guess I was sort of aware of it with Smash TV on the Super NES — and what I thought was an extremely peculiar control scheme when I played it — but I never played the original Robotron or anything.

Since Geometry Wars, though, I’ve been a big fan of the twin-stick shooter, and it occupies a similar tier of affection in my brain to Japanese “bullet hell” shooters.

It was Geometry Wars 2 that truly cemented my love of this shmup sub-genre — and it was partly a result of the growing world of online console gaming. These days, we take online leaderboards and multiplayer functionality for granted — hell, it’s in most mobile phone games — but in the earlier days of the 360, online functionality was still new and exciting. And Geometry Wars 2, although it handled it incredibly simply, worked brilliantly.

All Geometry Wars 2 offered in terms of online functionality was a separate leaderboard for each of its game modes, with the display of your friends’ scores prioritised. While you were playing, the upper-right corner of the screen displayed the next friend’s score that you needed to beat to move up a spot on the leaderboard, and it was surprising how enormously distracting this could be — to such a degree that some people even advocated putting masking tape over the corner of your TV so you weren’t tempted to look while playing.

It worked brilliantly, though, and all the more so for the fact that, when Geometry Wars 2 came out, absolutely everyone was playing it. Herein, however, lies something of a mixed blessing: while the games industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar behemoth since that time, the sheer number of games around at any given moment these days means that it’s become gradually less and less likely that we’ll ever have a communal, shared, international experience like that ever again. Games like Geometry Wars 2 are now considered by some to be too simple for computers and consoles, instead finding a “better” home on mobile. (I’d question whether or not it’s actually “better”, however, since mobile phone control schemes for this sort of game still suck immense quantities of balls.)

That, thankfully, doesn’t mean there aren’t still devs making these games, however. In fact, two of my current favourite non-narrative games are relatively recent twin-stick shooters: Assault Android Cactus on PC (coming soon to various other platforms) and Super Stardust Delta on Vita.

Assault Android Cactus is the work of small Australian independent developer Witch Beam. I was completely unaware of the game prior to the Eurogamer Expo last year but a chance encounter with a preview build a few days prior caused me to frantically schedule an appointment with the developer’s representative, who had flown over especially for the show. Their enthusiasm for their game was infectious — and it was clear they’d done their homework, citing classic Japanese shmups as their inspiration for the game, which despite being a twin-stick shooter very much had its own identity. Today, the game is still in Early Access on Steam awaiting its finishing touches, but it’s already one of the finest shooters I’ve ever had the good fortune to play. I can’t wait to take it on the go with the Vita.

Super Stardust Delta, meanwhile, is a twin-stick shooter from Finnish developer Housemarque and, I didn’t realise, a distant offshoot of a series that originally began back on the Amiga. Combining elements of Asteroids, Geometry Wars and Ikaruga, Super Stardust Delta is, once again, proof that you can take a simple base mechanic — twin-stick shooting — and make it into something unique and enjoyable. It’s also one of the most beautiful-looking games on the Vita, so if you want something for Sony’s underappreciated handheld with which to impress people, it’s a fine choice.

Anyway, the beauty of a good twin-stick shooter is that a single play session is only short. So I think I’m going to go sit in bed and play Super Stardust Delta for a bit before sleep. That sounds like a good way to close out my last week of freedom before work starts next week!

1676: Cleaning Up

Following yesterday’s post, I’ve been having a social media cleanup. This started with the unfollowing of about a hundred people last night — some of which I felt a bit guilty about, as I’d previously considered them friends; in other cases, they were former colleagues that I’d thought I might stay in touch with. That already helped a great deal, but there was still some unwanted noise on my feed, largely through retweets and Twitter’s irritating new habit of adding other people’s favourites and random tweets from other people’s followers to your timeline. Those people were swiftly blocked so hopefully I will never have to encounter them ever again.

All this may seem somewhat harsh, particularly for a platform as open and public as Twitter is. But some reflection has revealed to me that it’s really the only way to handle it and stay sane. And it’s not, in fact, all that harsh at all, really, when you compare it to real life: after all, we carefully cultivate our real-life friendship groups and, over time, tend to whittle them down to groups of people that we particularly like, enjoy spending time with and have something in common with. We — well, – don’t try to be friends with people just because I feel that I “should” be friends with this person. That’s high school stuff, trying to get “in” with the gang of cool kids; that way lies only madness, or at the very least a life where you’re unwilling to be able to just be yourself with confidence.

And so Twitter is the same for me, now, particularly now I don’t “need” it for industry networking and the like. My Following list has been whittled down to the people I actually enjoy interacting with — a healthy mix of game enthusiasts, game developers whom I have some sort of personal connection with (even if that’s just having met them and enjoyed a chat with them), anime fans, and a few people I know in “real life”. I’m no longer following people I feel “obliged” to follow — people who are often held up on a pedestal as being “important” to some cause or another — and I’m not following any celebrities. Insufferable arseholes who get retweeted into my feed are quickly blocked without mercy — no sense feeling guilty about it, since I probably wouldn’t want to follow them anyway — and those who do nothing but indulge in lame hashtag games for hours on end are also swiftly removed from my following list, at least temporarily; permanently if I haven’t actually spoken to them for a while.

It’s kind of sad that we’ve got to the stage where this level of “friendship curation” is necessary, but it’s a side-effect of the social media age and the fact that the Internet has brought us in touch with far more people than we’d ever be able to have met in reality. I’m pretty sure there’s an “optimum” number of friends or acquaintances for a person to have, and over and above that level everything just starts contributing to an overall, growing amount of white noise — noise that occasionally becomes intolerable. I’m gradually — hopefully, anyway — finding a good balance that hopefully won’t drive me mental, and which hopefully won’t necessitate me abandoning the genuine friends I have managed to make via Twitter.

In the meantime, I’m trying my best to migrate a lot of gaming discussion over to the Squadron of Shame forums, which you can find here. While the Squadron of Shame was originally a group of people who came together on the 1up forums, I know I for one would be very happy to see some new blood over there, too — particularly if you are, like me, the sort of person who’d rather have a lengthy, wordy discussion about a favourite, underappreciated game than think that “lol” or “cool story bro” is in any way a valid contribution to a debate.

Hopefully I won’t have to write about this sort of thing again for a while.