Rick, Morty, & Cronenberg

This is and will always be a gaming blog, but a few months back I declared that this would no longer be an exclusively gaming blog. I even took the time to change the title of the blog from ‘DJMMT’S Gaming Blog’ to ‘DJMMT’s Gaming (& More) Blog’. But to be honest I really haven’t been true to the “& More” part of the title up until now. So I wanted to take the time to write about something not gaming that is still very much important to many if not most of the members of the gaming community today. I’m talking about Rick & Morty.

I, like any sane human being, love Rick & Morty. It’s an amazing show that’s funny, relatable (in a weird way), somewhat educational in the fact that it gets people thinking about scientific concepts even if not being completely realistic about them, and most importantly, it’s expertly written. It’s one of the only shows I can remember watching and saying it has only gotten better over time. Just about every episode is better than the last one and I don’t think there’s been a single episode that I was genuinely displeased with. Really no other show can make that claim for me. Not even Game of Thrones. I recently re-watched the first three seasons and I was impressed to find that there are really no inconsistencies in the writing. Everything is tied up really nicely and even the continuity of the writing from episode to episode and between dimensions is all pretty much perfect . . . except for one episode, that I noticed.

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In Season 1, Episode 6, named Rick Potion #9, Rick creates a special love potion for Morty that will make Jessica fall in love with him. It works but because she had the flu when the potion was applied, it mutated and spread turning everyone into violent, love crazed maniacs, all trying to pretty much rape Morty to death. This potion is based on vole DNA. To counter this potion, Rick creates another potion based on praying mantis DNA, which then turns everyone into giant praying mantises that still want to rape Morty to death. Then Rick makes a third potion that infuses the DNA of several things (koala, rattlesnake, chimpanzee, cactus, shark, golden retriever) including dinosaurs (which are expressed as a single species rather than naming a specific type of dinosaur) and turns everyone into what are referred to as Cronenbergs.

The name Cronenbergs, in my opinion but not verified by a confirmed source, is in reference to director David Cronenberg, specifically because of his film The Fly (1986) where Jeff Goldblum’s genes are accidentally spliced with a fly, mutating him into a fly man and eventually a giant humanoid fly and then in the end splicing in metal turning him into a monstrosity that Geena Davis ultimately shoots in the head. By the end of the film, Jeff Goldblum is a disgusting amalgamation of parts similar to the mutated people at the end of Rick Potion #9.

cronenbergs

If we assume that I’m right about why the writers chose to refer to these monstrous mutants as Cronenbergs then the assumption is that both Rick and Morty have seen The Fly, which is why they are both comfortable referring to them as Cronenbergs almost instantly. This all makes perfect sense. But at the very end of the episode in the post credits scene something odd happens. In the same way that Rick and Morty escape to a dimension where the world hasn’t been “Cronenberged” (and the Rick and Morty of that dimension have died for unrelated reasons), a Cronenberg version of Rick and Morty portal into the now Cronenberged world of our Rick and Morty. Cronenberg Rick refers to Morty as “Cronenberg Morty”. The two go on to say that they come from a world where everyone started off as Cronenbergs and then Rick accidentally turned them into normal people (but for some unmentioned reason didn’t use the process on themselves). The Cronenberg Rick and Morty decide to stay in the now Cronenberg world and take the place of Rick and Morty C-137 in that dimension.

Cronenberg_Rick

There are two problems I have with this ending. The first is that Cronenberg Rick and Morty use the term “Cronenberg” to refer to mutated people. This makes no sense. The term Cronenberg applies to people who have been mutated to look abnormal like in the film The Fly by David Cronenberg. That’s why the term makes sense. But in a world where everyone was born a mutant, there is no justification for the term. In a world where everyone is a freakish mutant, David Cronenberg would not have made a film about a normal looking man mutating into a monster. If anything the film would be about a freakish monster mutating into a normal looking person, and normal people would be referred to as Cronenbergs. But Cronenberg Rick and Morty ignore this logical conclusion and refer to mutants, including themselves, as Cronenbergs. How and why would this be the case?

the fly
The Fly (1986) by David Cronenberg

Now clearly from the outside, the writers did this for the purposes of reference language already used in the episode in order to keep the viewers comfortable. But as far as writing goes, which again is perfectly sensible and consistent throughout the rest of the show, this is a travesty. It breaks an otherwise perfect show. I even tried to think of a justification for it occurring. The only way I could see Cronenberg Rick and Morty using the term Croneneberg to identify people that look like them is that they may have watched The Fly on interdimensional cable, which doesn’t actually get shown until two episodes after Rick Potion #9 in Rixty Minutes. They still would have had to decide to use the director’s name as an inside joke to refer to themselves, but that almost seems like creating a slur to refer to yourself and others with your mutated condition. They also could have traveled to a dimension with regular looking people, saw the film, and then did the same thing, but it still assumes they would decide to make a slur of sorts to refer to themselves. This seems out of character for Rick and certainly for Morty.

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My other issue, which falls into the same episode, is that on multiple occasions, both at the end of Rick Potion #9 and in Season 3 Episode 1, The Rickshank Rickdemption, Morty’s original family from dimension C-137 are shown to have survived the Cronenberg outbreak and continued living their lives as post-apocalyptic scavengers. In both of these episodes Beth, Jerry, and Summer have survived but Cronenberg Rick & Morty are nowhere to be seen with them. It seems odd, considering Morty’s temperament, that they never tried to meet up with their alternate dimension family. Now this isn’t an inconsistency like them using the term Cronenberg as much as a peeve because if the creators took the time to show them enter that dimension it seems only logical that they would have referenced them in some way later, especially after taking the time to revisit that version of Earth two seasons later.

Now of course neither of these issues detracts from the show as a whole. It has and I hope will continue to be of the highest caliber of quality comedic writing. But I wanted to point out these two continuity issues, see if anyone else noticed them and has any theories about them, as well as see if anyone else has noticed any other inconsistencies throughout the show. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Don’t Lie to Consumers

It seems like more and more often today developers promise things for announced games and then ultimately don’t deliver. Probably the most notable example in modern gaming history is No Man’s Sky. It was only this month that Hello Games finally released a major update that delivered on some of the promises that were originally made and then broken. But I don’t necessarily believe that No Man’s Sky is an example of a developer blatantly lying to consumers. For me, that particular game is an example of indie developers reaching above their means and getting punished for it. But what about when a larger developer, such as DICE or Blizzard, blatantly lies to the public and fails to deliver what they promised?

Earlier this month, Ninja Theory released a game called Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Now personally I consider Ninja Theory to be a reputable developer of fairly decent size. They publish their own games with multi-platform releases. They’ve created great works over the years that everyone has heard of and most higher echelon gamers have played. I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard of game development and management expectations. So for me I think it’s a topic worth discussing when a developer like Ninja Theory lies about a key component of one of their games as part of its launch marketing.

ninja-theory

I have not yet gotten to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But I know I eventually will once the price drops. In fact I was sold by the opening sentence on the game’s Steam page. “From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.” That sentence and the genre listing (action, adventure) is all they needed to sell an old schooler like me. Action adventure is my bread and butter and I loved each of the games listed in that sentence. So whether or not I was going to buy Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was never in question. The only real question is when? But one thing that turned me off of the game, but ultimately did not change my mind about eventually buying it, which I haven’t yet, was this rumor about permadeath.

I don’t like permadeath. I grew up in the NES/Arcade era and there are still tons of games that I’ve never finished simply because I wasn’t good enough to beat them without continues. Today, gamers have even less patience and time than they did when I was a kid. That’s both gamers my age and older who have been gaming since that era, and new gamers just starting out today. No one has time to put several hours into a game only to have all your progress lost. I don’t discourage developers from putting permadeath as an option in their games today. But like most unconventional mechanics, I believe that it should be optional. We have the technology today to allow gamers of all types to tailor their gaming experiences to their own wants, needs, and preferences. I play games for the story. I don’t like replaying things. Permadeath is a no go for me. Some play games for the challenge. They don’t care about the story. They like permadeath. Neither of us is more or less of a gamer. And neither of us should have to suffer through an experience we don’t like in a game we’re interested in just so the other person can have maximum enjoyment. The technology exists today where a developer can grant us both maximum enjoyment. They need only add a trophy to differentiate the permadeath player from the continues player. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s fair probably voted for Trump and thinks they have a right to dictate the lives of other people.

hellblade permadeath

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice had a huge rumor attached to it during the initial release window that if you died too many times your save would be deleted. This was a huge point of controversy all over the internet. Many forums, blogs, and gaming sites posted and debated this issue quite a bit. Ultimately though it was discovered that this was actually a lie. Ninja Theory put this out to the public and even has it stated in the game as a gimmick. The protagonist in the game suffers from delusions and the story is that she imagined the permadeath thing because her brain was playing tricks on her. Now first let me say kudos to Ninja Theory for connecting a mechanic, or at least the rumor of one, to the actual plot of a game. I love when developers make the story and gameplay work together as equally important parts of a whole. That’s how all games should be made and that belief is why I don’t play games like Overwatch. Also kudos again to Ninja Theory for being able to put out a rumor and keep it a secret until after launch. Even today, I’m sure some people still think the game has permadeath. But ultimately it doesn’t.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does not actually have a permadeath feature. No not even in the hardest difficulty. Now personally I’m fine with that, which I already expressed earlier in this post. But what I’m not fine with is a developer blatantly lying to the public. Especially not as a way to hype their game. That’s basically false advertising. While it’s certainly not the kind of advertising that increases sales noticeably. In fact, I think it might lower them. It’s still a blatant lie to consumers. No it’s not the same as Hello Games promising multiplayer and then there not being any multiplayer. But it’s still a betrayal of consumer trust. If even one person bought the game specifically because of the permadeath feature, that’s a huge problem.

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Developers should not lie to consumers. Especially not as part of launch marketing. This last week BioWare announced that there would be no more single player DLC for Mass Effect Andromeda. That’s a problem. While I personally am not affected by the news because I never buy story DLC and hadn’t planned on it with Andromeda either, it clearly stated during the release window that the game would have additional single player content added in the future. I bought the Deluxe Edition. Plenty of people bought the game expecting additional content to be added later and now they won’t get it. That’s false advertising which is akin to theft. It’s exactly what happened to me with God of War: Ascension. I preordered the Collector’s Edition because of the promise of additional single player content which I was supposed to obtain with the season pass. Ultimately they never released any, made all the multiplayer DLC free for everyone, and never returned my money or compensated me in any way for having paid extra for a literally useless season pass. Developers should not lie to consumers. It’s not ok. In any other industry we’d be talking about a class action lawsuit. There almost was one in the UK for No Man’s Sky. If a game can’t stand on its own two feet and the developer can’t sell it honestly, then it’s clearly not ready for release or shouldn’t be released at all.

The problem is that developers have forgotten that they are in the business of entertainment. They’ve started to think that just because they make games means they deserve to make sales. That’s not how entertainment works. Making a game only gives you the right to potentially make a profit. It’s the quality of that game and the strength of the marketing that ultimately leads to profit. But if the marketing isn’t honest, then it’s not acceptable marketing. Personally, I think this trend is a serious problem. Look at games like Destiny and The Division. Both games that didn’t flat out lie, but were very dishonest in how they were presented pre-release. I preordered both games and while I don’t regret The Division as much, I do wish I hadn’t purchased either game. Lying to consumers or misrepresenting products to consumers, which for all intents and purposes is lying, is not and should not be considered an acceptable practice in the gaming industry or any industry for that matter.

Have any games burned you recently?

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Daughters and Sons (God of War IV)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I’m a huge God of War fan. At one point it would have been accurate to even call me a fanboy because I thought Santa Monica Studio could do no wrong with this franchise. That ended with God of War: Ascension. It was a game that didn’t need to be made, didn’t do anything particularly new or impressive, and cheated me on the season pass. Even though they promised future DLC they actually released no additional single player content and all the additional multiplayer content was released for free. That means I paid for a season pass that literally got me nothing, except some PSN avatars and a dynamic theme. Since then I have not ceased to be a fan of the franchise, but I’m also no longer a diehard fanboy. I now judge the series from a much more objective standpoint and have often been very critical of more recent decisions. A good example of this is that I have been avidly opposed to the upcoming God of War IV pretty much since the announcement.

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I was highly against the idea of God of War IV not because I want the franchise to end. Quite the opposite actually. It’s one of my favorite franchises of all time. I still remember the first time I beat the hydra in the very first game. My uncle was watching and we were both blown away. This was in many ways the moment where I decided I wanted to work in the gaming industry. I wanted to be involved in something that would blow people away like that. The reality is that I want(ed) to see many more games in the franchise but I don’t think they need to make any more starring Kratos. In my opinion, God of War III ended perfectly.  We were led to believe that Kratos killed himself and that his story was over. Now it’s fine that he’s still alive in this upcoming installment because it’s canon that Kratos never stays dead for long. He died in both God of War I and II only to come back and whoop some more ass. But his story concluded perfectly at the end of III. I really see no reason why they felt the need to continue his story. I felt the same way with how they handled Ascension. It was a pointless game that just milked Kratos because he’s marketable. What I wanted was for a new character to be introduced that would take on a similar plot to destroy the gods of his culture that had nothing to do with Kratos or Hellenic beliefs. At most a Kratos Easter egg is all I would have wanted. But instead they chose to once again focus on Kratos but now he’s in the Norse world.

norse mythology
That fight better happen.

Let me be very clear and say that there is nothing wrong with setting a God of War game in Norse mythology. That’s one of the best cultures to do a God of War series of games in. But making Kratos the star takes so much away from the overall plot. What I like about God of War is that the franchise is not just mindless hack-n-slash battles and large breasted sex mini-games, though both of those things do add a lot to the experience. While some people won’t agree, I actually think the God of War franchise has a great story with a great main protagonist. Kratos is a man plagued by the fact that he was tricked into murdering his wife and daughter and then later his mother as well. His whole life is just one big shit show that was orchestrated by the gods. This motivation makes for a great adventure where a man takes his destiny into his own hands and literally kills all the gods, except Aphrodite, in vengeance. The story is powerful, visceral, cathartic, and most importantly, memorable. But one of the main reasons the story works so well is that Kratos is part of it on a cultural level. He’s not some visitor from another land like William in Nioh. And he’s not some random faceless, emotionless NPC turned playable character like the Dovahkiin in Skyrim. He’s actively a part of Greek culture and starts out as a true believer, actively serving the gods to make penance for his crimes. This is such an important part of the story.

Placing Kratos in Norse mythology makes no sense. There’s no real justification for it and he has no real connection to the culture and gods of that world. He’s just a stranger mindlessly toppling a religion like a conquering Spaniard taking over South America. It’s not personal to him. I think that’s the main reason they gave him a son in this game.

old kratos

I am so avidly opposed to the Dad of War concept. In fact, I even wrote an article about it on Gaming Rebellion. There are a number of reasons I don’t like it. Again, remember that this entire line of thinking follows my original opinion that Kratos should not be the main protagonist of any more games. The trailer makes Kratos seem like this caring father to a less than impressive son. If you’ve played all the other games then you too found his lack of a bad temper, patience, and calm demeanor to be very uncharacteristic of Kratos. His son literally shoots him at one point in the middle of a battle and Kratos pretty much shrugs it off. I’m sorry, but that’s just not Kratos.

Mechanically speaking, the concept doesn’t really fit a God of War game. Obviously having not played it yet, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine the game will have some similarities to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. You’ll be responsible for protecting and commanding this boy. While this will be a new addition to the gameplay, which can be a good thing for longstanding franchises, it will most likely slow the game’s combat down noticeably. God of War is traditionally fast paced combat. To destroy that general concept essentially ruins Kratos’ legacy. This could have been easily avoided as a problem if they would have just changed main characters so we had no long established expectations of him as a main protagonist. But again, I think the lack of connection and thus emotion in reference to the Norse mythology from Kratos is the main reason they decided to add in a child. It automatically gives Kratos some emotional baggage to connect with the story.  That’s a lazy trick, but I understand it. My only real question is why did they choose a son instead of a daughter?

enslaved

Let me preface this part of the article by saying that this is not about to turn into an SJW argument about why female characters should be portrayed more in games. Not at all. The fact is that I genuinely believe that it would have suited this already questionable story better to have made the next God of War game to be about Kratos and his daughter instead of a son. There’s a logical, canon based reason for this opinion.

One of Kratos’ darkest moments and emotions comes from the fact that he murdered his own daughter, Calliope. And the theme of fathering a daughter comes up all throughout the franchise. It’s especially important in Chains of Olympus, III, and Ascension. And in all these instances Kratos never truly succeeds at saving his daughter, surrogate or actual. This is exactly why I think he should have a daughter in IV instead of a son.

calliope

The new story shouldn’t be about him trying to raise a boy who already seems to be weak and useless. It should be about him raising a daughter and gaining redemption for the daughter he lost. But this time he doesn’t just try to protect her. He raises her to protect herself. Suddenly his new found patience and affection would make perfect sense. And it would keep the tension extremely high because you would constantly be expecting something terrible to happen to the daughter, like so many times before. Also Nordic culture happens to be one of the only cultures American males, the main market for the franchise, are familiar with having female warriors so it wouldn’t even be out of place for Kratos to have a girl fighting alongside him. On all counts this just seems like a sorely missed opportunity that would have helped so much with continuity between the Greek games and this new series of Norse ones. I really don’t see how they missed this. I already don’t like the boy and much of the reason for that is because he displays characteristics that would make way more sense coming from a daughter of Kratos.

I’m certainly gonna buy God of War IV, but this will be the first main console title in the franchise that I don’t buy at release. This was an opportunity to tell a powerful story that would have altered the Kratos mythos noticeably without coming off as odd for the character. Instead we’re stuck with this daddy day care scenario where his whiny, useless son just gets in the way and cries about killing deer. I expect better from Santa Monica Studio.

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Character Creators Kill Characters

This is an awkward time in game development. It’s a moment where more people than ever before are playing video games. No longer is it realistic to claim that any one group, gender, race, religion, or country makes up the majority of gamers. The gaming community now contains people from all walks of life from just about every country in the world. There are arguments about which markets matter the most based on size, but as far as actual gaming audience is concerned, it’s pretty much everybody.

This diverse array of gamers is a good thing for many reasons. But because of the selfish narcissism of most people, especially gamers, we’re also seeing some terrible repercussions because of this diversity. Today, more than ever before, people (not just gamers) have gotten it into their head that they matter a majority of the time. Things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have given everyone a voice and for some reason that has led every asshole with a smartphone into believing that their opinions matter and that all works of entertainment should be tailor made for them specifically. And when it’s not made for them they whine, organize, riot, and literally destroy people’s careers and lives.

Your Opinion Big

I’m not talking about any one particular group here. Because so many groups are guilty of this new brand of arrogance. White men, homosexuals, racial minorities, women, and so on. All these groups and many more have on numerous recent occasions complained about a specific game or the industry as a whole simply because it did something they didn’t like or didn’t focus on their identifying group. Even not including a particular group in a game can cause an uproar. The problem with all this is that it has led many developers to try to work around the problem in ways that are easy and shown to be effective for basically all types of gamers. For me one of the worst ways this is being done today is with character creators.

Character creators are an interesting problem because they come from the best intentions. In many ways they’re the perfect form of escapism. When a game has a good character creator, you can literally put yourself in the game or be whoever you want to be. The problem is that this is mostly superficial. Let me clarify that moving forward, all mention of games in this post will refer to plot based campaigns. Multiplayer PVP scenarios are pretty much irrelevant to this particular discussion other than in the fact that they only add to the problem I’ll be addressing in a roundabout way. Multiplayer plot based campaigns are completely relevant though and definitely should be considered when thinking about this topic.

TLoU

Arguably the most important thing about a plot based campaign is the story. I said story there instead of plot because there is a difference. A game can have an amazing plot but if the story isn’t told right then the experience of the campaign will ultimately fail. The way a story is told, the way the characters interact, and the reasons behind why things happen in a story are all important parts of the experience. Think about any game with a good story and imagine if things where presented differently. Let’s use The Last of Us as an example. A game that’s often championed for having such an amazing story. Now imagine for a second if the game had done just a few things differently. All other things being equal, how would people have responded to the story if Joel had lost a son instead of a daughter, it’s revealed that Ellie will have to die to save the world at the beginning of the game, and/or Joel was Asian instead of Caucasian? I think most people would agree that while the gameplay would still be good and the plot would still be interesting, the overall experience of the story would be much less powerful if even just one of those three proposed changes had taken effect. The drama of the story comes from the fact that Joel and Ellie connect on a familial level because she reminds him of his deceased daughter. And the fact that he believes the world can be saved without her having to die from the beginning is what allows that connection to form by the end, literally sacrificing the rest of the world as a consequence of that connection. But in a scenario where you could create your own character, that story would be considerably less powerful.

Joels Daughter Dying

Joel and Ellie aren’t blood relatives. It would have been completely believable and possible for a Black, Asian, Latino or member of any other ethnic group, man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual to be put in the scenario of Joel. The story is that random survivor is tasked with escorting a random girl across the country. Either character could have been any mixture of identifiers and the story would still make perfect sense. But any significant change of profile could drastically reduce the impact of their relationship and by extension story. Therein lays the problem with character creators. They hurt the story in a game. Because no matter much effort a developer tries to make a character neutral story, it will never be as good as a targeted narrative. It’s literally impossible to do.

Modern Tomb Raider games are so powerful because of the vulnerability assumed by a young Lara Croft, a Caucasian female from a wealthy family whose biggest problem was losing her father at a young age. Imagine how much less impressive the character would be if she was a South American boy from Brazil who grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Now I’m not saying that a great story couldn’t be told starring a Brazilian male from humble beginnings. I’m just saying that the impact of the story in moments where men trapped on an island capture the character and threaten various physical abuses wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if he was the protagonist. That’s what storytelling is: Putting characters in situations that are impactful for them, not you. You as the audience are supposed to put yourself in the shoes of the character. Not the other way around.

Lara Captured

The problem with plot based games using character creators is that either the game is written for a specific character/audience, usually a heterosexual Caucasian male, and then blanket applied to all created characters regardless of important details like race, gender, and sexuality, or the game is written in such a way that nothing personal ever happens. Take Far Cry 5, which I can’t wait to play. The story of a deputy going into rural Montana to stop a predominantly, if not exclusively, White cult that is literally kidnapping and sacrificing people to their image of God. The game will have a character creator that will allow for male and female characters of any race. Now I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume that if I, an African American male, walked into rural Montana today that I would probably be treated differently than either a Caucasian or Latino male and even more differently than a female of any race. And if that part of Montana was being run by a redneck cult, I believe that would be even more noticeable. Unless of course the cult genuinely has no preferences for their victims because their god told them that all people who aren’t in the cult need to be equally discriminated against and they were all pure and true believers/followers. But let’s be honest and admit that all people would not have the exact same experience walking into rural Montana. Having not yet played the game, I cannot say for sure if Ubisoft has done anything to differentiate the experiences of created avatars based on race and gender among other identifiers in this newest Far Cry. But I can say that in general most games don’t. Especially those from Ubisoft. I played The Division as a Black male. I didn’t experience anything that called attention to the race of my character. Sure the game is set in a post-apocalyptic virus state but it’s still New York City. Someone would say something about race at some point. They wrote the story as if all people are exactly the same. For the most part, that’s what happens in games with character creators. And it’s the least effective means of storytelling a majority of the time.

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Some companies do put in the time to at least try to differentiate characters you create in their games. BioWare, specifically with Dragon Age, is a good example of this. The ability to choose things like origin, species (which is different from race in reality), and sexual preference all help to differentiate the gameplay experience of each player and try to tailor an experience relevant to their avatar. And they do a decent job. But part of the reason they get away with it is that they create games with scenarios where human differentiation doesn’t really make sense. In both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you have multiple species of people living among each other. There are prejudices. There are questions about species mixing and sexuality. There are ethical and moral issues that players are forced to make decisions about and then hear the opinions about these choices from various NPCs. But none of these moments take into account current real life human experiences, because they don’t really have to. People today may differentiate based on skin color, but I can guarantee you that if tomorrow five other sentient species of alien races started living on this planet basically all people would stop seeing human race as an issue. You’re not gonna think twice about the Black guy down the block endangering your neighborhood when your next door neighbor is a giant walking lizard that can lift you off the ground and rip you in half. Human racism makes no sense in these scenarios. Hell, it barely makes sense in current real life scenarios. The games still have racism, but it’s never between members of the same species.

DAI Character Creator

That’s how BioWare chose to deal with the problem of balancing out character creators and narrative. It works, but not every game has aliens and sentient non-human races. That trick won’t work in Far Cry 5. That game will most likely just suffer from bland character experiences and rely heavily on the enemies being so interesting that you ignore the fact that your own character is having a pretty much vanilla experience. What’s sad though is that people are happily championing the spread of character creators in games. All these minority groups are happily accepting White male characters with coats of paint rather than demanding games with plots written for their group. For me that’s a problem, not only because I do want to see more actual games starring Black protagonists but also because I play games for the story. And I don’t like bland plots that aren’t personal. In a PVP scenario I love creating my own character. In a game that pretty much has no real story like Dark Souls, character creators are fine because that’s pretty much all gameplay anyway. But when a company is trying to sell me a plot as the main selling point of the game, I expect a well written, personal, and realistic story. That story doesn’t have to be about someone I personally identify with, but it needs to be good. But there’s the rub. Most people today don’t seem to have my open minded tolerance for games that aren’t made for them specifically. They would prefer superficial experiences where they can take screenshots of their avatar looking the way they want so they can post them on Twitter rather than experiencing an Oscar worthy narrative. For me that’s a problem.

Dark Souls Character

The issue of diversity in video games is definitely an important one. But I would never agree that it’s so important that general quality of single player campaigns should go down as a result of trying to fix that issue. Instead I think this should be seen as an opportunity for developers of all sizes to make more games with more variation between them. Rather than try to make a game for everyone that no one will love. Make everyone their own game and everyone should be happy with their one game (a year). Not every game needs to be for everyone and not every group needs to be represented in every game. Instead when groups are represented in games it should be done to the highest possible quality and realism. That’s why for me the modern proliferation of character creators in games isn’t a good thing. I’ll take one well written game starring a Black guy over five empty games where I can pretend the character is a Black guy any day. Thoughts?

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That Monitor Is So Not “Gaming”

Last week was COMPUTEX. For those or you that aren’t familiar with the event, it’s basically CES Asia, but bigger and with many more models. This was my second year in a row attending. Last year I went as press and this year I worked a booth as a member of the PC DIY industry. I don’t want to do a full write up of the show, but I’ll just say a few words. It was an interesting show this year, but not nearly as spectacular as last year. This year I saw much of the same from the heavy hitters like MSI, Zotac, and ASUS. The most impressive things I personally saw came from smaller companies I hadn’t heard of before.

One thing that really stood out to me was the number of companies selling “gaming monitors.” If you google the term “gaming monitor” no definitive link comes up. Instead what you get is a bunch of articles ranking and reviewing “gaming monitors” and stores like Best Buy trying to sell them. The issue here is that there is no official definition or set of standardized guidelines for how to determine what actually is a gaming monitor. What this has led to is a flooded market of wannabes misusing the phrase to try to sell subpar pieces of equipment at higher prices. Of course a gaming monitor must be a monitor that a PC gamer would purchase for the purpose of gaming, but technically you can game on any modern monitor. I think it’s interesting that the term “gaming TV” isn’t actually a thing while “gaming monitor” is. When you google “gaming TV” similar search results come up, with mostly ranked lists and reviews, but in general it’s not a widely used term. To drive the point home: searching “gaming monitor” on Best Buy brings up a list of options while searching “gaming tv” brings up a list of random products, many of which are not even TVs at the beginning of the list.

Computex

What I noticed at COMPUTEX was that most of these smaller companies were selling “gaming monitors” as any monitor that’s curved and has at least 144Hz. In my opinion, the curve is not an adequate qualifier for a gaming monitor. Plenty of people purchase curved monitors and TVs for use outside of gaming. A curved monitor in no way provides an experience required by or exclusive to the needs of gamers. Arguably, a curved monitor doesn’t even necessarily improve the gaming experience. I think the 144Hz definition is a little bit closer because there are very few if any serious applications outside of gaming that require or even seriously make use of that much output frequency. Yet I still would argue that just having that high a frequency alone doesn’t necessarily qualify as a gaming monitor. Imagine, for the purposes of argument, that someone offered a 144Hz monitor that could only run a maximum of 720p. In 2017 would that be considered a gaming monitor? Again, it could definitely be used for gaming but would anyone seriously consider buying it? Most likely not. 1080p has become the standard minimum screen resolution for both TV’s and monitors and has been for a number of years, gaming or otherwise.

ASUS No 1

ASUS defines gaming monitors with a less than technical approach. They instead focus on the practical applications when defining their monitors as/for gaming. They refer to themselves as the “No.1 Gaming Monitor Brand”. Their main justification for that isn’t focused on specs or features though. Instead they list off game genres and how their monitors perform when playing them. They state that they are the “best gaming monitors for Cinematic Games” listing MOBA, RPG, RTS genres with some generic details about performance such as “immersive life-like visuals”. They do similar things with “Fast Games” listing FPS and racing, and “Console Games” listing no specific genres. This means of defining gaming monitors may be a little more specific and provides some practical examples for why gamers would want their monitors, but it in no way gives specific reasons for why these monitors perform better at playing these games. It’s important to note that ASUS’ gaming monitors do have a number of technical features that I believe do actually make them “gaming monitors” as opposed to just monitors that you can play games on, but those features aren’t being used by the company to define them as such in their marketing.

ASUS site

I think Best Buy does the best job of genuinely trying to define what gaming monitors are in an objective, spec focused manner. If you search “gaming monitors” on Best Buy’s site you will get a list of five features/categories: 1ms Response Time, 144Hz, IPS, G-Sync, and FreeSync. I like this list of features a lot. I don’t necessarily agree with the inclusion of IPS, but in general I like the idea that they have defined gaming monitors based on technical specs that fall outside of visual aesthetics of the monitor itself and at least 4/5 of the categories are features that only gamers would actually care about. I think G-Sync and FreeSync are the most important features for a gaming monitor and response time comes in at third. Hz frequency is at fourth. My personal priorities and preferences when picking a monitor are irrelevant though. What’s important here is that all of these monitors, with possibly the exception of the IPS section, are categorized by things that only gamers would take the time to care about and really consider as deal breakers when picking a monitor. I especially like that resolution isn’t part of the list. A 4K monitor is not definitively a gaming monitor. Plenty of people use 4K for watching TV and for work based applications like graphic design. Many if not most games still aren’t even capable of running in 4K.

Best Buy Gaming Monitors

As I’ve been trying to pick a monitor for my own rig recently, I posed the question to Reddit. I had an overwhelming percentage of people say that G-Sync/FreeSync and 144Hz were the most important thing when picking a monitor for the purpose of gaming. They even went on to say that if you have to choose between 4K and G-Sync/FreeSync that the Sync option was hands down more important for gaming 100% of the time. That feedback and my own research made me opt to buy an ASUS ROG Swift PG278QR. With my 1080 GPU, that monitor will give me the best gaming experience I can afford at a size that works for my needs, based on my research.

Personally, I think this is a really important issue. The industry should create a set of minimum standards and guideline when defining a gaming monitor to prevent companies from arbitrarily raising prices without delivering any technical/performance based justification for calling their product(s) “gaming monitors”. I saw so many nice looking, but ultimately non-performing monitors at COMPUTEX this year. Sure they would have given you at least 1080p at 60Hz, which is technically good enough. But that’s pretty much a standard monitor these days, whether you’re gaming or not. In the same way that mechanical keyboards must use mechanical switches, monitors should have some sort of defining quality based on the specs/features that objectively categorize them as “gaming” or not. Otherwise less experienced and unknowledgeable consumers will continue to be tricked into buying lower priced third party and first party units that ultimately deliver less than the current standard in high end gaming.

*Just wanted to take the time to mention that I finally started a Patreon page. I don’t expect to get rich, but after nearly four years of dedicated gaming content creation I thought it was time. Anything helps so even if you aren’t able to donate, please consider sharing the page.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Time For A Good (Far) Cry

Let me start off by saying that this post will most likely offend some people. As always, it is not my intention to offend but to speak honestly and openly about my opinions concerning the gaming industry and occasionally, as with this post, how certain topics in gaming are affected by the wider world.

There has been a lot of buzz after several reveals about Far Cry 5. In all honesty I’m not actually a fan of the Far Cry franchise. I own Blood Dragon because I got it for free. But I have never once played it or had the slightest interest in doing so. I also purchased the Apex Edition of Far Cry Primal, but that was on sale and my reasons for purchasing it are almost exactly the same reasons that I haven’t had any interest in any of the ones in the main series up until now. And to be perfectly honest, I haven’t actually taken the time to play Far Cry Primal as of yet. My interest in Primal was mainly because of the animals. I really liked the idea of being a beast master and after watching some gameplay footage of the player commanding animals to do his bidding I was sold. But just as important was the fact that this wasn’t a gun game. In fact it’s set in a time where guns didn’t and couldn’t exist. I have little interest in gun games and FPS is my least favorite of the shooting genre. But the main reason I’ve avoided the core Far Cry games until now is the narratives.

primal

Far Cry, in the main series, is traditionally about some guy going to some remote place where he has no business being and saving the natives. More often than not this ends up being a white man shooting up minorities but there have been some moments in the franchise where that wasn’t the case or didn’t necessarily have to be. Far Cry 4 makes the biggest departure from this by having you play as a Himalayan man fighting other Himalayans under the dictatorship of an insane Hong Kong gangster. Though I have to say that without looking it up, Pagan Min comes off totally white. At the same time though the game is still about a guy traveling off to somewhere remote that he doesn’t belong because the protagonist doesn’t actually live in the Himalayas. He was just visiting the motherland to bury his mother who actually was from there. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with plots about people, of any color, travelling to a faraway land to shoot up the locals. While some people might get offended by games like Resident Evil 5 (2009) where a white man goes to Africa and kills a bunch of Black people, I just find it rather boring. The entire idea is overplayed. As an African American who no longer lives in America, I for the most part find the narrative concept of an American travelling to faraway lands to better the lives of the locals to be hacky and unoriginal. The fact that it’s so common place says a lot about the American gaming market.

far cry series

What I have always found the most interesting is that this issue of making games where Americans, mostly white men, travel to other places and kill the locals is a strictly American concept. Games with protagonists from other countries don’t commonly do this. Or at least not to the same degree in the same way. Games from Japan are usually not set in realistic places or they weirdly enough make the game about Americans. Look at Metal Gear Solid for instance. A Japanese studio, led by a Japanese man, makes a super long, iconic franchise about a white guy(s) doing a bunch of stuff in Russia and the USA. The only times they aren’t in white countries is when white villains have traveled to other places like South America (Peace Walker) and Afghanistan (MGS5) to start shit up. Games starring Europeans, like Assassin’s Creed, tend to have characters go about their adventures in their homelands. Ezio finally leaves Europe for Constantinople after two other full length games. That was more of a need to make the story interesting than a cultural thing. And at the time of the game Constantinople had a lot of European influence due to the Turkish Empire’s reach so it’s still a pretty reasonable location for him to go. A lot of Japanese games do this as well by recreating periods in their own history or at least other Asian countries they’re closely tied to. It’s only games starring American protagonists that commonly create plots where people from a country, again usually white, travel to other places and try to “save” those savage, primitive races from themselves. It’s that idea coupled with the same old FPS gameplay that turned me off of all the previous Far Cry titles.

white protags big

The upcoming Far Cry 5 is a different story. Now I am not saying that this is the first/only game like this, but I can’t think of any AAA examples from earlier in my life (almost 25 years of gaming) that are this real and relevant to me as an American. Ubisoft may not make the best games in the world, but in recent years they sure do know how to pick a culturally relevant setting. This latest Far Cry is set in modern day Montana. And by modern day I mean like today. There’s no zombie apocalypse. There’s no coming out of the vault 100+ years after a nuclear war. There’s no disease that killed off most of the country. It’s just everyday racist 2017 USA. But it’s about a real problem with a real villain. GTAV may be in a realistic setting and it may have believable characters, but it’s not really about some larger social issue. It’s just the story of three guys trying to survive as best as they can. It’s a small story. It’s a personal story. Far Cry 5 seems to be about real life problems plaguing the entire USA today. And this isn’t about some visitor from a faraway land coming to help the locals. The playable character isn’t even from another state. You’re a local deputy. Sure you can choose your skin color in this one, but let’s all be honest and admit that in the real life scenario this Montana deputy is almost assuredly a white man.

This is a game where the developer asks the American market to take up weapons against their own kind. And not as monsters, mutants, or hypnotized victims. As normal gun toting, red blooded, Trump supporting Americans. There’s no other AAA like this and there has never been a time in this country where a game of this budget from a franchise of this level of established credibility has put American gamers in this position. This will be an experience like no other for everyone. White American players will be forced to actually sympathize with the enemies on the screen. Minorities will on some level finally get to experience what it’s like to be a white American male gamer. I can’t see myself not playing this game. And you can damn sure bet I’m gonna use a Black avatar. This whole experience sounds nuts. Honestly it’s sad that in 2017 such an experience sounds so off the deep end because it means that such experiences aren’t a normal part of gaming. I can list off tons of games where you kill enemies of any other race in various countries in various time periods. But when it comes to white American enemies, it’s basically never in a realistic setting. It’s a dystopian future or zombies or aliens pretending to be humans or some other such mumbo jumbo to defuse the situation. This will be a definite first for so many gamers out there around the world.

fishing in montana

Now I’m not one to usually support politics in games, but that’s only a half truth. What I have an issue with is people inserting politics into games that aren’t political for their own grandstanding and agendas. For example, making Street Fighter V a discussion about sexism and female objectification is stupid. Trying to argue that the Mario Bros. franchise is an example of how people have been indoctrinated with sexism is just unfounded and generally ridiculous. Note I’m not saying that issues like sexism aren’t real issues. I’m merely saying that people tend to insert politics into games unnecessarily and often unrightfully because games and gamers are an easy target. So in those cases I’m all for the “keep politics out of games” argument. But when a game actually is political and intentionally is written about real political issues, especially in a realistic modern setting like in the case of Far Cry 5, then I’m all for it. If you go into Far Cry 5 thinking it won’t be or shouldn’t be political then you’re an idiot and you’re playing the wrong games. This is a political game and the entire experience, both in and out of the game, will be and should be political.

games and politics

This will be a highly polarizing and political experience. I can already see some of the things that are going to happen. Live streams and YouTube videos of Mexican avatars killing white people. Fox News doing stories about how this game promotes domestic terrorism and violence against white Americans. Various hate groups and media arguing that the game paints hard working lower and middle class Americans in an unfair light. Trump will probably make a statement about the game at some point. I won’t be surprised if it gets banned in certain cities or even states. It’s become that kind of America. It’s gonna be a circus and I’m totally in support of that.

I’ve already seen a lot of people online saying that a game like this is inappropriate right now. I disagree. I think a game like this is most appropriate right now. It’s when things like this actually are happening that it matters most. It’s when people are already talking about this sort of thing and these sorts of fears that it matters most to make a game or movie discussing these issues. What I like most about what I’ve read so far is that the game is not taking extreme positions against religion or targeting certain races. It’s specifically villainizing extremism. A lot of people today are altogether anti-religious and think religion is the problem with American conservatives. But that’s an oversimplification of the issue. Supposedly this debate comes up in the game through the fact that you’re fighting a religious cult, but one of your main helpers in the game is a Black pastor. I really like this move because it shows that Ubisoft has really put some thought into how they want to portray these serious issues in current American politics.

religion far cry 5

Now I’m prematurely giving Ubisoft a lot of credit for things that haven’t happened yet. It is extremely possible, and very likely based on their recent track record, that this game will only scratch the surface and then quickly fizzle out. The studio is great at picking settings. But they aren’t great at writing full-fledged stories. Take a game like Watch Dogs. Great premise, lackluster delivery. Every Assassin’s Creed since like three, if I’m being nice, has a similar problem. Great settings coupled with terrible writing. I’m also not expecting much from the gameplay. It’s gonna pretty much be the same FPS experience they always deliver with a couple new bells and whistles. I’m playing this game strictly for the plot and I’m hoping they don’t screw it up. They need to write an amazing, fully developed, powerful story and not pull any punches. If they just deliver that I’ll be happy. Also the game has coop and I’ve already planned to play it with my Mexican friend. A Black guy and a Mexican guy killing rednecks in the backwoods of America. That sounds like a YouTube series to me.

Now I know I went a little overboard in certain places in this post, but I was trying to drive home a point that too many Americans still don’t seem to get. I’m hoping Far Cry 5 is good and if it is good I believe it can do a lot to bridge that gap. Or start another Civil War. Both are totally possible in the current political climate.

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Prey for Bethesda

Recently Kotaku put out an article complaining about Bethesda’s policy on review copies. You can read the whole thing here, but allow me to summarize the main talking points for you. Essentially Kotaku is unhappy with Bethesda because their general policy on review copies is that they don’t distribute them in advance of release date. And when they do release them in advance, as with the recently released Prey, it’s with such a negligible amount of time before launch that they might as well not have released them in advance at all. The author goes on to say that this is a bad decision on the part of Bethesda for a number of reasons. Some of the more important reasons are that A) Such a policy forces reviewers to rush out reviews too quickly to get a proper feel for them, often leading to lower scores due to an inability to adequately experience the game. B) The low scores hurt developers because supposedly some publishers, while it was never actually stated that Bethesda was one of these publishers, give bonuses based on Metacritic scores that hit a minimum of 85 or higher. The article states that Prey was resting at 80 at the time of publishing. C) Metacritic is a bad system that causes problems and somehow this is not only Bethesda’s fault but the responsibility to go against their own policies/beliefs is a must in the wake of the current system. That basically sums it up.

Bethesda-Logo

I really didn’t like this article. As a long time game reviewer, I don’t actually disagree with the author’s general opinion that it is quite inconvenient that Bethesda doesn’t give out their review copies in advance. But the bulk of his points, general philosophy, and reasons for judging Bethesda negatively are mostly preposterous and overlooking the bigger issues at hand which stem from a flawed reviewing industry, not a flawed development/publishing industry. That’s not to say that the development/publishing industry isn’t flawed, because it for damn sure is, but in the case of this article, for once the publisher can’t rightfully be blamed. For the purposes of discussion I’ll keep the conversation focused on Prey as the article did.

The first point that needs to be addressed is that Prey had a pre-release demo. It wasn’t on PC so that’s a fair point of contention but at least a demo was released a week in advance of the game, giving a large percentage of potential buyers the ability to try the game in advance and giving basically 100% of potential buyers a chance to at least see the game in action in advance of the launch date via services like Twitch and YouTube. I myself posted a lengthy playthrough of the demo a week prior to the game’s launch. Whenever a demo is released, reviews cease to seriously matter. Maybe not to developers but to consumers they’re nearly irrelevant unless you don’t personally have access to the demo. Demos have become a rare thing. Most AAA titles don’t get them anymore sadly, and for a really unethical reason too. But when a game, like Prey, gets a demo the reviews are at best just to read for kicks. Why do I need anyone to tell me whether or not to buy a game when I can play the game myself and make an informed buying decision?

Prey Demo

Remember that the only true purpose of reviews is to help uninformed or on the fence consumers that have not played the game in question make a buying decision. They aren’t for people who have already played a game to read and either troll if they disagree with it or jerk off to it if they agree with it. People who have already purchased or played the game aren’t the target audience and honestly have no business commenting on a review unless it’s genuinely to answer a question from someone who actually is considering buying the game or to debate a legitimate point of contention with the review because they feel it misrepresents the game and/or misleads readers into making a bad buying decision. Otherwise reviews aren’t for people who have already played a game. That means that in the case of Prey very few PS4 and XB1 owners had/have any real need to look at reviews of the game. If you’re interested, you play the demo, which is long enough to get a fair understanding of it, and make your own informed purchasing decision. I played the demo, was unimpressed, and did not buy the game. I’ve yet to read a single review all the way through for Prey, because I have no legitimate reason to, since I already tried the game.

To address the author’s point about having to rush out reviews when given a short or no lead time to launch with a review copy. This is not the publisher’s fault. There is no law that says your review has to go out first. This is a personal issue with your business/industry that is made inconvenient by Bethesda’s policy. But so what? Bethesda, or really any publisher/developer, doesn’t actually owe review firms anything. Review firms owe Bethesda for providing them games to review, whether free or not, so they can continue to have a business. Really the race to be first published shows inherent flaws in the review industry more than anything else. A traffic based compensation system does nothing good for anyone because it leads to click bait writing, rushed content, and a general lack of quality in today’s journalistic system where marketing and social media do more than quality content ever will. Not to mention, such complaints show a lack of brand loyalty from your reader base. Or at the very least a fear of such a thing. If you run a quality firm then you should be able to retain your readership. If you can retain your readership then it doesn’t really matter if your review comes out first or not. But if you don’t run a quality firm then it would make sense to be unhappy about Bethesda’s decision about review copies because you’re always vying for the click bait audience to stay afloat. Yet that still isn’t Bethesda’s problem because it’s not their responsibility to keep review firms happy. In fact they would probably prefer if they all ceased to exist and just worked directly with private content creators.

Ricky Bobby

The author’s second point about review scores and how they affect Metacritic numbers which can translate to bonuses is based on a lot of speculation. In the article it’s stated that his information on the subject is all anecdotal and he provides no specific sources for these claims. It’s also kind of weird to assume Bethesda knows nothing about how Metacritic works and how their review copy policy affects their scores. If anything this is an intentional measure to keep developers loyal to Bethesda by artificially controlling the numbers. Is that a bit scummy? Sure. Is it in any way an actual problem for the people at Kotaku, IGN, or any other review firm? Probably not really. I mean it’s not like those firms artificially control access to content or opportunities in the gaming journalism industry right?

I will say though that if it is in fact true that the minimum score for developers to get a bonus is 85 on Metacritic then that’s another example of a totally unbalanced and unrealistic expectation of success. An 80 is a good score. For some it’s a great score. Personally I hate the number system for reviews. As a reviewer who genuinely tries my best to be fair and honest with every single review, whether AAA or indie, I find picking the number to be the most difficult, most stressful, least useful part of writing a review and judging a game/movie. First off, it gives people an excuse not to actually read the review. Many people just look at the number and don’t take the time to try to understand where that number comes from or if it’s even legitimate. We’ve all read at least one review where the number said one thing but the review said something completely different. It’s also extremely difficult to be completely fair about choosing that number. I have a system, as I’m sure most experienced reviewers do, and I believe in my system. I’ve crafted it over the course of writing more than 100 game reviews. Yet even today I still struggle with making sure I’ve actually picked the right number for a game. Other than supporting Metacritic, there’s little gained from the number in terms of actually helping the consumer. It also hurts developers more often than helps them in a world where standards are so high that an 80 is supposedly considered a weak score.

Metacritic Bad

While I may agree with the general idea behind the Kotaku article, my point still stands. The article is not motivated by a genuine desire to help consumers or developers. It’s selfishly motivated to help review sites continue to take advantage of a system that is unfair to begin with often at the expense of developers and consumers alike. I may not completely agree with Bethesda’s choice to not distribute review copies in advance, but I 100% support their conscience decision not to support these review sites that have become so arrogant that they believe they can dictate the way publishers do business. That is the right of the consumers who actually pay for their games. Not those who get their software for free regardless of the situation. Before you ask, yes I am aware that Kotaku is blacklisted by Bethesda. But the article is not written with a focus on Kotaku. It’s written for review sites in general and as such should be discussed in that way.

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