Weekend Recap: A Farewell to Bad News

THE SHORT VERSION:  I had almost no time to really do anything productive this weekend, and yet:

  • Played five minutes of Bloodborne, hated it, am never playing another ‘Souls game ever again.
  • Finished Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist; kinda makes me want to hate-watch The Room again, which doesn’t necessarily make it a successful memoir?  It’s OK.
  • Recorded two new music things yesterday, one of which I think came from a dream (it’s not bad, but my recording isn’t great), the other of which is an idea I’ve been thinking about for around 13 years (and have already recorded twice – once in 2001, and again somewhere between 2003-2006), and which I’m VERY VERY EXCITED ABOUT and want everyone to hear, even though it’s not done yet.


Long-time readers of the site may have noticed that I’m not really writing very much about games these days.  There are several reasons for this.  The most obvious is that I’ve been super-focused on writing music, and so that’s taken up a great deal of my available brain-space.  There’s also not a whole hell of a lot going on right now in terms of new games that have caught my interest – I mean, there’s a few indie titles that I was enjoying and want to eventually get back to (especially Ori and the Blind Forest), but, again, any and all free time is being focused on music right now.

But there’s also shit like this, which literally makes me nauseous.  It is mind-boggling to me that we’ve gotten to the point where there’s a convenient and commonly-known name for this activity (“swatting”), and yet somehow the idea that someone wanted to make it even worse is just sickening.  The videogame community at large has been a toxic cesspool for years, and anyone who’s been on the internet since last August is probably sick to death of crap like Gamergate and whatnot, but this sort of “prank” is going to get somebody killed soon, and it makes me want to have nothing to do with a hobby I’ve loved since I was 6 years old.  I’ve thought about getting into streaming, but the idea that a SWAT team could storm my apartment and hold shotguns to my 2-year-old’s face because some bored teenager thought it would be hilarious makes my blood boil.

So given how angry and upset I am over the state of gaming culture, you can probably imagine why I was not really in the mood for something like Bloodborne.  I did give it an earnest go.  I created a character, made my way down the steps of that darkened house, came across a creature, realized I didn’t have any weapons but decided to attack anyway, had a pretty good run at the beastie before getting destroyed, woke up in the courtyard of a weird ghostly manor, resurrected back to the house, saw the beastie, and before I could even press a button I was suddenly killed, and then as I waited 45 seconds for the game to finish taking me back to that ghost manor, I realized that life is too short to be needlessly frustrated by something that I’m not even really sure I’m going to enjoy.

What I have been enjoying lately is making music.  I’ve recorded more music over the last 2 months than in the previous 8 years combined.  I’m reconnecting with a part of myself that I’d more or less put on the shelf after my last band broke up in 2007, and it’s a wonderful, empowering feeling.  I’m really excited by the stuff I’m recording now, whether it’s brand-new or something 20 years old that I’m re-purposing.  Even though I’ve still got a long way to go before this album is finished, I’m feeling as energized and motivated as I ever have before.  Shit, I’ve even got 6 potential album covers ready to go and I don’t even have any song titles yet.

really want to share this stuff with you all; it’s killing me that I have to keep it hidden away.  (As a matter of fact, right this very minute I’m listening to a thing I recorded late last night and it’s all I can do to keep myself from attaching it to this post.) It’s for the best, of course – anything you could hear right now is still very early and unfinished, and I’d rather you hear what you’re meant to hear, and there’s some cool stuff that’s going to happen when this thing is finally ready to go which I can’t talk about just yet.  But I’m in a really good place as far as music is concerned, and that’s putting the rest of my life in a really good place, and I feel like I’m becoming a whole person again, and that’s maybe the best news of all.

on GOTY paralysis, Hatred & Valve, and @Nero’s review of DAI

Look, I don’t really even know what to write about today.  I feel like I’ve gotta say something, if only to justify the expensive site redesign.

I’m still playing Dragon Age but I feel like I’ve run out of things to say about it, even if I’m 40-50 hours in and have no idea how much is left.  As far as proper story missions go, I finished “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts” last night; but meanwhile “Here Lies the Abyss” is still open because I started it before I was properly leveled up.  According to IGN’s walkthrough*, I have 4 main storyline missions to complete, but I’m also doing pretty much every single sidequest I can find – all my companion quests, all the random environmental quests, and most of the fade rifts I come across (although I get bored of those and don’t find them especially compelling).

I intend to finish it – and, indeed, I want to finish it – but I also feel like I have to finish it because only then can I start moving on to the other stuff I’ve put aside.  I’m looking at my GOTY post-in-progress and there’s just so much I’ve yet to get to.  I know I said as much last week, but man.

Why this quest for completeness?  Why am I feeling pressure?  I’m not getting paid for this!  Nobody’s asking for it!  Someone once yelled at me for a post I wrote that I was just writing inflammatory shit “for the clicks” – but on a good day this site gets maybe 20 hits.  I get more views just from cross-posting at Kotaku’s TAY forum, which I’ve only done like 3 or 4 times.


In other words, I’m having trouble even finishing this post because I’m distracted by:

  1. Valve putting “Hatred” up on Greenlight, and then promptly removing it; and
  2. Milo “Nero” Yiannopoulos’ “review” of Dragon Age.

Regarding 1:  I never actually ended up posting my thoughts regarding Hatred when it was originally announced, though they more or less aligned with Polygon’s opinion article.  I just turned 39 and I’ve been playing games for most of my life, and so I’m sure the number of virtual people I’ve killed is in the 6-7 digit range by this point; but as I’ve grown older I’ve found it becoming less and less enjoyable**.  Even so, I continue to do it, if only because the context of these virtual killings is more or less understood to be “entertaining”, and not literal.  But I still have limits.  I tried playing Rockstar’s infamous Manhunt a million years ago and found myself nauseated by the snuff-film aesthetic; I tried playing Postal and just found it hideously stupid.

Hatred, on the other hand, is different.  Hatred is specifically about going on a suicidal shooting spree, massacring as many innocent civilians and police officers as possible.  (Yes, you can do this in GTA if you feel like it; the key phrase in that sentence, though, is “if you feel like it”.)  To quote the developers themselves:

The answer is simple really. We wanted to create something contrary to prevailing standards of forcing games to be more polite or nice than they really are or even should be.

Yes, putting things simply, we are developing a game about killing people. But what’s more important is the fact that we are honest in our approach. Our game doesn’t pretend to be anything else than what it is and we don’t add to it any fake philosophy.

In fact, when you think deeper about it, there are many other games out there, where you can do exactly the same things that the antagonist will do in our project. The only difference is that in Hatred gameplay will focus on those things.

I personally find the game distasteful, disgusting, hideous, nightmarish.  I wouldn’t play it; I wouldn’t accept money to review it for a publication; I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.  Frankly, I find its mere existence to be nauseating, as is the community that’s rallied around to support it.  Even the name smacks of opportunism, a brazen attempt to be “un-PC” while being willfully ignorant that being “un-PC” is, in fact, a very clear political agenda.

Does that make Valve’s decision to pull it right?  Paul Tassi in Forbes makes some interesting observations (the whole article is worth a read):

Though you could also make the mass media argument that if something like Human Centipede (and its even-worse sequel) is available to stream freely on Netflix, that it’s not the most ludicrous thing in the world for Steam to consider allowing Hatred to exist there. Not that I’m encouraging that, but Hatred is hardly the first piece of media to glorify or stylize the murder of innocent people. I really don’t care to defend Hatred as the content is frankly nauseating, but it just seems weird where the line is drawn when we look at what other types of violent media are hugely popular and widely distributed.

Valve is a storefront, and I think they have the right to sell whatever they want; they’re not censoring it, they’re just refusing to sell it.  Valve’s near-ubiquity in the PC market might make some people wonder what the effective difference is, since if you’re not sold on Steam, where can you be?  It’s a tricky question, and I’d like to hear Valve offer some clearer guidelines as to what it chooses to sell, but by the same token I also agree with Tassi’s conclusion:

I think it has the right to exist, but if it doesn’t, I certainly don’t think the world has lost a valuable piece of media.

Regarding 2: I’ll have more to say about Milo in my 2014 GOTY post, but in the meantime, that “review” is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read.  It’s enraging, it’s ludicrous, it’s impossible to take seriously; it’s an expert bit of trolling by a guy who’s clearly pandering to an audience.  (The review apparently came out within 24 hours of his announcement of his forthcoming book about GamerGate, in a funny bit of irony.)   The Gamergate audience claims they want “unbiased objectivity” in their reviews, and yet this review is nothing but bias – sexist, transphobic bias – and it’s also full of straight-up lies and made-up bullshit.  The more you read it – if you can stomach it – the more you wonder if he actually played it.

I’ll let @untimelygamer take it from here:

* I know I say this every time I link to a walkthrough, but I’m saying it again for clarity – I’m not using a walkthrough, I’m just curious to see how much is left.

** Which is probably why I’ve been avoiding Far Cry 4, frankly.

The Perils of Critical Thinking

This is an excerpt from a comment left on the G+ reposting of last week’s first impressions of Destiny.  (Speaking of which, updated impressions are forthcoming, but I wanted to get this out of the way first.)

Maybe I’m a shitty gamer but it seems like a lot of gamers these days have unrealistic expectations. I game under the following premise does the game make me want to game more if yes then win if no then fail. I realize people think that critical reviews have a place in pop culture. For me they take away from the simple joy that music, movies, and gaming give me.

I’ve read any number of variations on this theme over the last dozen years or so, almost always written as comments to an overhyped AAA game that got a lower-than-expected review.  The commenter wants to justify their enjoyment of a poorly-received game, and so anyone attempting to explain why that game is bad is taking away from the fun.

In the wake of GamerGate, it takes on a slightly different meaning, however – if you dare to explain why you don’t like something, you are not only wrong but you’re corrupt, you are biased, you have an agenda and you’re shoving it down people’s throats, you are part of the problem.  A game is either good or bad, and understanding why is not relevant.  You see this a lot on Twitter these days, that game journalists aren’t objective enough and therefore can’t ever be trusted.

There is a twisted anti-logic to people who get up-in-arms over negative remarks in game reviews.  Let’s remember that the general consumer public – i.e., the people who aren’t pirating ahead of a game’s release date but are instead buying new, unsealed copies – are forming opinions based on preview coverage.  This preview coverage – and any hands-on experience at events like PAX or E3 – is why any of us ever hear about the games we play.

Point being – this general consumer public hasn’t even played the game yet when the reviews finally come out, but they’re freaking out because it’s not getting the scores they expected it to receive.  (I refer, yet again, to the 20,000 comments that followed Gamespot’s 9/10 review of GTA V, because it dared to say that the game – which, again, received a 9/10 (which, in hindsight, is probably pretty generous) –  is “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic”.  Please note that the review was posted on September 16, 2013, and the game wasn’t released until September 17, 2013.)

One can only presume that the reasoning behind this hysteria is as follows:  critics for big sites examine and point out the ways in which a game is problematic -> less people buy the game as a result -> the franchise dies and there are no more games made ever again.  Alternately, if a game like Gone Home also gets a 9/10, and critics sing its praises about having, for example, strongly written female protagonists, then those are the only games that are ever going to get made.

(Let’s conveniently ignore that GTA V famously made one capital-b Billion dollars in 3 days, and that Gone Home… didn’t.)

Destiny was the most pre-ordered game of all time and that was solely because of manufactured hype.  And I freely admit that I succumbed to the hype, too!  I bought the Digital Guardian edition of Destiny months ago, long before the reviews came out!  And I’m not even that big a Bungie/Halo fan, either!  But what I’d seen and heard of Destiny made it sound like a sure-fire, can’t-miss, awesome game – the best parts of Mass Effect, Borderlands and Halo all rolled into one.

And so when the game finally came out, I went into it with the best of intentions.  I’d spent $70, after all, and all I was expecting was that the reality would live up to the hype.  I was told of the game’s incredible ambition, and I was ready to surrender to its glory.

But the game has problems that are impossible for me to ignore.  Nor am I the only person saying so.  Now, I haven’t finished it, of course; I’m still only at level 14, only two missions into Venus, and so when my other post goes up I’ll explain that I’m starting to understand and appreciate its rhythm a bit more, and that there is a fun game buried beneath the game’s horrendously inept narrative.  But even if the shooting mechanics are solid, I still maintain that what I wanted – or, rather, what I was told I would be getting – is not at all what I have received.

My pointing this out should not affect your opinion, whether you agree with me or not.  I’m not trying to convert you; I’m trying to explain where the game is falling short for me.  Doing so helps me better understand what it is I do like; it helps me better appreciate the thing I’m experiencing.  As I grow older, and as my perspective of the world changes, I find that my tastes change and evolve.  I don’t necessarily like the same music that I did when I was 12, and some of the films I adored when I was younger don’t necessarily hold up now.  That doesn’t negate my earlier feelings; it just means I’m not that same person any more.

But you’d better believe that when I was 12 and obsessed over the stuff I was obsessed with, I’d listen and analyze and tear that stuff apart to understand why I liked it so much.  Yes, there is a simple joy to be had in not constantly thinking about a game or an album or a film; but there is also a different, complex (and arguably more rewarding) joy in deconstructing the stuff you like and discovering what it is that pleases you.  You not only better understand the thing itself, but you learn things about yourself as well.

Look – you can start your own blog if you want and explain why Destiny is the greatest game ever made.  Indeed, I’d much prefer you explain why you think so, rather than just saying I’m wrong.

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