Even Drinking is a Struggle

He just wanted a drink but they wouldn’t let him, the fuckers. He’d look up and they’d look away, pretending that they weren’t looking, but he knew better.  You don’t own me. You do. They were always looking, waiting, hoping that he’d put the water bottle to his mouth, and then they’d laugh. Look at him! What an embarrassment! He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, no he wouldn’t. So he wouldn’t drink, even though he wanted to, even though they wanted him to. He’d wait until he was back alone. They laughed anyway.

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The Demands of Dark Souls

Dark Souls is a reaction to modern game design and modernity in general. It’s difficult in an era where games are designed to be finished by anyone. It requires total concentration in a world where we usually have our eyes set on multiple screens at any one time. Dark Souls hardly makes sense as a modern video-game and that’s what makes it so great.

 Much of the difficulty in Dark Souls is born out of the repetition that the game requires. An enemy will kill you numerous times but in doing so you learn the attack patterns and the strategies to eventually defeat it. From each death there is a sense of improvement, as you become better acquainted with the enemies’ move-set and starting doing more damage to their seemingly endless health bar. This stops it from feeling banal and tedious. However, each attempt at a boss fight requires the player to traverse an area over which they have already triumphed.   The urge to get back there quickly will often lead to running past enemies on the path and rushing, which can lead to more deaths. This leads to the player wanting to rush more and so being more likely to die.

 Dark Souls is not hard just from being repetitive, it’s also difficult as it is unflinchingly punishing. A single mistimed roll or a missed attack will almost always result in a large chunk of health being taken from you. Yet, this never feels unfair. Partially, because it is typically due to your own mistakes, but also because, when at full health, the vast majority of attacks are survivable. There are a few exceptions to this, but mostly making a mistake is something that can be recovered from with a swig from an estus flask. Doing so is a tough task as there is the added tension of knowing that a single error will lead to the dreaded ‘You Died’ screen. The timing of when to use the estus flask is then crucial as there is a desire to use it immediately in order to have the comfort of a fuller health bar, but this often leaves the player vulnerable to another attack. Again, this is Dark Souls trying to stop the player from rushing and to slow down.

Furthermore, Dark Souls requires constant attention. The game cannot be paused in the middle of action. There are areas that are designated (the bonfires) as being safe, these are infrequent though. Every corner poses a threat and so the player must constantly be on guard and prepared. It is not only enemies that are a danger as there are numerous environmental dangers, ranging from precarious ledges to the cacophony of pressure plates and swinging axes that inhabit Sen’s Fortress. Giving Dark Souls anything less than your full attention will invariably result in death. Glancing at a phone screen may mean an enemy can get one devastating attack living the player on the precipice of death. The pressure ratchets up, the tension rises and a simply fight has immediately transformed into a near death experience. This absolute, undivided attention that Dark Souls constantly demands is hugely opposed to half-attention that most media requires.

You have to give your all to Dark Souls to even stand a chance. 

Player Choice

Player choice, as I view it, is the instances in games that allow the player to directly shape the narrative. This has recently been popularised by games such as ‘The Walking Dead and the ‘Mass Effect’ series. The majority of these choices are minor and come in the form of selecting which line of dialogue the player wishes the character to act out. These can shape relationships with other characters or even the story itself. There are often instances where a choice is integrated into the actual gameplay rather than the simple button prompts that controls dialogue options. For example, in the first episode of The Walking Dead the player must act to either save Shawn or Duck. The only outcome to this choice is Shawn’s death regardless of your choice, but the choice does play an important role by informing your relationship with Kenny, Duck’s father. The choice that they player had was then not ‘true’ as the outcome was already set. This is one issue with choices in games; that they are restricted to what the game says is possible and not what the player thinks may be possible or even what should be possible. These restrictions are clearly in place due to the limitations of most games for complete interactivity and in order to allow the writers more control over the game’s story. The purpose of player choice is to allow the player to have agency in the story through direct interaction with the story itself. The story then does not simply float from a set beginning to end but changes course due to the actions that a player takes.

The issue that player choice creates is that the character through which these choices are made is relegated to a vessel for the player to make these choices and not much more. These characters often have their own background and personality, but these traits are overwritten by the player whenever a choice is made. This eliminates the individuality of said character. They no longer appear as a believable person as the distinguishing feature of humans, the ability to make to make one’s own choices, is removed. Of course, characters never truly have free will as their decisions have already been chosen by a writer. This is not surfaced in stories where the player has no control over the characters as directly as when there are big button prompts telling the player to make a decision on a characters behalf.

By giving the player a choice over certain actions the morals that a character possesses are entirely replaced by those of the player’s. A part of the character is then lost in order to allow the player to interact with the game world in this way. There is no longer a full sense of the character, but a hybridity of player and character. Separation between the two is important in order to allow a clear divide between the game world and reality. They interact and interface with each but there must be obvious boundaries. If the game world is considered reality then there is not a point when that world ends. There is then never a time for reflection on that world, the story contained, and how it can be applied beyond the game to everyday life. The credits rolling at the end are the return to reality and relinquishing the hold on fantasy. Essentially, in order to have an impact on everyday life the game’s world must not be a part of everyday life. 

‘The Witcher’ series does not have the issue of the main character being incomplete whilst allowing player choice as Geralt of Rivia has his own moral code. Each moral choice is not then met with the question of ‘what should I do?’, but ‘what would Geralt do?’ In this way ‘The Witcher’ series is then role-playing as Geralt. You are acting as Geralt rather than Geralt acting like you.

This is not to say that player choice is a bad thing, ‘The Walking Dead’ would be a vastly inferior without it, but there are issues that come with it which are rarely dealt with. The damage that player choice inflicts on the player character is not catastrophic to the game, but does lead to an incompleteness of one character that can only stick out in comparison to the other characters in the game who are entirely themselves. You shouldn’t care for a character because you are that character, you should care because you care for that character. 

Choice in The Last of Us: SPOILERS

The Last of Us is a game about choices, yet the player largely has no agency in those choices. This is important as it allows Joel to be created as a character that is Joel and not a hybrid of himself and the player, as happens in most games that allow player choice in certain, but not all, instances. The player is not Joel. You are playing the game to see what Joel does for himself.

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Why buy a Vita?

You’ve been planning that murder for a while now, and the only thing holding you back is working out how to make that insanity plea work. You’ve tried listening to Mumford Sons and being a Liverpool fan, but, for some reason, everyone still thinks you’re sane. When you buy a Playstation Vita there will be no doubts that you are completely bonkers.

                                     

The screen, like most screens, is reflective and so you can see your beautiful, chiselled face in it. Oh no wait. That’s just my face. You’d want to avoid looking at your own face as much as possible.

 

Touch screens are the only way you can feel anything anymore.

 

Chie can kick a tank into space.

 

The power cord could probably work as a noose to end your horrible, worthless existence.

 

Chie can kick a tank into space.

 

There are two analog sticks. TWO.  That’s twice as many as one. Handhelds are finally up to date with the beginning of this millennium.

 

CHIE CAN KICK A TANK INTO SPACE

 

I wish Chie would kick you into space.

How to be good at videogames

  1. It’s pretty important for you to have fingers. I’d even go as far as to say it’s vital. They’re needed for pressing on the buttons (I’ll explain this action later) and are they only way to do so. No, your nose is not a replacement for fingers. Nor are your toes. Sorry, this is just how the world is.
  2.  Having fingers is a good start but fingers on their own aren’t enough to be a great game-person. They need to be attached to something. We’ll call these things “hands”, which in turn need to be connected to “arms” (Google it), and they need to be coupled with a “body”, preferably your own.  
  3. William Shakespeare is dire at videogames. Shocking I know. The reason for this is because he’s not alive. Try to be alive if you want to be good at videogames.
  4. Make sure you’re playing a videogame. You can’t be good at a videogame if you’re not playing a videogame.
  5. Videogames are about pressing buttons. No, not chocolate buttons. No, not the buttons on your clothes either.  Please stop interrupting me. They appear on a controller (basically a lump of plastic that makes magic happen) which you hold in your “hands” (see 2). You hold the controller in both “hands”. Try to use an even amount of pressure; not too hard, but not too soft. Don’t be worried about getting this wrong. Unless you hold it too hard and end up crushing the controller, embedding splintered plastic in your freakishly powerful hands. If that happens you can be worried.
  6. You want to push these buttons (see 5) with your “fingers” (see 1). Again pressure is key. Too soft and nothing will happen. Too hard and you will most likely penetrate the controller. This will most likely lead to you losing your finger. As we’ve established fingers are crucial for videogames. If you lose a finger you will not be as good at videogames.
  7.  Is it really worth all this hassle to be good at videogames? The chance of losing a finger, or at least seriously maiming yourself, seems too high. I’d just stick with your competitive cup stacking. 

Kanji Tatsumi: It ain’t a matter of guys or chicks

Carolyn Petit in her recent article (Denial of the Self: Queer Characters in Persona 4) criticised Kanji’s character for his rejection of homosexuality, as she believes it “sends the message that homosexuality is shameful and should not be accepted.”  This is not the impression that I got from my own experiences with Persona 4. You’re own reaction to a game is personal and influenced by who you are, and what you have experienced. If you can back up why you feel a certain way, as Carolyn has done, then it is valid. Multiple interpretations are a good thing. Very few games require you to think beyond what is directly shown, and so for two people to have conflicting readings shows a depth to the narrative that can only be positive.

My personal interpretation of Kanji is that his story arc is focused, not on his sexuality, but on the societal expectations imposed on him because of his gender.

Persona 4 certainly strongly suggests that Kanji is gay. Throughout the entirety of his dungeon there is a heavy emphasis on Kanji’s sexuality. With his shadow-self making frequent suggestions of his homosexuality. He even takes on a lisp and more effeminate appearance to mimic the stereotypical view of homosexuals. The game really drives home the homosexual nature of his shadow-self with the appearance that his boss form takes. It uses two mars symbols as weapons as is flanked by two hulking, scantily clad body builders.

Yet, Kanji is probably not a homosexual.  His shadow self is only a fragment of himself and this fragment is derived, not from his own thoughts and feelings, but from those of others. He recalls the mockery that he has suffered at the hands of girls: “You like to sew? What a queer!” and “You don’t act like a guy…”  The fact he does not conform to the social expectations of what it is to be a man is met with the assertions that he then can’t be a “normal” man, and so can’t be straight.  Shadow Kanji raises the questions of “What does it mean to “be a guy”? What does it mean it be “manly”? The answer we are given is that to be manly you have to meet the social expectations of what men do. You cannot, as Kanji does, engage in pastimes that are seen as girly. Society needs to categorise, and when you step outside the lines of one category you are just moved to another. 

New Consoles

You’re probably excited that soon enough actual, concrete details will be released about the next generation of consoles. Soon enough you’ll actually be able to own them and post poorly written diatribes about them on forums. That’s all people do with them, right? I know I don’t play games. I wouldn’t lower myself to them.  I read books, y’know? Actual art like Air Force Gator. Well anyway here’s a list of my tips for console announcements, and life in general, really.

1.       Lower your expectations. Seriously, they are way too high. Yeah, the current crop of consoles are showing their age, and yeah pre-rendered trailers are rad, but high expectations just lead to disappointment. Its like getting excited that that cute girl has actually agreed to go out with you, and now you’re imagining everything that you’ll do together, even though you don’t really know her yet. More importantly she doesn’t yet know just how much you suck.  Don’t argue; you’re reading this, mate. This is pretty much rock bottom. I wasted my time writing this shit, but you’re actually wasting your time reading it, which justifies my writing, but what do you gain from reading it? Fuck all.

2.       Read all the comments on any trailers or news pieces on your favourite site. We’ve already established youre at rock bottom, and the people writing those comments are also there. They just managed to form a crater, they’re like an asteroid of homophobic, sexist bile. By reading the comments youll feel better about yourself, because at least you’re not those guys. 

3.        Be cynical about the thing that everyone is going crazy for. This will prove that you’re edgy and don’t just follow the lamestream opinion. Your fellow forum goers will look at you with awe. The guys will want to be you. The girls still won’t want to be with you unfortunately.

4.       Ignore everything  and do something productive. Spend that time reading some Pynchon so then you can tell people you’ve read Pynchon. Did I mention I’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow? ‘Cause I have, and that’s a big book. This makes me better than you.

Comfort Food

It’s fitting that upon struggling to think of anything to write about today, I have turned to something that typically devolves out of not knowing how to fill one’s time. That is gorging on simpler media when attempting to stave off boredom.

Fifa 12 is my videogame equivalent of comfort food. I barely even think whilst playing it anymore. I simply put on some music, a podcast, or a movie I’ve seen numerous times, and just zone out. Manager mode is really the best for this as it’s not as tough as facing a living, breathing opponent, and just knowing that makes it feel even more frivolous than most videogames already are. I don’t overly care what happens. Nevertheless it’s a good way to spend an hour without exerting much of anything, really.

Familiarity breeds contempt is a widely accepted mantra, though I think in this case it just breeds apathy. I don’t hate Fifa, it’s certainly a good game. I just wouldn’t make the deliberate choice to play it over something else. It’s like drinking water; I’d rather a Coke, but sometimes you just have to drink water, because it’s your only option, or what feels like your only option.

One issue, however, is that I may too often rely on these types of entertainments to, well, entertain me. All of those hours, too many really, spent playing Fifa could’ve been spent making progress in one of the other countless games I have yet to play. Watching one of those innumerable movies I want to watch, or the myriad of other things I want to do. In a perfect world no one would waste any time, ever. We’d all be endlessly productive, and efficient. Alas, we’re (I’m not, at least) not made like that, but if we were I would never have been able to watch every episode of Storage Wars in a few days; it might not even have been made. I am thankful to be able to live a life that allows me to be overly lazy, as many can’t. Being lazy isn’t exactly something I feel good about, rather I’m too lazy to change it.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheels…: Harrowing and gorgeous.

My album of this summer has certainly been Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel… It’s one of the few albums that upon every listening I want to hear it all. It’s an album that works wonderfully as an album, rather than a collection of singles. A sense of cohesion is created, for the most part, due to the constant theme of anguish that the majority of songs ooze. This is not a typical happy and light summer album. Instead it’s rather solemn, slow paced and regretful.

There’s an earnestness to this anguish that stops it from feeling overly self-aggrandising as many songs that deal in one’s woes fall into. The strain that Apple’s voice exhibits trying to hit her peak notes particularly helps to sell the sincerity of her distress. Lyrics such as “stared at you and cut myself” would seem immature without the gravity that Apple brings simply with the emotion she packs into every note.

Left Alone is my personal highlight of The Idler Wheels with the feelings of anguish coming to complete fruition with every struck piano key and high note that Apple painstakingly hits.  It’s also the moment that the lyrics truly seem special and developed, for example “When you were show an orotund mutt, and I was still a dew on petals, rather than a moribund slut” “Slut” is spat out with such venom that one can’t help, but feel pity that Apple feels, or felt, such a way about herself. The throbbing refrain featuring Apple’s singing of the single word ‘alone’ is truly harrowing.  Ultimately, Left Alone is Apple at her most self-disdainful, and most endearing.

Regrettably, the latter stages of the album, the last two songs really, are not as impactful, or smart as the rest of the album. Hot Knife is tonally one of the more positive songs, which puts it at odds with the rest of the album. The metaphor of butter and a hot knife feels juvenile, and that is really all this song explores. It appears shallow when compared to Daredevil or Every Single Night, which delve deep into Apple’s damaged opinion of herself.

In the hands of a lesser artist The Idler Wheel… would come off as narcissistic, and self-aggrandising, but the deftness and sincerity that Apple exposes makes this one of the more emotionally charged albums of the year. There are some low points and disappointments, but the high points are so high that it doesn’t damage the overall quality of the album substantially. A truly touching piece of art.