Category Archives: Society

Latecomers and MMO Citizenship

Back from a trip to the Adriatic coast in Italy which I spent idly hanging at the beach and enjoying their wonderful food, I have been catching up with blogging neighbours and my friends in Wildstar who have of course hit level 50 while I was away. My Esper is currently still at 40 without trying very hard, so I’m in no rush to get to any endgame or attunement questchain. I still haven’t done all the 5man dungeons in Wildstar and it generally seems difficult to find a group of people interested in running them before level cap. This strikes me as weird but is probably testament to Carbine not integrating the dungeons into the leveling process very well. I remember countless Stockades, Deadmines and Gnomeregan runs back as a WoW noob, then Maraudon, Sunken Temple and all the level 55-60 dungeons we would grind on our way to vanilla level cap.

Why are players nowadays skipping dungeons on their way to max level? I’ve experienced the same in GW2 too. Sure, these games will scale your toon and skills down to the appropriate level, still it never feels like the real deal to me running designated lowbie dungeons after hitting level cap. There’s that voice in the back of my head telling me I’m a dirty cheater.

On MMO Citizenship

Commenting on one of Wilhelm’s more recent articles on friends jumping into WoW almost 10 years into its life cycle, and remembering this tweet by Scarybooster, I realized (again) how important it is for me personally to get a chance to play MMOs at launch. I can live without alpha and beta “testing” honestly but I love the spirit and mass hysteria of launch week(-ends), no matter how plagued with bugs and annoyances. This is clearly the addictive phenomenon of shared collective experiences, as much as wishing to be among the first or being a member of the first hour. As clarified over at TAGN, I’d like to grow along with a game, I want to understand where it came from and where it’s going.

Every time Bhagpuss reminisces about the good old EQ times, which he does so well, I feel a bit sad having missed that particular train. A part of me briefly wonders if I should still visit today but no, I don’t think so. There’s simply no way to catch up, to acquire a reasonably deep understanding of EQ that I would personally seek as a player. It’s not just harder to connect to long established communities in MMOs – as someone interested in the design and mechanics of games, it’s an impossible amount of historical baggage to clear through. There is no ‘citizenship’ for someone jumping into EQ in 2014, not for a long time anyway.


And then there’s the matter of dated graphics…(

This is something that I have experienced in LOTRO before and it’s partly a reason why I never made it to level cap (the other part being the mind numbing exp-grind which is daunting to solo). I was never a citizen of Middle Earth the way I would’ve been, automatically, as a launch player. I could’ve gotten there one day maybe, reaching a point where I felt comfortably established. All the same I would remain someone marveling at the veteran tales told in the Prancing Pony, never partaking in any.

Granted, games today make it easier for the late player to catch up and get boosted. All MMO business models rely on a steady stream of players over several years, not just a few months. I wouldn’t say you can’t jump into Wildstar months after launch with any noteable difference. At the same time, I draw a line somewhere around the one-year mark where joining new games is concerned. This is a purely personal choice; you can absolutely enjoy older MMOs, maybe you can even commit to them in the same way as veteran players and be entirely happy with your time in that new world, the way it is right then. I just know from experience that I couldn’t be.

I’m fine missing out on certain content or events happening in MMOs, missing an entire era of gameplay (or several) however feels like skipping the first book in an otherwise excellent fantasy trilogy. MMOs do their best to appear non-linear: they’re always accessible, repeatable, resettable. Yet there are also milestones and caesuras in our virtual worlds, game changers and evolving stories. It’s not all one big broken record so as long as I enjoy the tune, I’d like to listen to all of it.

Holding on to your Escapism

Hello, my name is Syl and I am a screenshot junkie. I admit, I have a weakness for shiny fairytale worlds. Sometimes, I wish I lived there.


There have been times in my life when I have. Half of my childhood (literally) was spent lying on my bed, listening to audio cassettes (fifty-two, for which I will always thank my late grandfather) full of international folklore, mythology and fairytales, while reading the colorfully illustrated booklets. All day long I watched Jack climb the beanstalk, Sindbad fly giant birds and Odysseus fool the cyclops with sheep skins. When George killed the dragon, I was there with him. The secret backdoor in my wardrobe has been wide open all my life. Escaping to fantasy land always came easily to me. It’s what has kept me sane. I don’t want to imagine my life without stories growing up.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism. The key points of consideration, though, are what you’re escaping from, and where you’re escaping to. [source]

When less informed people talk about game-related escapism (for that still seems to be less established than the literary form), they only ever focus on the escape; the negative distancing, the social estrangement. Hardly ever do they understand that when we do, when we need to, we escape to a better place – maybe to the only, currently right place in our life. That it’s only there where we find shelter, safety and peace of mind. For a little while. And that it may save us from something. That it gives us hope.

The objection to fairy stories is that they tell children there are dragons. But children have always known there are dragons. Fairy stories tell children that dragons can be killed. [source]


I will never apologize for my escapism. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I will never be ashamed of what’s kept me alive. Things could have gone badly – instead, I found universal meaning, truth and understanding that reaches beyond the struggles of our everyday lives.

We read to know we are not alone. [C.S. Lewis]

Moving on to the interactive stories of video games was the natural progression of my childhood thirst for fairy tales. Discovering JRPGs around age 10 was a revelation. Later, MMOs finally allowed us to enter the worlds we’ve been day-dreaming about in Lord of the Rings or the Forgotten Realms in full capacity, as ourselves.

The rest is history. I love this genre – I love it for its immersive otherworldly-ness, its places of order and beauty where, for a little while, I can rest in peace and recharge my batteries. In a way, this is self-medicating. Bhagpuss commented elsewhere that ‘the reason games are “fun” is because they allow us to forget for a small time that we are all going to die one day and probably sooner than we would like to think’ and that may be a part of it too, the older we get. I do not fall down the rabbit hole as deeply as I used to nowadays, yet there are still moments in my daily life when I feel completely drained and in almost physical need to switch off and just play games for a while. There have been times when I neglected this part of myself for real life demands and that didn’t go well. I need to keep in touch with my wardrobe; it restores my sanity like nothing else does.


I wish that more people understood this because so many of us deal with the world in similar fashion. In the words of my old philosophy teacher: “the greatest gift we can give our children is to give them stories”. So keep yours close (and check out my new screenshots gallery!) and a happy Monday to all you MMO escapists out there. Hold on to that escapism for as long as you need it.

Green is the new Green! Why none of this really matters (but it’s fun all the same)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. [source]

There is something strangely unsettling, or comforting depending on your viewpoint, about the nature of human culture(s), tastes and trends. It so happens that throughout the entire course of more civilized history, the same topics have been discussed fervently in certain circles, the way they are today in certain circles. The same things have gone in and out of fashion in regular intervals and even the greatest cultural or societal accomplishments would suffer serious setbacks. Revolutions, invasions, fires, plagues all had that kind of power but on a much subtler intellectual level do our social, moral and everyday values fluctuate – rather than following one perfect, smooth line of progression. We are never quite “there” because we cannot make final calls about where that is. In the end, what do we know about tomorrow anyway?

When it comes to fashion or art in general, we’re used to talking about “waves”; plateau shoes and those horrible flared jeans keep coming back ever so often. History repeats itself. Impressionism, surrealism, photorealism – who can say where we’re going? Mainstream furniture design rejected by our parents becomes classy and hip again.


Games releasing this Sept 2013

Of course videogame design and related criticism (professional or amateur doesn’t matter one bit) follow pretty much the same pattern, be it formally or otherwise. Remember how one popular reaction to the big “representation of women in videogames”-debate has been to get more women into the industry, having more women develop, design and write female characters in recent years? All the smart people, the vocal people, the opinion making sites agreed. It’s the answer. It’s the truth.

That argument? So last season! We’re moving past that, as the comment section on one of Gamasutra’s most popular articles of late suggests; why shouldn’t men be able to write interesting female characters? The most acclaimed authors of all time have done? Women write about men all the time? What do you mean, men can’t write good female characters?? You’re not an alien I can’t possibly relate to, are you?

We’ll see more of that soon, I’m sure. Back and forth.

And then there was the MMO community

For a long time now mainstream MMO players, myself included, have driven the genre forward by asking for polish, more accessibility and convenience in game design. When we’re thinking of Ultima Online or Everquest, most of us don’t want to go back. Sometimes we feel like we do, but really….we don’t. At the same time, whenever we’ve gotten used to novelty to the point of saturation, we get nostalgic for some of the old days – yes, even the good old, bad days. Stuff we called broken or annoying suddenly looks appealing. And it’s not just that we want what we don’t have; it’s the realization of a person that has come full circle, that can only fully appreciate in retrospective.  Most noticeably this has happened to me the first time I ever played Minecraft (see second paragraph).

When struck by a particularly powerful wave of homesickness or sudden retro longing, our memory often fails to distinguish, too (wait…was it the “good” or the “bad” type of grind I am missing? Umm..). All MMO players have a hopeless romantic inside of them. Okay, maybe not EVE Online players.

Right now, and Guild Wars 2 has a lot to do with it, I keep hearing how the oldschool questing system of FFXIV A Realm Reborn is “refreshing” or doing it for people. No judgement here, I don’t have to follow suit. It is however a noteworthy and remarkable statement insofar as there is absolutely nothing novel or refreshing about kill ten rats; I can play LOTRO or WoW today and get the same. Yet, that’s not what players are comparing ARR to when they’re calling it refreshing (in its conservatism). They’re comparing to the youngest, the most recent, the closest neighbour in the cultural line of progression: Guild Wars 2 (which made a lot of noise about events).

The wave is on the decline. For a little while. All novelty wears off and becomes boredom – yes, even freedom can get boring in MMOs.


What can we learn from this? That before all so-called progress, what we really want is variation. We yearn to learn things, master things, then move on to different things. Not just new; it needs to be new and different.

Just imagine the implications and impact for game design and development here, how crucial timing is for developers when launching a brand new franchise.

The King is dead! Long live the King!

Given there are only so many ways in which you can design a quest mechanic (insert any other topic of interest in MMOs) green is the new green after we’ve had a fair taste of purple. While the episode is in progress, the correct question is therefore not “who is right / what’s better, green or purple?” but much rather “what stage of the process are we at?”. It’s when we don’t share the answer to that last question on an individual level, when discussions usually start.

Long live easy access! – Long live hoops and attunements!
Long live FFA grouping! – Long live the holy trinity!
Long live public events! – Long live fetch & delivery!
Long live free to play! – Long live subscriptions!
Long live the casual! – Long live the hardcore!

Who is right? What’s truth in the long run, to the one that lives in the moment? Between yesterday’s heyday and today’s progress, the only truth is constant change. But of course we’ll keep arguing, disagreeing and searching on our blogs and elsewhere, as we should – because it’s interesting, social, engaging and occasionally useful. Most of all, it’s fun and I hope you’ll keep doing it with me as we chase that fickle child of time forever. – Yours truly, Syl (currently still riding that purple).

Truth is a child of time, not authority.
[Life of Galileo; B. Brecht]

Does everything have to be a Game now?

I’ve been in the middle of an interesting twitter discussion lately, following up a comment I made after hearing about Choice:Texas (“a serious game about abortion”) via this article on Indiestatik


The replies I received to my comment were intriguing on account of their diversity – from complete agreement to yet another discussion of what constitutes “game” in this day and age. That wasn’t really what I was going for though (even if it has a part in this discussion).

I’ll be honest and say I am completely weirded out by projects such as Choice:Texas and it has nothing to do with subject matter. I am all for making a wider audience aware of serious and seriously difficult but important societal, political or cultural issues, yes even testing new media and avenues of transportation. When it comes in combination with the game label however, I hesitate. This is not the first time either – I’ve had the exact same feelings on the recently published Depression Quest. Now, I’ve read several great reviews on this title and I’ve no reason to doubt any of them. For many personal reasons, one of which being my current employment in a mental care facility, I am a big supporter of getting the word out on illnesses such as depression, on educating a wider audience against common and harmful stigma. Heck, you cannot educate too much on such matters. Yet despite all of this, the title Depression Quest still fills me with cringe.

How do you make a “quest” out of something as crippling and insidious as clinical depression? How does the association with all of this being like a quest – that traditionally heroic undertaking with epic loot at the end – add anything to an otherwise important message? I get it: Depression Quest is an earnest attempt to take away some of the gloom off a heavy subject, in order to make it more accessible and encourage people to put themselves in the position of a person affected by depression. I just genuinely wonder why we need gameplay mechanics, tropes and quests to learn about or show interest in such topics? I wonder too, if the average person truly takes this seriously as usual gamer habits, such as looking for the correct answer or choosing the most efficient path, kick in (I assume that the main target audience of this title would be especially those who do not usually engage with it?). And if such isn’t possible here, is it still a game? Why does it need to be? Can we not learn about the world anymore in non-gamey fashion?

Choice:Texas takes my intuitive misgivings a step further. It is majorly bizarre to me how one can make a game out of “the severe restrictions placed on women’s health care access in Texas”. – Are you serious? That is a game now? You have just lost me completely.

Just to make it plain once more, I get all the intention behind this and the need for education. I just honestly don’t see how applying the game label to such a matter can help. There is an almost insurmountable bias or thematic association I have with the term game and I am happy to bet so have most people. Even if videogames can serve multiple purposes or be designed therefor, historically speaking games have been pastimes, activities done for distraction or entertainment. They are short-lived, limited in severity and therefore trivial to a certain point. And that lies at the heart of the problem for me personally: game is trivializing. I don’t feel it serves anybody to trivialize the issue of abortion laws in Texas to a point where it can be packaged into neat units of gameplay (*).

I don’t see how evoking associations with gaming (and questing, gathering points or beating the game from there) aren’t counter-productive in this case. One could even suspect the creators of Choice:Texas have already had similar doubts or why keep emphasizing how this is “a very serious game”? To clarify: I absolutely think you can create things like comics or even interactive clips / stories etc. on political subjects but why call them games?

Maybe I am completely off here and I’m sure those who think so, will kindly let me know. As I said, I appreciate all underlying intention but to me there is a bad aftertaste of desperate marketing thrown in the whole mix, all other misgivings aside. I think games are a wonderful medium, vast and creative, diverse and powerful, but all considered I still believe some things should be worth saying and hearing without having to make a game out of them. Guess I’m just old fashioned that way.

(*)This is where I take the opportunity to recommend the Black Mirror trilogy, especially season one, episode two: “15 Million Merits”.

When did frivolty go out of fashion?

When Syp shared a link to this excellent Extra Credits video today, I couldn’t help but think about how videogames indeed have changed since the 80ies when the whole business started off. And not just games actually but western pop-culture as a whole; I used to love the silly action flicks (like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop) of the 80ies, I still do. Their kind or also the type of sitcoms that used to be popular at the time, are almost completely non-existent nowadays. Critics would tear them apart. Everything has become a lot more complex and that is an inevitable part of an evolution and progression – but things have also become a lot darker, grimmer and more cynical.


My retro extremist friend Cyrille, who’s been a next-gen-grump ever since the early 90ies, used to tell me how games were increasingly losing that “charm and magic” for him and I don’t think he was merely a victim of nostalgia. Yeah, we’ve grown-up since the 80ies but our games at the time were created by grown-ups and those action movies I miss so much were also created by grown-ups for grown-ups? So there’s clearly something bigger at work here culturally when we compare different eras. When did it become so unfashionable and untrendy to be frivolous? Why is it silly to be a little silly and over the top? Why this trend of ever darker and edgier?

In context of many of the recent “blogging cowboys/girls aka is blogging dying out?”-debates in the blogosphere (I’m not worried, by the way), particularly also this take by Liore and my personal reply in the comment section, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own blogging and blog as part of the MMO blogging community. As Wilhelm put it too, gold is where you find it and that community is wherever we believe it to be depending on the particular space we inhabit and our closest neighbors. I’m very happy and grateful where I am, for the way things have gone so far and for all the amazing people that frequent my comment sections and populate my blogroll, filling my head with new thoughts and ideas. I know fully well though that there are also a few readers and probably also more bigtime bloggers, who believe I am not serious enough because I dare to be hypey/enthusiastic or ranty/pissed in some of my reviews. Or then, I delight in more silly and trivial things or swear on appropriate occasion. This blog is a colorful place, I hope for more than just its design. To me, the world of videogames isn’t serious – it’s colorful, hyperbolic, goofy, hilarious, strange, creepy and fantastic. My heart goes out to the part where the Extra Credits video speaks about Final Fantasy and how the older titles dared to be shamelessly magical and over-the-top. It was pure fun and joy, it was silly and beautiful.

That’s everything games and the entire fantasy genre for that matter, are to me. That’s also what I’d like to be and remain as a blogger, hot and cold as appropriate (I actually believe true balance is created by the existence of two extremes), enthusiastic and passionate about the things I write. It’s a great feat to be a consistent source of information for your readers, but there’s also wanting to inspire connections and emotions, looking to create a spark or maybe just a smile or constructive disagreement. When I started my journey in this blogosphere, I introduced a regular category of posts called “Frivolous Friday” to celebrate the trivial and humorous side of gaming. I realize though, I too have stopped paying this category the regular tribute it deserves and for this I apologize. Truly. I hope it’s not because I considered it to draw too little attention or because I felt some kind of peer pressure. More than maybe most of the articles I write on MMO Gypsy, passionate explorer and social justice discussions aside, frivolous Friday represents me as a person. I love creative, poetic or silly writing as much as putting on the meta design or social critic’s hat. I can do both.

So I guess to bring both topics to a happy end: let’s not forget about the simple joy and fantastic hyperbole that can be part of games and MMOs. It’s okay to just entertain or delight in silly stuff while also being a srs blogger. Just because we’re growing up doesn’t mean all of our games or other interests have to.

Free-to-Play vs. Gambling

The Kleps kicked the never quite dead F2p-debate back to life this last Monday, and another interesting series of posts (Rohan, Tobold, Rowan, Telwyn) emerged as a result. With Rift now also F2P and upcoming titles like Wildstar or TESO having not yet disclosed payment options, many gamers are wondering who will ever be bold enough again to dare the subscription. Personally, I seem to care more for debating principles than the answers to these questions. If Zenimax Online want me to pay a sub for TESO, I will. If not – well, either way I’ll raid the shop.


Blogging buddy Liore and I go way back when it comes to discussing F2P back and forth on our blogs, so it was only a matter of time until we’d put on our boxing gloves and get into the ring together. No really, it was my great pleasure to finally have a personal chat this past week as guest on the delightful Cat Context Podcast (our exchange starting around 31 mins), with both Liore and co-host Ellyndrial speaking for the F2P skeptics. We tackled many of the core issues and realized that we disagree mostly on details rather than what matters most to us in MMOs. No surprises there.

That’s not where the discussion ended though – no, this is a persistent one. Belghast went forth and shared this interesting follow-up on his F2P “conversion”, sharing his past experiences with EQ2 going free to play (which then also spawned another reply from Liore here). I am always looking for personal recaps like this; what’s changing for you when an MMO switches to F2P? What tangible consequences does it have that possibly impact on you negatively?

Random drops vs. gambling

In an exchange with Ellyndrial on the podcast, I mentioned that I do not believe random lockboxes (for which keys can be bought via ingame shops like in GW2) or lottery tickets can be compared to real world gambling, the way it happens in casinos for example. The basic assumption being that cash shops may cause players to lose control of their spending, getting addicted to a luck-based system looking to relieve them of their money. To be clear, I absolutely feel casino gambling needs to be regulated – I do however not believe that lockboxes dropping in MMOs follow the same psychological pattern or harbor the same potential for addiction. Not claiming professional expertise on the subject (and those who do may come forth please), I see some distinct differences between the two activities.

Interestingly enough I happened to watch a documentary recently on David Choe, graffiti artist and facebook millionaire, also pathological gambler, which added to my inner monologue. Choe made his first million gambling in Las Vegas before turning 30 years old. That first milestone was preceded by years of a vagabond lifestyle, being notoriously broke and loosing vast amounts of money at the gambling table. Self-proclaimed gambling addict, Choe had this to say about his “fever” (paraphrased): I always felt I was winning, even when I lost everything. I won most of my games, only to go and lose everything on the last one.

There’s a devious quality to gambling in the sense that it continuously conveys feelings of both success and control to its victims. Gambling is a game of many stages, there is a progression to the gambler’s journey in which he feels that he is learning, improving and even winning. Winning is a big part in that quest for more, raising the stakes and then “gambling it all away” in one fatal loss (endorphins and adrenaline = powerful drugs). All of these elements are essential to developing addiction (biological dispositions aside) – the sense of control/strategizing (poker pros will tell you that the game is 90% nerves), reassuring mini-successes, progression of risk and potential winnings.

Virtual lockboxes do not share any of these psychological hooks. They’re completely random, there is usually no influencing outcome, improving one’s own performance or “getting closer” involved. It is therefore not nearly as motivating to spend endless cash on keys because there is no “game” aspect. Which doesn’t mean somebody might not spend ludicrous amounts of cash on the off chance of epic pixel – but to speak of addiction or danger to a wider audience feels off in this scenario. That person is likely after a very specific drop and generally there’s nothing wrong with spending money (or time) on something luck-based in games. We do this all the time?

There’s more to this though, even if we assumed a way simpler analogy such as a slot machine with very random outcome (I do not know how many people get ruined by this rather than card games). A big difference between gambling and pixel-hunting is that gambler’s play for money. The Faculty of Economics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland (ya, I live here so that’s my resource), recently revealed intriguing study results on the development of “altruism” in children. Test results were based on children’s social sharing behavior between ages 3-6. The perplexing part: while children, especially older ones and therefore already more socialized, were happy to share candy equally with peers, results changed dramatically once money was substituted. Children would either change the ratio in which money was shared or share none of it. This lead the leading researcher to assume that children learn the social and economical significance of money early on. He then elaborated on why humans react differently to money than to any other type of resource: money is a tricky currency because money is abstract. Money isn’t so much goods as it is potential; to give money away is to give away opportunities and power that we cannot control or estimate. We can imagine few things anyone could do with candy – but money, money holds as many plans as there are people.

Gamblers gamble for money and when they gamble for money, they gamble for plans and dreams. For one person it might just be a dream of winning or wealth, for another the resolution to very imminent and dire life circumstances. Not only that – gamblers gamble with money for money. When I spend coin on the slot machine, there’s a very clear, calculated ratio/equation between input and output. I’ll make a mental note à la “if I put in 10$ and win 100$, that is ten times more” or “if I lose, that’s still only 10% of my potential winnings”. That makes it seem alright and in some cases probably adds fuel to a perilous journey.


Again, lock boxes / lottery tickets hold neither abstract appeal nor absolute value in MMOs. Usually players hope to get a very specific drop, most likely an epic item or rare pet or similar. How much that reward is truly “worth” is impossible to measure (unless sellable – but this is not the chosen avenue of gold farmers) and therefore also cannot be equated to how much money was spent in order to get it. Sparkle ponies may be worth 10 keys to one player and 50 to another. Add to this considerations of “what other mounts are there in the game I could go for instead?” and meta-currency systems that also allow ingame currency to be converted in some cases, and you’ll see how much that differs from casino gambling or even real life lottery.

Wrapping up

To return to the topic of F2P, I believe it is very important to continuously question and observe the practices developers and publishers engage in to make systems more profitable. I’m very critical of pay-to-win in MMOs and shy away from games mentioning their cash shop at every occasion. I also agree with Liore that F2P only works because of micro-transactions and therefore needs to try draw players in. To me, that is a legitimate cause – without anyone spending money in a F2P game, there is no game. I have faith in players managing their own money and knowing what they want though. What matters to me is how cash shops are implemented, what kind of wares they offer and how their presence impacts on gameplay and overall immersion. We’ve recently experienced just how much of a difference the audience can make in this business and it remains our job to keep both an open mind but also open eyes to changes in this industry and how they may affect us.

At the present stage where F2P is still being adopted and shaped into a better model for western MMOs, I’m personally not seeing signs of a pay-to-win culture developing the way we know it from East-Asia (Gamasutra has an interesting clarification on this, check it out!), nor do I find items for sale that would significantly impact on player economy or endgame (just to name two examples of what’s popularly deemed unacceptable) in the F2Ps I am personally playing. Cash shop items remain optional and practices transparent – if not without inherent advantages, triggers and temptation, especially where cosmetics are concerned. If that’s where we’ll stay with upcoming MMO titles, hopefully offering more hybrid models à la LOTRO, I am completely okay with F2P.

Happy weekend everybody, with or without virtual shinies.

Videogames, Repetition and the Subconscious Mind

Anita Sarkeesian published her second part of the Damsel in Distress trope on youtube last night and after initial hiccups (as in a bunch of her haters getting the video auto-banned thanks to spamming report buttons), I was able to watch what turns out to be the grimmest of her documentaries so far. I recommend watching it not just for the general insight however but to experience the intended repetition in this video, the repeated descriptions of tropes such as “…the X is brutally murdered and you then have to rescue your daughter” (starting at 07:40) which incidentally aren’t only a powerful tool in conveying the inherent absurdity, but touch on a greater subject so central to this discussion: repetition.

Repetition and the subconscious mind

Sarkeesian, by now used to the violent opposition and ruthless nitpicking her videos provoke on a regular basis, is including more and more clarifying (and in places toning down) final words in her recent documentaries, forestalling no doubt many of the incoming exclamations of “..but not all games/men/women are like that!” or “…just because lots of X doesn’t mean I am Y!” and erm, yeah.  I doubt it helps much but I appreciate her attempt at balancing where there is not much balance to find. Of course she grants that just because gamers keep seeing certain power constellations or violent problem solving in games over and over, that doesn’t mean we go out on a killing spree the next weekend.

What all those who think they remain unaffected by common videogame tropes and imagery should know however, is that it’s not up to them but their brain to make that call – and the brain happens to be an utterly impressionable organ when it comes to the power of repetition. There is a reason why when googling the search terms “mind control and repetition”, you will not only be presented with educational sites about effective studying methods, but surveys about psychological brain washing, scientifically researched mind conditioning and manipulation techniques employed in interrogation and warfare scenarios. For hundreds of years, repetition has been one of the simplest and yet most effective ways to influence and control human minds ever so slowly and subtly. Methods such as the well-known “drill” employed in the military but also intense sessions of repeated prayer in institutionalized religion, aka “litany”, are based on the same principles.

Our mind is highly susceptible and vulnerable to repetition on a subconscious level. This is most commonly seen in children/people who are bullied over longer periods of time, to a point where they adopt the negative image of themselves, communicated over and over by their peers. They are brainwashed. It is then the daily challenge of educators, social workers and psychologists to try and untie the harmful knots. More often than not, they do not succeed. We simply cannot unhear what we have heard a hundred times – just like we cannot unsee what has been seen too often. It leaves a powerful mental print and shapes our notion of what we are, how we look and what we should be and look like. Rationalization proves to be surprisingly ineffective here even for grownups, although one common therapy of the damaged self-image is also based on repeated, positive affirmation (“over-writing”).


Accepting knowledge about how the human mind works has a sobering effect on the (videogame) tropes debate. No media that are consumed on a very regular basis and which require dedicated levels of attention, can distance themselves from shaping thoughts and behavior of their audiences. This in itself is still trivial unless we are talking about recurring and repeated scenarios, representations of reality and normality. Movies, commercials and print media have a lion’s share here but so do videogames increasingly.

Contextual chunks and you

Physical violence is an integral part of many video game genres, even more “peaceful” ones at first glance and probably always will be. While there are those who would ban shooters from the market yesterday, the overwhelming number of “peaceful gamers” out there (and observations towards the relaxing effect of shooters) speak a pretty clear language in that debate. I don’t think it should ever be silenced but I don’t believe that depictions of “just violence” in media cause the likeliest harm; violence in and out of itself isn’t a motivation and it doesn’t create content in videogames. Much rather, it is fully fleshed out, repeated stories, the finely woven and complex relationships, stereotypes and tropes that we are continuously presented with. That’s why “but we’re also not shooting everybody” doesn’t really apply as counter-argument to Sarkeesian’s points. It’s the repeated subtle messages and subtext in our daily lives that deserve the most attention and that are mirrored in the games we play.

One of the most interesting lessons I’ve taken away from a speed reading seminar few years back, is that there’s a common misconception among readers and also educators that slow reading improves contextual understanding. In truth the contrary is the case: there’s such a thing as reading too slowly (the way your teacher might have asked for back in school). The reason for this is that our brain processes and stores information best in chunks or groups of words and alternatively through images. Only in context do we understand and memorize the most, so it’s easy to see why reading text word by word rather than word chains isn’t exactly helpful. Speed reading isn’t primarily just about being faster but understanding the most in regards to time spent. It’s a skill that can be obtained.

Complex social, contextual relationships, role models, power mechanics and tropes repeatedly shown in media, especially those that combine messages with graphical elements, are the likeliest to get memorized and hence to influence us subconsciously. Personally, I believe that a big part of what our society regards as masculine and feminine traits and behavior for instance is based on the returning “stories shown and told all around us” from an early age. The same goes for our notion of beauty which has drastically changed over time. It isn’t just fashion posters but much rather fairy tales, picture books, movies and daily chatter that teach us what’s desirable or unattractive.

The tropes Sarkeesian is analyzing in her video are complex, crude as their examples might look like. The “girlfriend in the fridge” in all its portrayed variations is built on deep psychological and emotional triggers that are as socially meaningful as they appear to be accepted without question. Yet, it’s the things we are just so used to that require our critical attention. Why is there not more variety in videogame victims and heroes? And why does “flipping the script” (as mentioned towards the end of the video) seem so silly?

tropfI don’t think that videogames need to be highlighted more than any other, in the case of film or literature even more widespread media when it comes to violent, sexist tropes and questioning all their implications for a society. But videogames are a powerful tool for storytelling and therefore they too deserve scrutiny. Whether we like it or not, we are subject to harmful thematic repetitions in games (not just in regards to gender roles) that we are not naturally equipped to ignore. This isn’t some psycho-babble; valuing iteration is just what our brain is really good at. And it happens in spite of us.

That’s why this debate can’t be trivialized and it can’t be shrugged off. It isn’t just about what gamers think they can rationalize or distance themselves from because “umm fiction”; the critical analyzis of repeated violent tropes or gender roles in games and other media is one we need to take seriously because our mind cannot escape repetition. And that, to me, bears repeating.

The quintessential indispensable guide to successful blogging (and cheeseballs)

In case you’re wondering what’s up with my publishing speed of late, I am finally off work! Yes, that evil work from hell and I couldn’t be happier about it. I am back open road, my old friend! Just this Monday I got an SMS from my successor and she is telling me that she intends to resign this week (after a mere two weeks in a company I stayed at for 8 months) and that the other new gal (who replaced everyone else of my team who have also resigned with me) already resigned last Friday. Ahahaha! If only I could shed a tear for my former bosses but sometimes karma hits the right people.

Anyway, I noticed that I have been entirely too unserious with my blogging of late, so today I intend to fix this by giving quintessential blogging advice after receiving an email from Sam, a silent longterm reader who approached me about how to best establish a successful blogging venture. Now, back in the days I would’ve felt horribly unqualified to answer such a question and just have redirected him over to Larisa, who always offered the best of counsel mixed with some genuine, motherly peptalk. Truth be told, I still feel rather awkward to share my “wisdom” on something I still consider trivial at its core (not the art of great writing mind) but then again, I have been a steady blogger for 2.5 years now with 300ish posts published – so why the hell not?

Of course, the internet is full of serious blogging advice by very experienced individuals. These days you can hardly get a word out before being confronted with “becoming a great blogger” and all the fatal “do’s and donts” of publishing – and rightly so! After all, this is the new journalism and we need to imitate that crowd. So, I can definitely see why some people are intimidated to start their own blog, no matter how long they’ve toyed with the idea. For those, let me guide you on your road to guaranteed successfullness.

The lofty art of SRS blogging

Dear Sam and everyone else it concerns,
I hate saying it but while blogging ain’t rocket science, you gotta know your stuff these days. You wanna stand out among one billion gazillion bloggers out there, don’t ya? Well, you better follow this guide meticulously. It really isn’t so hard (or scary) if you follow few easy steps!

Rule #1: Be overbearingly present!
If you intend to start your own blog, you better know that it’s not enough to write good articles regularly. Make sure to also get accounts on facebook, myspace, google plus, twitter, tumblr and youtube right away – the more, the better. NETWORKING NETWORKING NETWORKING! If you wanna up your traffic, your presence gotta be inescapable!

Rule #2: Nomen est omen!
Naming your blog is serious business. Further down the line to fame and success, you might hate yourself for not having given this proper thought and then it’s too late! Think hard on something fresh and catchy that represents you and sticks with people, or don’t open a blog at all. Ever. 
Good example: a geeky/techie wordplay on your name and chosen subject.
Bad example: completely unrelated monkey business.

Rule #3: Limit your subject and be real!
The worst you can do to establish a big readership fast and harvest hits, is to write about too wide a field of topics. You want to be known for something, right? Even if you are a really interesting person with many different interests, try to focus and deliver one thing only. Also, avoid niche topics and meta analysis. Nobody wants to read a meta commentary blog on MMORPG design, for example. Trust me.

Rule #4: Guides guides guides!
The best you can do to keep’em hits rollin’ is writing guides. Might sound dry and boring to you, but nothing gets you street cred and longterm visits like a nice and detailed guide with pictures. Great writing and insightful debates are cool and all but….guides dude, guides!

Rule #5: Use catchy post titles!
You probably know how the google search engine works, so you want to make sure when people are looking for something they always end up on your blog! Intention means nothing but every hit counts! Try and make your post titles as search engine catchy as you possibly can. Add meta tags and work broad terminology into the mix! If you manage to weave “cheeseballs” coherently into any given post title, you basically got it down. Ninja!

Rule #6: Sound smarter than you are!
Make any given topic sound like an academic treatise. The art of spicing up the mundane lies in correct placement of a few superfluous but trendy or intellectual sounding catchwords the average reader probably won’t understand. Popular words include: “dichotomy, paradigm (shift), per se, oeuvre, juxtaposition” etc. Jep, any of those will do. Or better even, use them all!

Rule #7: Don’t swear!
You may never ever swear or sink to vulgarity in an article. Even if it’s really witty and in context, or alternatively just damn funny and honest, you do not want to alienate anyone by using bad words on your blog. Only unprofessional and shady people swear. In general, avoid being too extreme with your opinions; you don’t want to polarize – to polarize is to lose half of a potential audience. People only like strong opinions as long as they are theirs.

I will stop here because seven is a beautiful number. Also, these are really the most valuable points I can possibly pass on to rookie bloggers – points I live by myself every day. I hope I’ve managed to show that there’s nothing to worry about whatsoever as long as you heed a few simple, widely approved rules. If not, I’m afraid to say your blog’s gonna crash and burn and sink into oblivion.

Also, for Sam – please check my other answer in your inbox!
Best wishes,

(who is entirely guilty of using ‘per se’ when others aren’t looking. The Big Yin would not approve.)

The Deathbed Fallacy. Or: Spare me your Gamer’s Remorse, Thank You!

(This post is dedicated to all the happy gamers out there. And the unhappy ones.)

I have one more month to go at the current job, much to my great delight. Imagine my surprise then when today, somewhat late, I discovered a distant co-worker talking about his WoW raiding spree some years ago, when he was still a progression raider on his horde shaman. Unfortunately however, WoW had “gone wrong” sometime after WotLK (which is true of course) and so he stopped his raiding career of many years and approximately 172 days of total playtime. What a familiar story.

However, my initial fuzzy surge of ex-raider fellowship was short-lived; three minutes into the conversation, the topic shifted to what an utter waste of time it had been to play as much WoW as he had. How could anyone in his right mind spend that much time on games? And with nothing to show for after such a long time? Never ever would he do anything like it again.

Of course! I can never be that lucky….after all this workplace just sucks in all respects!

From there this guy went to explain how he’s rather playing online poker these days and earn some money – because that activity at least has some financial upside (and hence must be utterly worthwhile compared to playing silly fantasy games). Of course my mind was reeling from all the familiar, hollow argumentation at that point, but what struck me the most about this person was the way his enthusiastic flashback of past WoW days turned into such a fundamental condemnation of the once cherished pastime. His eyes had been shining brightly thinking back on his raiding career. There was grim pride in his words when he clarified he’d been one of the “real raiders” on a popular German progression server. Not to mistake with one of the casual crowd! He had killed Arthas on 25man and more. He had “had everything”.

And quite obvious to me, he had enjoyed that greatly. To such a point, a distant shadow of that past glory was still surfacing on his now frowning face. And yet, somewhere along the line that same mind convinced itself that it had all been worthless. An odd ambiguity bespeaking a battle between feelings and reason.
I was just waiting for him to say it: how none of us wish we had played more videogames on our deathbed. At least he spared me that particular cringe.

What none of us wish

Besides the obvious thing, that there’s an awful lot of things we won’t be wishing for when facing death one day, no matter how much we have done them, the truth is most of us will never ever find ourselves on that proverbial death bed. You know, that peaceful and solemn end-of-days contemplation as we feel the last flicker of life leaving our body. That perfectly timed moment of retrospective. And even if by some chance we did, we wouldn’t be thinking of having played too many videogames; in fact I have this wild hunch we wouldn’t think about games at all. This entire analogy isn’t even a thing, it’s nonsensical and construed. Anyway.

Sometimes I still wonder, in a brief moment of desperate frustration, how long is it gonna take? How much more established do videogames need to become in contemporary, western culture to be regarded just as any other hobby out there that isn’t necessarily making “financial profit”(?) That isn’t productive on a first-glance or physically tangible level (tangible on many other levels though). Heck, some hobbies are actually downright detrimental to your health and wellbeing and even those are more accepted than gaming. It’s nuts.

Not to mention of course all the upsides and benefits of videogaming as a hobby / passion. So often documented by gamers out there. Again and again. I’ve talked about it myself, At least twice. I don’t feel the need to revisit this topic. By now there’s a multitude of studies and hard facts out there on all the things that gamers are better at, from hand-eye coordination to abstract thinking, from organizational to certain social skills. And then, in case you missed it in 2012, there’s pieces like this one that actually deal, literally, with the deathbed fallacy in context of videogaming. Yeah, it’s McGonigal again – she’s an enthusiast. And she has a point.

So, in case you still detect yourself in that thought process sometimes, privately maybe as you ponder how much “greater you could’ve been without videogames”, how games stifled your growth and progress in other areas when they’ve really just been an excuse from yourself, saving you from self-doubt and the realization that maybe you’re not going to be a big world changer, internationally acclaimed author, scientist or designer after all – here’s a short transcription from McGonigal’s 2012 TED talk:

“Hospice workers, the people who take care of us at the end of our
lives, recently issued a report on the most frequently expressed regrets
that people say when they are literally on their deathbeds. And that’s
what I wanna share with you today, the top five regrets of the dying:

  • Number 1: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • Number 2: I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  • Number 3: I wish I had let myself be happier.
  • Number 4: I wish I had the courage to express my true self.
  • Number 5: I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others expected of me.” [source]

Now, I don’t think I need to further comment this list. I only wish you do yourself a favor: take it to heart. And while we’re at it: do me a favor and spare me from your goddamn gamer’s remorse.
If you feel the gaming blues sometime (I have), take some time off! If you aren’t enjoying games anymore, don’t play them! If you feel you’re spending too much time on games, play less games! If you feel you’re using games as an unhealthy outlet, ask for help.

….but spare me and the rest of the happily ever after gaming crowd. Spare me the underachiever complex and lamentation of failed grandeur which you so graciously bestow on everyone around you in one sweeping, condescending blow of rotten hindsight wisdom. I think videogames are fucking great – they have been for the past 28 years of my life! That’s for how long I’ve been playing them, so I think I too know a thing or two about the subject.

Just….SPARE ME. Thanks!

New to this World – Musings on MMO Tourism

When Kleps described a particular type of MMO tourist the other day, something about that label stuck with me even though I couldn’t feel further apart from such tourist mindset. Be it in MMOs or in general, I immensely enjoy new experiences and I’m a sucker for exploring strange lands and cultures which is no doubt partly due to very mixed heritage. I’m a traveler in real life as much as virtual worlds with quite a long list of countries that I’ve visited in my backpack (more to be added!). Had I been bestowed with substantial wealth from birth, I would probably have become a full time gipsy, releasing travel diaries or guides and shit…for free. The road is ever calling to me and those five weeks of annual holidays I get nowadays are sacred. Next summer’s trip is already greatly anticipated!

I’m a strong believer in that traveling is one of the most beneficial and eye-opening things we can do as human beings, something that will shape and educate your understanding (and hence respect) for other, different places and people more than any theory in a book or well-polished political speech ever could. It is humbling to be a guest in a strange country and be treated as a friend; to break bread with people who have no reason to offer you hospitality but share the little they have; to discover first-hand just how similar we all are despite all hyped cultural differences and outward appearances. To realize how much wealth and beauty is out there that the daily news never talk about. But this we can only learn by actually leaving our own doorsteps – you cannot smell the roses by reading about it in a book.

Yet, for all my personal inclinations, my love for travel, languages and cultures, I am still feeling a bit like a tourist in GW2 right now. Not the willfully ignorant tourist described further up, but a tourist in the sense that while GW2 is a truly immersive MMO with the most amazing world, there are moments when I feel more like a guest or even intruder, rather than somebody setting up his own home. I happen to know exactly why that is too.

So close and yet so far

I never played GW(1). I mentioned briefly once why I didn’t and I’m currently in very good company when it comes to people who skipped GW but are now invested in GW2. It’s not just the timing but the fact that the two MMOs are very different in many essential ways. GW2 is not exactly a “sequel” and yet, ANet have obviously conserved much of the world that was old Tyria for their faithful player base – the lore, characters, setting and atmosphere first and foremost.

That’s where my misgivings, which are completely self-fabricated (just to clear that up) come in though; it might sound bizarre but a part of me feels like I have no right to be here. I’m the newbie in Tyria and not just that, I am the player who didn’t support the first game, now showing up for its shinier, more mass-market successor. YIKES!

While the olde GW community is taking a sad goodbye from a game they called home for years, I get to enjoy the moment without any ambivalence felt. It’s great articles like that one or like Jeromai’s that remind me just how little I know about this world; how much there has been before and how I am unable to draw connections the way longtime GW players can. It’s also hearing a new ingame acquaintance (met during anonymous questing zomg!) talk about how she’s waited on GW2 for five years (I waited two to be fair) while being an avid GW player, and how disappointed she is in many respects because “GW2 is not like GW” (and where the fuck did the monk class go…). Which I can actually empathize with when seen from that perspective.

(She also mentioned that “coming from WoW or Rift, everything must seem really great of course”….I know there is an insult there somewhere!)

It just bothers me that I am likely missing a lot of details and hidden meaning while playing, even if much will get clearer in time. It bothers me too, that I simply cannot fully connect or give comfort to some players that are now in my own world but still feel strangely apart. They’ve been longer in Tyria than myself and I feel like they have much more right to it. Does that even make sense?? Ah well.
“Hi, I’m new! Hope it’s alright if I join you guys!”

Sometimes I wonder how all the new, heightened attention for GW2 must feel to GW veterans right now – other bloggers like Hunter for example who have been dedicated to that game forever. What a bunch of enthusiastic party crashers we must look to them….

I am probably exaggerating at this point and frankly I wonder if I managed to explain my feelings very well. It’s all extremely silly in many respects, first and foremost because ANet surely want more players to enjoy GW2 than played GW, after having put seven(?) years into its development. I know that, trust me! Also, I’ve no resentment whatsoever towards GW veterans in case there’s any doubts – quite the contrary – and I don’t even know if they truly see the likes of me coming from other MMOs as party crashers or greenhorns or whatever (although I could understand if they did). It’s just….now that I’m immersing myself in Tyria with every intention not to stay a tourist for long, I’m a little sad that I missed its “past” – the history of that world others were there for. I’m clearly not used to not being “there from the start” for MMOs I consider a big deal, even if paradoxically I was there for bloody head-start (of doom).

There’s an intangible generation gap and a little bit of self-cringe for blundering into a world with such wide-eyed ignorance that other players are already familiar with. Gawd…I hope we are welcome here and don’t make too big fools out of ourselves in zone and party chats! Sigh.