Video Games Are Better WITH Stories

I don’t know if I have ever read something that managed to simultaneously be so arrogantly intellectual and completely idiotic.

I’m talking about the article The Atlantic posted yesterday written by Ian Bogost, titled, “Video Games Are Better Without Stories.”  Just reading that title made me want to throw up.

Seriously?

Sure, games without stories can be fun, but if there was no value to story-based games, why would anyone buy them?

The article was written, in part, to praise the innovation of the new game, What Remains of Edith Finch.  The author’s point was that Edith Finch breaks the mold of conventional storytelling, instead focusing on an interactive environment.

Bogost likes this so much, he goes on to conclude that games should just do away with stories all together, claiming, “Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?”

Who says that film, television, and literature are better at telling stories?  They are different mediums with different methods of telling stories, and I think they all have their strengths.  That’s why I love television, movies, books, and video games.  They all have story-telling strengths.

But, apparently, games are on trial here, so I have to defend them.

I have already written about games as an art form, but here are the strengths that only games have in narrative specifically:

Choices

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Television, movies, and books all fail to give the viewer the element of choice.  Bogost’s bogus article begins by basically saying real choices can never be made in games, because there will always be limitations.

What is wrong with limited choice, though?  Too much choice, and a story stops becoming a story and just becomes a flat, simulation.  Games like The Walking Dead or the Mass Effect series use limited choice amazingly well.  The story is still being driven to a limited number of directions, but the fact that the player had a bit of input into the narrative, makes it so much more relatable.

Having to make fast decisions, but still having people die made The Walking Dead powerful.  I really felt the losses and felt the hopelessness of the situation, instead of watching a show or reading a book where you can yell at people for making the wrong choice.

In a game, it was you that made the wrong choice, or sometimes, there was no other choice, and that makes the loss feel that much worse.

There are many ways that limited choice makes the narrative more impactful, and this is something only video games can do.

Timing

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When watching a movie, a mood or location is established with a couple shots that do not change in length no matter who watches the movie.

In games, when a setting needs to be established, players have all the time they want to explore, talk to people (in some cases), and get the sense of mood and where exactly they are.

This is done exceptionally well in The Last of Us, where setting is crucial to the mood of the story.  When playing, I could control how quickly I moved through the settings, so that I got a better sense of the mood.

You do not have that control in other media.

Environmental Storytelling

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There are other things I could praise video game stories for, like being able to interact with characters, seeing the story play out from different perspectives, immersion, but what I want to focus on is the particular type of video game story-telling that Bogost also focused on.

That is environmental story-telling as done by games like Bioshock and Gone Home.  These games place characters in an environment where the player can piece together a story by finding evidence or voice recordings that are lying about.

Bogost seems to think that this does not count as a form of story-telling.

“Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts? Are they really stories, when they are really environments?”

“Are they really stories”??? Merriam Webster defines stories as “an account of incidents or events.”

So when you find an audio recording that has an account of incidents or events, how is that not a story?  Seriously?

I’m sorry, but this is so ridiculous.

Environmental Storytelling is beautiful because it forces a player to sift through information until the story finally comes together, and the truth dawns on them.

This is a beautiful moment, and it is different with every player.

I am sure that Bogost is a very intelligent man, but I am not sure he has ever played a narrative-based game before.

Stories are beautiful things, and I will take a good story in any form.  Books are beautiful, long works of fiction.  Movies are short, succinct tales.  TV shows are long, drawn-out journeys with many twists and turns.  None of these can give you the immersion of a well crafted narrative-focused game, though.  The choices, the time invested, the challenges overcome, all make the pay-off of the narrative so much more real.

Stories make games so much better, and I hope they never leave the gaming world.

Here’s another link to The Atlantic’s article so that you can read this insanity for yourself: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/04/video-games-stories/524148/

Thank you for reading, and God bless.

Missing the Days of Split-Screen

We all have the memories.

Sitting huddled together with our friends with our legs bent under us on the floor of our living room. Our eyes are fixated on the TV screen above us, leaning in as we hammer away at our controller buttons.

We don’t even realize the sun setting as the room turns from light to dark. The only thing we are aware of is what is happening on the TV screen.

Then we cheer, and our friends groan. We playfully push our best friend who we just beat in a game of Smash Bros or Call of Duty. We’re bonding over the competition and forming memories that will last the rest of our lives.

I remember when “multiplayer” was synonymous with “local multiplayer.” Even when games started going online, if they had online multiplayer they were also going to have local multiplayer as well. That’s just how it was on consoles.

Sadly, we live in an age where local multiplayer is hard to find. The biggest recent multiplayer titles like Overwatch, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, or any other, major AAA title where multiplayer is a major selling point do not have local multiplayer as an available feature.

There’s many reasons for this.

One reason is that is that developers and publishers care about graphic fidelity and frame-rate and consider these to be major selling points. Running two or more separate screens in an environment makes frame-rate drop and makes it harder for them to make the games look as nice as they would like.

Another likely reason is that publishers are greedy, and they want everyone to buy their own console and their own copy of the game, instead of playing at their friends house.

Even a franchise like Halo, that has stood as the last bastion of AAA split-screen multiplayer went away from local multiplayer with Halo 5: Guardians.

Many feel like this is driving gamers apart and into isolation. Sure, online multiplayer is fun, but it is not the same as playing in the same room as friends.

There is hope, however.

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Local multiplayer exists if you look for it.

Couch co-op is becoming popular recently, being able to work with your friends in the same room to accomplish an objective is fun. The best cooperative games I have played (Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends, Divinity: Original Sin) have come out in recent years.

As far as competitive multiplayer goes, it’s a safe bet that we will always have Smash Bros and Mario Cart games on Nintendo consoles, and 343 industries recently made the promise that every future Halo game will have split-screen again.

So, for those who look, there are great experiences out there for competitive multiplayer, but we will probably never see a golden age of local multiplayer again.

And that makes me sad.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Mass Effect Andromeda: Two Weeks After Release

Andromeda has received pretty low reviews for a AAA title, getting a total 71% Metacritic score which includes a really low, 6/10 rating from GameSpot.

Many are furious of the game, and it has gotten plenty of hate from fans.

Is Andromeda the worst game ever? No.

Are the facial animations messy, the dialogue stilted, the writing shaky, and the characters dull? Yes, but not as bad as some are saying.

Every game that has a lot of anticipation around it is going to end up getting a lot of hate, especially if the game is disappointing.

Honestly, Andromeda is extremely disappointing as a Mass Effect fan.  Mass Effect fans expect the greatest writing, most interesting characters, and the absolute best stories to exist in the gaming world. These are high expectations to live up to, but they are expectations that have been set by the quality of the Mass Effect trilogy.

So, when a game has such high expectations, it is really easy to come up short.

The game may not be that good, but I have enjoyed playing it. The exploration and combat are really fun, and although the story is not on par with previous Mass Effect games, I have gotten invested into the fate of the Andromeda Initiative and the characters.

There is some gold there, if you care to look.

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The Ryder family is interesting, and something we never got from Sheppard in Mass Effect.  The atmosphere of exploring and finding new worlds is also different than the trilogy, and it is a nice, fresh new twist.

Another important thing to note is that as a fan of the Mass Effect games Andromeda is disappointing, but as a fan of Mass Effect lore the game is quite fun to explore.

The visuals all feel Mass Effect, and everything besides character faces look beautiful on the Frostbite engine.

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I think that the key here is that this is still a fun game that can be really enjoyed.  It is definitely not game of the year material, but if you like big open worlds, action RPGs, or Mass Effect, this is a good game.

I do not regret purchasing Mass Effect Andromeda, and neither should you.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Console Wars: Good or Bad?

Photo Credit: TechRadar

It has been several years now since the releases of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 back at the end of 2013. Back then, console wars about which system was better and what should be bought was huge, but even now, the war continues. For those interested, IGN keeps and regularly updates a detailed chart comparing the two consoles as well as the WII U (I don’t know if they are going to update it to include the Switch or not).

Fans of both consoles bicker with each other about which is better. But why? Why does it matter which system is better if we all just play on our own console of choice? The battle is worse for Xbox and PlayStation fans, but this goes for PC and Nintendo users too. Why do we care about what other people think about our console of choice?

Really, most of it comes from marketing. Gaming companies want these wars to rage because it draws more attention to their product. Xbox wants their fans to be loyal, just as PlayStation fans do, because when they are passionately loyal, they continue to buy their products and maybe even persuade their friends to buy them as well.

The wars also stem from the fact that the gaming community is passionate about what they love. Game consoles are different from other technology, because gamers are different than other technology enthusiasts. There’s more passion there, because games make us feel powerful emotions and they mean something to us as gamers.

So, are the console wars good or bad?

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For me, there is a good side and a bad side.

The bad side is when it comes to the fans. We’ve all seen forum posts and YouTube comments of toxic fans that spout their hate-filled rants against consoles that they don’t like. They are mean, illogical, and only ever generate more anger and hate. This is prominate in the Xbox vs. PlayStation world, as well as those “PC master race” people who call gamers on console “peasants.” Thankfully, it always seems that Nintendo fans are much more civil.

The reason this is so dumb is that each console has its pros and cons and it has been this way since the beginning. The hate is also silly when you think about how gaming should be about games, not hardware. I chose to buy an Xbox One back in 2013 because I love Halo, and I wanted to be able to play the next Halo game. I also love Uncharted, but I knew that I would spend more hours on a Halo game than I would on any future Uncharted game. Certain consoles may have more games on certain years, but whichever has the games that interest you should be the console you choose.

Some people also care about performance and hardware, and that is fine. If you have the money, build a nice PC. If you are on a budget, or you prefer console gaming, Playstation has the best hardware right now.

These are choices that individuals make because of their preference. To start fights and arguments over such decisions is pointless, and, from a Christian perspective, not Christ-like at all (Jesus only ever started arguments over things that mattered). If I had the money, I would have an Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo, so I could play Halo, Uncharted. and Smash Bros Does that mean I hope that one day there will be only one console that has all the games? Actually, no, and that brings me to the good side of the console wars.

Competition. Competition is always good between companies. In a free market, competition insures that companies will always do their best to create the most awesome products that they can. It is a beautiful thing, really. If we only had one console, chances are, it would be pretty crappy, cost more, and not have any interesting first-party games. So, console wars are good, because monopolies are bad.

The PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One console wars continue. PlayStation has sold almost double the consoles that Xbox has according to most estimates, but Xbox is still doing well. Nintendo, who has lagged severely behind with the Wii U, may be making a comeback with the Switch, but only time will tell. Hopefully, we continue to have strong competition and a healthy gaming market, because all we really want are good games, and quality consoles to play them on.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Do Violent Video Games Lead to Real-World Violence?

Photo credit: New York Times

I often think it’s funny that people still believe that violent video games lead to real-world violence. Back in 2014, researchers Patrick M. Markey, Charlotte N. Markey, and Juliana E. French conducted a study comparing rises in video game sales with real-world violent crime. They published their results in an article, “Violent Video Games and Real-World Violence: Rhetoric Versus Data” in Psychology of Popular Media Culture. The results of the study are telling.

The charts show that rises in video game sales corresponds to a decrease in homicides. This could be because of many factors, and one of the likely factors is that the same demographic that plays the most video games (young men) also commits the most murders.

Whatever the correlation, the data shows that video games are not linked to violence.

You can access the full article here.

This should set Christian minds at ease. Violent video games are not from the devil, as some may believe, and they do not necessarily cause sin. They are just another form of media to consume responsibly.

Thank you for reading and God bless.

Nintendo Switch: Pros and Cons Before Release

Cover photo credit: Nintendo

The Switch appears to be changing everything when it comes to mobile gaming. The system is doing things that have never been done before. However, not everything is perfect about this new console, and there are a few things that should be looked at before putting up the $300 for the new console.

1. Power

The Nintendo Switch promises to have more power than a 3DS, and the games that have been shown to play on the Switch look beautiful, so graphics and power may not be that much of a concern. However, the Switch is not just a mobile gaming device, it is Nintendo’s new console, so if one were to compare it to the PlayStation 4, or Xbox One, it does not stack up. It falls so short that the developers at Respawn laughed at the notion of making Titanfall available on the Switch, and many other developers see it as a problem too. Now, to many gamers, like myself, graphics are not the most important part of games, so this is not an issue; but many players consider graphics to be very important, and they might want to think twice about the Switch.

Gray Portable

2. Battery Life

The stated battery life of the Switch is 2.5-6 hours of game time. This is a problem for some people because larger games like Zelda are most likely take up the most power, making it closer to that 2.5 hour margin. That may seem like plenty of time until one considers that many wish to use the Switch because they travel a lot and don’t have access to outlets in a plane or on the go. This is also less battery life than the 3DS which lasts a minimum of 3.5 hours. Fortunately, though, the Switch is easy to charge. The device itself charges when put in the doc, and the controllers charge when attached to the device. It also looks like there will be a car charger available for purchase. The whole charging process is pretty streamlined, but if the 2.5 hours of battery life is too short for you, this might not be the mobile gaming system of choice for you.

Joy Con Pair Blue/Red

3. Pricing

The Switch comes with the dock, console, two Joy-Con controllers, Joy-Con grip for playing with the system docked, an HDMI cable, an AC adapter and wrist straps for the controllers. This is all for only $300, which is a nice, generous price, especially at launch. The only problem is if players want to expand their arsenal of accessories. A set of two Joy-Con controllers sell at a steep $80, and one Joy-Con (either right or left) can be bought for $50. These are pretty steep controller prices especially considering how small they are. The Switch’s Pro Controller, which is comparable to a $60 Xbox One controller is $70. Also, with the Switch’s mobility, it would be nice to be able to have multiple docks at different TV’s, but the price of the dock and it’s cords alone is a whopping $90. Of course, being content with everything that comes with the $300 price tag is an option.

4. Games

The most important part of any gaming console is the games available on it. Sadly, just as was the case for the Wii and Wii U, the Switch is missing much 3rd party support, so do not expect to play your favorite non-Nintendo games on the console. Bethesda and Ubisoft have said they would make games for it, though. More importantly, many exciting Nintendo properties are coming. Breath of the Wild looks absolutely breath-taking (pardon the pun). A brand new 3D Super Mario is on the way too, and it looks gorgeous. The fact is, there is no other place to play great Nintendo games than on a Nintendo console.

Summary

Whenever it comes time to make a purchasing decision, one must figure out what is most important to them. If someone wants the most cutting-edge graphics quality system, the Switch is not for them. The Switch is, however, the highest level of mobile gaming ever seen, though, and it looks to have beautiful games. Sadly, the price of accessories are steep, so it may be worth the wait to see if Nintendo lowers the pricing in 6 months or a year.  Also, it is always smart to wait until something has been released and other people have the chance to try it to give their opinions. However, if the games at launch look interesting to you, and you think the $300 is worth it, go ahead and give it a shot.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.

Why Halo Games are Great

On November 15, 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was released to become the flagship game of the new Xbox. It was the game that put Microsoft’s console on the map, and it was the game that brought first-person shooters to consoles.

Many of the norms of FPS games today were set by Halo (the two-stick movement, holding and switching between two weapons, regenerating health). This was one of the games that had a huge impact on the entire gaming world, and the series of games that followed is one of the pillar franchises in gaming.

I believe there is more to the greatness of Halo than those bits of history, though. It is my personal belief that the Halo series has the most quality, cost-effective games that a gamer can buy, and they are a perfect choice for Christian gamers.

The reason Halo games give you the most bang for your buck is how many features are included in their games.

The Campaigns in the Halo series are amazing. The stories are great. The characters are colorful. The gameplay is superb. The music is some of the best you will find in gaming. Look, the lore in the Halo universe is expansive, and (although you do not need to know this lore in order to enjoy the games) it really shows in the story and world of Halo. Especially in Halo 2, you get a sense of a galaxy full of history and colorful, varied cultures. Master Chief is one of the greatest protagonists in gaming. He is a cold killing machine that says little, but sacrifices much. The series will suprise you with heart even though the two main characters are a man-of-few-words super soldier and a computer AI.

Some might argue that the story is not as nuanced as other FPS campaigns, like Bioshock, but what it has better than just about any other FPS campaign I’ve ever played is great game play and enemy balance. Halo games make use of the fact that you are shooting aliens extremely well. Grunts, Jackals, and Elites all have different attacks, movements, and health amounts. No single enemy feels like a boring, bullet sponge when fighting the Covenant. The Campaigns of Halo are a great adrenaline rush, and the soundtrack helps with that immensely.

I know some would disagree with me about the Halo campaigns having the best gameplay, but they are wrong (just kidding). No one can argue that the Halo games do not have a record of great campaigns, though.

If you don’t believe me, check out this awesome video by HaloFollower that shows some of the great moments in Halo (spoilers).

Besides the campaigns, there is multiplayer. Halo 2 brought some of the first online multiplayer to the Xbox, and the arena-style shooting multiplayer has been amazing since the beginning. The maps are well-balanced, every player has the same weapons (except in Halo 4), and the red and blue team colors make it easy to distinguish friend from foe.

There are games out there that have a better reputation for online multiplayer, but Halo always has a very active and very loyal community for each of its games. You can log onto Halo: Reach today and still find a game quickly.

Now, here’s why Halo has such value. There are many FPS multiplayer shooters out there, but many of them either have no campaign, or a really boring campaign, and very few people care to play it (Overwatch, COD, Star Wars: Battlefront). There are also plenty of FPS single player games that either have no multiplayer, or their multiplayer has very few active players (Doom, Bioshock). My point is, no one combines multiplayer fun, and single player FPS campaign gold like Halo.

I have not even mentioned split screen co-op and competitive multiplayer that has existed in every halo game except Halo 5: Guardians (and I hope they bring it back in the future). I haven’t mentioned the unparalleled detail in the Custom Games’ settings where you can craft any sort of unique game to play with your friends. I haven’t mentioned the different special co-op game modes like Firefight and Spartan Ops that are in Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo 4. I haven’t mentioned the absolute ridiculous cherry on top that is forge mode, where, ever since Halo: Reach, players can create their own maps with a wealth of options (there has been some seriously good maps made in the community, and Halo’s developers have always been good to highlight the best ones and make them available).

Honestly, I am not sure of any game series that gives its players the wealth of options of play that Halo does. There are definitely no FPS games like it.

So, that wraps up the value section, now on to why Halo is great for Christians.

Halo games are usually rated M, but anyone who has played a Halo game thinks that is ridiculous. The blood and gore is subdued for an FPS, and the language is, over all, pretty mild. There are no real sexual themes, and the worst sexual aspects to the game is that Cortana, the AI, appears as a blue hologram of a woman in blue, form-fitting tights.

My favorite part about the Halo games is their main protagonist, Master Chief. The man otherwise known as John 117 is a very noble hero that is willing to sacrifice anything to defend humanity. He is shown to be the absolute epitome of manhood, and he is a virgin.

Well, this is not fully acknowledged unless one were to read the background lore, but it is true.

Most “manly” video-game heroes are depicted as womanizers who do not value the opposite sex at all or, at least, very little. In contrast, Master Chief is a very Christian example of what true manhood is. He has never committed fornication, and in today’s media, that is very rare to find.

This is something so rare, that I can not help but write about it. I truly appreciate the example that Master Chief sets.

Also, you shoot aliens in the games, not people, so if violence is a problem for you, it’s better when you know they are not human.

All in all, I believe Halo is an excellent choice for Christians who are fed up with the negative messages in games, and also a great choice for parents who are wary of allowing their children to play violent games.

As far as FPS games go, you can’t beat Halo.

Thank you for reading, and God bless.