Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why I'm bored of laughing at the mainstream media

 Every now and again, we in the video game brain space need to remind ourselves how pitifully uninformed the 'mainstream media' is about games. Earlier this year, I took it upon myself to write a four-part series of articles analyzing various controversial games and how the media treated them (you can find Part OnePart TwoPart Three, and Part Four here)*1 Needless to say, by the time I finished researching and writing those articles I was as weary of video-game-illiteracy in the mainstream media as anyone.
 This past week, I suppose we decided that we were ready once again to rag on the mainstream media (we just finished being angry at Fox over Bulletstorm's coverage) and we found a great target at the Wall Street Journal. Adam Najberg posted a review of Borderlands 2 that contained plenty of points people on the internet can get mad at. In fact, the article starts out committing one of the Internet's seven deadly sins, comparing it to Black Ops 2, a game that hasn't even come out yet. 

"The sequel to the highly acclaimed 2009 Borderlands game goes on shelves Tuesday in Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions for around $60. At that price point, the first-person shooter, published by 2K Games, inevitably invites comparisons with the Halos and Call of Duty games already out and due to come in the next few weeks and months. Borderlands 2 falls short because it’s missing several key elements you need to have in a 2012 first-person shooter game – most notably, a rich multiplayer online mode. There’s an extremely limited four-player cooperative mode, and if you have an Xbox Live Gold account, you can team up that way, but this isn’t the type of deeply engrossing FPS game the headset-wearing COD crowds gather to play months and months after release. In comparison, I read on several sites that COD: Black Ops 2 will feature up to six teams, for a total of 18 simultaneous players, in multiplayer mode."
 Now, for a moment, I'll play along. If I were to critique this review from the top down, I would first point out that comparing Borderlands 2 to Call of Duty or Halo is a rather obvious folly. Just because you look down the barrel of a gun in both games doesn't make the comparison apt. There would be a clearer tie between RPG games or less-militaristic FPS games. Moving right along is a sentence in the next paragraph that further enforces the rather obvious subplot of this review that the reviewer in question is rather unsure what he's talking about. 

"I played the Xbox version of Borderlands 2 for close to a week, and while the development and upgrades from the original are apparent, the quirk and novelty that made the 2009 game so endearing and popular (according to, combined unit sales of the original topped 4.5 million for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) feel dated and tired in this game."
Rather than simply saying that the quirk and novelty of the game seem dated, he links to the apparently prestigious (though I've never heard of it); there is no fact that needs to be checked in that sentence. It really does seem that this review is written by someone who is grasping at relevance or an air of knowledge. He constantly reinforces the similarities between the same three games: 

 "Borderlands 2’s single-player campaign mode isn’t as good as what you’ll find in games like COD: Black Ops or the Medal of Honor series. There’s too much “feast-or-famine” hunting for tasks, supplies and a good battle for this to be a fun game all the way through."
If you read the review, I'm sure you will find enough criticism of your own. I won't flat-out say that the review is stupid or pointless, since I'd rather not ever be in the "your review is invalid" camp; what I will say is that the review is clearly not very worthwhile and not helpful if you want to talk about or decide on a purchase of Borderlands 2.

All that aside, though, I simply couldn't really get mad at anyone over the review. In all honesty, I just don't expect much from reviews of anything in the mainstream media (whether that be games, books, or films). If you want good, heavy-hitting reviews, news, opinions, go to places you should trust. Go to Joystiq, or Gamasutra, or The Brainy Gamer, or whoever has actual certifications. Don't expect it to get better, because it probably never will.

Once again, I'm sitting on the sidelines asking gamers to please, please calm down.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

You've Got Friends In Them...

I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a hack. No, it’s not because I will compare Beyond Good & Evil to the wars in the Middle East. I love talking about video games, and if it goes into territory of interpretation of political messages- I’m game. I feel like a hack sometimes because of the huge amount of important games I’ve never played. I simply haven’t been around the block enough times to play all the games I should. Slowly, through the miracles of the Internet, I’m cutting down on my backlog. This feeling of ineptitude and self-doubt prompted me to finally play Hideo Kojima’s Playstation One classic Metal Gear Solid. 

"Otacon: Have you ever... loved someone?
Solid Snake: That's what you came to ask?
Otacon: No, I was wondering if even soldiers fall in love.
Solid Snake: What are you trying to say?
Otacon: I want to ask you. Do you think love can bloom even on a battlefield?
Solid Snake: Yeah. I do. I think at any time, any place, people can fall in love with each other. But if you love someone, you have to be able to protect them."

 Metal Gear Solid's story is a Westernized, military-spy-thriller romp fit for popcorn consumption and emphatic bro-high-fives. It's the sort of affair that, in any other medium, would be best enjoyed with friends and drinks (alcoholic and otherwise.) The game is both a campy adventure with a roster of characters that are referred to only by badass-sounding code names (Solid Snake, Psycho Mantis, Revolver Ocelot) and a somewhat long-winded indictment of America's military actions and worldwide politics.  

"Revolver Ocelot: We live in a sad age. Imperialism, totalitarianism, perestroika... 20th century Russia had its share of problems, but at least they had an ideology. Russia today has nothing." 
Humans are social creatures. Generally speaking, we don't do well without each other. Metal Gear Solid recognizes this fact and plays on it to emotionally attach you in ways that you wouldn't expect- if you let it. 

 The main method of communication you have with the outside world on your one-man-Alaskan mission is a device called a Codec. This Codec (tuned to the frequency of your eardrum) is a source of communication between yourself and your allies.  From a mechanical standpoint, the Codec is handy in that it opens up windows that otherwise wouldn't be open (for example, you can get information you might not know about your mission). However, it is not a purely mechanical part of the game. 
 You see, the people on the other end of the Codec aren't cold and heartless military bastards with crewcuts and cigars constantly being crunched.. They aren't as shallow as you might expect from talking heads in a video game. For example the tech girl, Mei Ling, makes a habit of inundating you with information ranging from Chinese proverbs to Shakespearean quotations when you call her. She explains to you in one scene her dreams of being a pilot; dreams that were crushed by a hesitance to kill and poor eyesight. Your commander, Campbell, provides necessary information and support when things get hairy. In a game defined by long-windedness, the brief characterizations of your accomplices are refreshingly concise.
 Metal Gear Solid makes you want to care about fulfilling your mission. The people on the Codec constantly remind you of your importance, your indispensability. You are able to learn more about your allies, if you want to. They aren't just talking heads- they are people, people who care about what happens to you. 

 Metal Gear Solid was a revolutionary game both from a gameplay and storytelling perspective. However, I have the unique (and not entirely pristine) perspective of playing MGS after it revolutionized storytelling in polygonal games. What really stands out to me is the focus the game puts on interpersonal relationships with coadjutors, and the fact that unlike every other focus the game seems to have, it doesn't beat you over the head with it’s existence. I wish more games focused on side character's actual character, not just their gameplay functions. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Was On A Podcast!

My good-Internet-friend (and longtime Armchair Gamer Podcast affiliate) Nick Schneider hosts a podcast called "The 4th Floor". Yesterday, Nick had a Braden-shaped opening on his show- and I accepted an offer to co-host. The result of this is an episode titled "The Atheist Dogg". The show is a discussion of this generation of consoles and why it is awful in many ways. We also talk about Stephen King's The Stand and The Dark Tower, Hideo Kojima's PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid, and George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice And Fire series. 
Enjoy the show.