Actually, let’s talk about ethics in Watch_Dogs

Let’s all say it: Ayden Pearce is morally repugnant. Errant Signal does an excellent and thorough job itemizing exactly why.

I had been interested in this game, and in the concept of hacking-as-superpower, but when it turned into yet another white-guy-does-whatever-he-wants story, where every moral decision boils down to “shoot the guy or blow up the guy”, where you’re given tidbits of information about the lives and dreams and desires of each person you’re systematically murdering, where you’re essentially obligated to spy on and not intervene in situations where you could actually legitimately make a difference because they’re just cut-scenes inserted for flavour, I couldn’t bring myself to play.

It’s like all the power they give you is misdirected, where you can’t fix the system but you can take advantage of it for your own gain. Where you become judge, jury and executioner for crimes that haven’t yet been committed, and you let other grievous crimes go entirely unpunished because you, omniscient privileged douchebag, cannot be moved to actually do anything. And when you DO do something about an injustice, it’s the wrong thing entirely, against the wishes of everyone around you. Where you’re both the cause and the violent solution to the problems in your life. Where your actions are supposed to be good but your opponents’ actions are bad, despite the fact that you’re doing a thousand times objectively eviller things as a matter of course.

If we’re going to talk about ethics in video games, this is ultimately a Douchebag Hacker Empowerment Fantasy simulator, and it doesn’t remotely touch on any of the things that need to be discussed with regard to the disturbing surveillance culture we’re in. I can get empowerment fantasies in far less problematic worlds than this, without feeling like I’m railroaded into the Evil playthrough of a game like Infamous where the moral choices are approximately “save the box of kittens, or stuff them with grenades and throw them off a building indiscriminately”.

War never changes, but it gets a bit more saturated

FALLOUT 4. Now in Technicolor! It’s going to take place in Boston, because we don’t have enough New England as yet in the Fallout lore. *snrk*

I am so happy this is not an MMO. That would have been a monumental mistake, I think. And I really hope they don’t fragment the content the way Rocksteady just did with Batman: Arkham Knight and the pre-order bonuses.

For the uninitiated, the Fallout universe is not, actually, about an alt history with the Cold War resulting in the apocalypse, believe it or not. It sure looks that way, though, with its 1950s arrested development. Instead, in this universe, nobody invents the transistor during WW2, and instead we invest all our tech development on the vacuum tube. The Great War happens in 2077, over resources, because humanity never gets away from the larger and more resource-consumptive technologies. For some reason, culture is slowed drastically, and by the time of the Great War, America is roughly in the 1950s, only with a Mr. Handy helper robot in every kitchen. After the apocalypse — when India, China, Russia, North Korea and America all nuke the living fuck out of each other (and everyone else, for funzies) — the only survivors are those who went underground into Vaults. They emerge to a wasteland that is populated by mutants, ghouls, raiders and the very dregs of humanity.

I’m happy with this incarnation of the Wasteland. It is significantly closer to Fallout 1 and 2 in looks than 3 ever was, and at the moment, during my replay of Fallout: New Vegas, the only way I can stand to look at it for any length of time is with the Imaginator plugin that offers different colour palettes. (I am presently using the Trek Vaseline Cam palette, which makes the Mojave look a lot like that planet where Kirk fights the Gorn. You know the one.) So I’m looking forward to scavenging the wastelands with more varied landscapes, and with my dog inevitably named Dogmeat at my side.

The only way they could have made this better — at least in my mind — is to have the generic character at the end be a woman, because it’s *just* a generic character, and there’s nothing holding you to picking that specific dude they showed. Could you imagine the outrage from certain quarters? The only way I could think of to make hateful antifeminists lose their shit more than that, though, would be to force the character creation to only allow you to create women. In either case the resultant rage could power me for centuries.

Enjoying problematic video games

One of my favorite game franchises has long been Final Fantasy, much to the chagrin of some elitist nerds for whom the series of JRPGs represents an erosion of the concept of the RPG. Regardless, its take on mythological creatures, even in its Super Nintendo days, served to clue me in on a small piece of context with regard to religion, from which I synthesised a deeper understanding of religion as mythology. (I’d detailed this in my deconversion story in Mission Creep — it was Behemoth and Leviathan in Final Fantasy 2 that gave me the clues I needed, if you’re wondering.)

That’s right, the video game franchise actually helped me to become an atheist — perhaps not singlehandedly, but it was certainly some scaffolding for my building my epistemology. So, even with its warts, of which there are numerous, and even with the side-eye I get from other gamers, it holds a place in my heart.

And yet, I still must criticise, even if I know that doing so might paint me as a studio-shill Social Justice Warrior journalist-sans-journal, and thus a target for the culture of entitlement that is GamerGate.

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#GeekGirlCon Battletoads Livestream

At 12 noon sharp, CST, I’ll be launching an epic war to beat Battletoads, beginning to end. Jodi will be pinch-hitting to provide a running death count and add messages to the feed. It should be embedded below, but you can also go directly to my Twitch feed if you’d prefer.

If you’d like to donate, click the enormous button below the feed.

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GGC #DIYSciZone: There’s Battletoads in my future. This Sunday.

Thanks to an anonymous and unbelievable donation to Geek Girl Con of $2000 (SERIOUSLY, someone must REALLY hate me!), the $5000 mark has been blown past for fundraising for the DIY Science Zone. Therefore, this Sunday, starting at noon CST, I’ll be playing Battletoads on, beginning to end, no warps, with unlimited lives. Unless it goes over 12 hours, I have work in the morning — in which case I’ll make a save state and continue next weekend.

This is easily one of the hardest video games of the Nintendo era, owing mostly to its punishing memorization sequences, and its brutal one-hit kills (not to mention the inherent imprecision of the NES controller’s directional pad plus-shape design). This was “I Wanna Be The Guy” hard long before there was such a thing.

Here’s how this game is NOT going to go: a cheat-free perfect speedrun.

Instead, it’ll be me failing over and over and over again at this, since I’ve not played past the first level since I was 14-ish.

Oh how I dread and loathe this.

There are more Acts of Whimsy from scientists at the DIY Science Zone at Geek Girl Con, too! If you’d like to donate, try the below button:

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The video game that would REALLY keep you up at night

I’m no stranger to losing sleep over video games, though usually in a positive context, e.g. that the game is fun and I don’t notice the time. But what if I was to tell you the story of a video game that was literally designed to steal your ability to sleep… among other things? Sounds far-fetched, right? Read on, gentle reader.

In 1981, Atari had created an extraordinarily innovative video game called Tempest. This game, originally imagined as a 3-D remaking of Space Invaders, had players pilot a spacecraft on the near end of a “tube” that extended into the distance on a display, using now-primitive but then new and innovative colour vector-based graphics (as opposed to raster-based graphics, the more traditional pixellated, hand-drawn art). Vector graphics weren’t new at the time, having been used for other games like Asteroids, but the addition of colour with Atari’s “Color Quadrascan” shadow mask technology, developed to compete with raster games, was a significant step forward. The game also featured differing playing boards at each level, with different geometric shapes making up the “tube”, rather than the usual incremental difficulty increases on an identical board that video games til then had used to ratchet up the pressure on players as games went on. And it even featured the ability to choose your starting level based on performance in a previous game, so veterans wouldn’t necessarily have to play through the initial levels over again while attempting to cause the game to roll the level or points counts over. This marked the first video game continue option — though a later raster game called Fantasy implemented it in its more traditional form.

This post isn’t really about Tempest, though. I’m really just setting the stage for what the state of the art was in 1981. If you’ll believe the urban legends, the US government, at about that time, teamed up with a German developer named Sinneslöschen (loosely translated: “Sense Erase”) in an attempt to turn the nation’s Pac-Man Fever into something a little more useful for the empire: mind control. They created a video game that kids would become addicted to, would play at every opportunity, until the mind control would kick in and they’d lose the ability to sleep or even lose their memories.
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The Legend of Ben

The Legend of Zelda is a game franchise that is much beloved, has sold millions upon millions of copies franchise-wide, and has sixteen-plus installments spanning the rough time-frame such that people prone to creating ghost stories — teenagers to young adults — have grown up with these games making a large part of their childhood. It’s honestly no surprise that a creepypasta — an internet ghost story — was created out of the game series, and in fact it seems that it was just a matter of time.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It's not a particularly faithful representation of Link.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It’s not a particularly faithful representation of Link. To people familiar with this story, this is Ben.

One game in the series, Majora’s Mask, is already incredibly dark and unusual in the series. It is one of the very few that does not take place in the Kingdom of Hyrule (or what would eventually become or once was that kingdom — there’s actually a very involved canonical timeline that connects all the games in the series). It is one of the very few games whose chief antagonist is not Ganondorf or a god, but rather, a recurring character who’s gained access to some specific magic. It is also the only game whose chief motivation is preventing the destruction of the world through the manipulation of time, attempting to forestall a natural disaster that’s about to occur — the moon is falling on Terminus, and the Skull Kid, having stolen the magical artifact called Majora’s Mask, is both the impetus for and in possession of the only way to prevent this disaster. In this game, Link has fallen into a doomed world and needs to prevent this doom; as the Mask Salesman tells him, he’s “met with a terrible fate”.

Today’s ghost story involves someone discovering that a young boy named Ben, a boy who’d once apparently owned a bootleg copy of Majora’s Mask, himself met with a terrible fate: he drowned. But then he went on to haunt this bootleg copy, and subsequently the poor hapless 4chan Paranormal board denizen who found it.
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Ghostcraft; or, how Minecraft can really be used to build anything

The extraordinarily popular building/survival game Minecraft by Mojang has revolutionized the very concept of a sandbox game. With its popularity, with its community, comes all the little things that enhance or corrupt society built by society’s own members — including myths and ghost stories.

Minecraft has been described as “LEGO for big kids”, a gigantic sandbox filled with materials that you can collect, and use to build whatever you’d like — a dirt hovel, a series of traps and defenses, a sprawling mansion, a plain old House, an elaborate train system, even relatively complex circuitry (at relatively macro scale). There are no real rules, only a gigantic overworld filled with procedurally generated trees, forests, oceans, lakes, caves and even abandoned mines and dungeons. There are two other realms you can travel to, and there is in fact a way to “win” the game, if that’s your cup of tea. You can travel to the Nether, the Minecraft equivalent of a lava-filled hell, and you can travel to The End, a strange realm from whence the Endermen enemies spawn, and you can do battle with the Ender Dragon to complete the game.

Most players just build things, though. Given the choice between playing in a sandbox, and doing battle with the neighboring town’s dragon, I can understand why the sandbox is a significantly less stressful objective. And there’s always the collaborative aspect of playing with other players on the same server — you can all work together to build great works of art, or you can compete for resources, destroy one another’s work, and steal what resources the other players have accumulated.

Given that aspect of the game is not for everyone, there’s always the option of playing a game entirely single-player, so nobody can undo all your hard work.

Except… was that another player off in the distance? He looked just like your player skin… only his eyes were entirely white. And when you went back to your home base, your accumulated treasures were missing, and all your torches replaced with redstone torches.

You thought you were alone here? Think again!
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The ghost in the Pokémon machine

In 1996, the Pokémon franchise hit the scene in Japan with its first two games for the Nintendo GameBoy: Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green. They were released at the same time using the same game engine, but with different monsters and plot; the idea was that players of the different games could trade monsters with one another, and it was necessary to trade with someone in order to collect all 150 Pokémon. (Mew, a 151st Pokémon, existed in this tier of games but was only given out as prizes for Nintendo Power competitions and other such promotions, or could be unlocked using a Gameshark or through a glitch near Lavender Town — coincidental to today’s video game urban legend.)

Lavender Town in these games was a sort of “graveyard” town, where Pokémon are put to rest in a Tower and hauntings by restless spirits of Pokémon are apparently relatively common; and it’s central to the myth that hundreds of Japanese children committed suicide in a spike in 1996, when the games were released, but only once they got to Lavender Town in their games. The myth has come to be known as “Lavender Town Syndrome”.
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