THE GUARDIAN FORCE
From the Editor
I’ve always had a fascination with writing. When I was a young child, a writer was one of two things I proudly told my parents and teachers I wanted to be when I grew up. My favourite exercises in elementary school involved creative writing, and I must have been the only one in my fifth grade class who enjoyed grammar lessons. I adored my English classes in high school, even competing with friends to see who could earn the highest grades and write the best essays. Now that I’m attending the University of Toronto for a classical education, I find myself more and more distracted by the opportunities in journalism, where I’m a regular news writer and web editor for the newspaper, the campus’ independent weekly. The other thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a video game tester. In retrospect it seems like a pretty puerile ambition, perhaps even the male equivalent of the princess fantasy of young girls. Making a living out of playing video games will always hold a certain appeal. After all, games are inherently fun, and who doesn’t want to get paid to do what they enjoy? Only recently have I begun to mix these two hobbies, mostly as a consequence of using my modest talents with a pen to bring some good out of the many thousands of hours I’ve given to video games. I enjoy writing essays on my academic pursuits, so why not try my hand at writing on my leisure ones as well? Fortunately for you, this is not merely a vanity project. Fortunately for me, I am not alone. The Guardian Force is the product of a handful of like-minded individuals with similar interests in writing and video games. Every contributor to this inaugural issue comes from the forums of The Escapist, where I sent out a PM to some of my digital acquaintances in the hopes of their support a little over one month ago. While not everyone managed to contribute (entirely forgivable given the festive time of year), their pledges of support and interest were enough fuel for the modest 18-page PDF magazine you’re now reading. It’s a collection of three feature length articles and two video game reviews, lovingly crafted by total strangers and drunkenly assembled by me over several early winter nights. As time goes on, video games are becoming more and more worthy of consideration as the experiences they offer become more and more thoughtful. This is the idea which inspired The Guardian Force, the notion that we can always write about and discuss video games more meaningfully. To that end, we hope that this humble magazine will serve as an inviting quarterly forum for people to share what video games mean to them. This issue is just the beginning. I sincerely hope that our successes here will lead to bigger and better issues in the future.
Cheers, and we wish you the best in 2012!
Andrew Walt Editor-in-Chief
Setting sail, floating on
Christmas at 2Fort
Andrew Walt Johannes KĂśller Joshua Loomis
(Screen name on The Escapist)
Maet DeadpanLunatic BlueInkAlchemist
Taylor Hidalgo Francisco Dominguez Andrew Huntly Peter Kailis Andrew Govan-Prini Matthew Parkinson
NewClassic pigeon_of_doom Kasurami Pimppeter2 Levethian Marter
Technology enables mankind to accomplish wonderful things, but at what cost? A thematic exploration of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Written by Andrew Walt Adam Jensen is not human. Having nearly been killed in a terrorist attack on Sarif Industries, the company for which he is the head of security, his life could only be saved through transhuman augmentation. His arms were amputated and replaced with cybernetic limbs. His head has been equipped with various neural implants and ocular improvements. He is able to jump higher and sprint faster than any human can. Even his intellectual faculties have been mechanically increased thanks to the technological wonders of the not too distant future. Yet for all of these upgrades, Adam Jensen is not a machine either. He has thoughts and ideas. He can be creative and he can express human emotion. When he feels anger, he raises his voice. When he is annoyed, he becomes sarcastic and dismissive. When he is overwhelmed, his speech assumes the inflections and irregularities expected of someone in anguish. Although he may now be as susceptible to software viruses as he is to the common cold, he is driven by revenge and not by programming. Adam Jensen blurs the line of what it means to be human. While the common question the unending forward march of technology often asks is when artificial intelligence will rival the human intellect, Deus Ex: Human Revolution asks at what point a person loses their humanity through technology.
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With all of his implants and augmentations shattering the limits of his natural potential, is Adam Jensen still human? Is he something more? Something less? This is the question which frames the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In the year 2027, Sarif Industries is on the verge of a technological breakthrough which will revolutionize human potential. Pharmaceutical giants have already been playing god with the human genome for years, but the results are less than ideal. The human body often rejects drastic augmentation, and the necessary corrective procedures and medication can enslave families to corporations for life. This innovation is poised to upset the current ethically nebulous balance of the world. Sarif believes that everyone should have the opportunity to become better than human. Pro humanity movements such as Purity First believe that mankind should not play God. Other shadowy corporations in competition with Sarif are pursuing their own agendas with private military operations. Adam Jensen is caught in the middle. Many videogames are concerned with telling a story, but so few of them are interested in exploring a theme. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of these games; the theme of not just what it means to be human, but what the influence of technology means for our souls. For Sarif, himself a devout futurist with a cybernetic arm, there is no cost too great in
The Guardian Force • Vol. I • No. 0 • Winter 2011 the pursuit of technological advancement. The work the rough outlines of an open world, generally of his company has the power to improve human consisting of less than one single square kilometre potential universally. Though he may be involved in of streets, buildings, and sewers. From a narrative shadowy military contracts to pay the bills, the public perspective these areas are shams, dotted with face of his company balances the ethical scales by meaningless side-quests whose only gratification are championing the right for every citizen to reap the experience points and which mostly distract from benefits of his life improving work. the overarching storyline. Perhaps this is no different Regardless, part of the wider world views from the side-quests in most open world games, but Sarif and those of similar inclinations as if they Deus Ex: Human Revolution is fundamentally linear. were false prophets, having become gods on earth The story only develops in straightforward missions from the marvellous machines taking place outside of its tiny they have created. This central With all of his implants and sandboxes, not within them. conflict gives the title of the game augmentations shattering Why, then, would its weight beyond curious colloquial developers bother with devoting the limits of his natural clumsiness. The popular phrase is potential, is Adam Jensen such time and energy into crafting “Deus Ex Machina” (pronounce cheap facsimiles of an open still human? each syllable and the “ch” as a world? Surely it would have been “k”), the Latin rendering of an better to invest those resources Ancient Greek idiom rooted in classical theatre. A in refining its core elements, improving its brazenly deity would be hoisted above the stage by a crane or broken boss fights, or fleshing out its resolution to be other such device in order to resolve the action with more than just a multiple-choice question? their godly powers, a technique modern audiences In defence, perhaps Deus Ex: Human tend to recognize as egregious contrivance. Sarif has Revolution sought to capitalize upon the singular become a god thanks to his technology, an allegory ability of videogames to offer audience directed perhaps none too subtly extended to Adam himself; thematic exploration. If a book or a movie decides less because he is the first man and more because Sarif to examine an idea, ultimately its participants only did not save his life nearly as much as he constructed receive the ideas its creator intended with anything him from nothing. beyond being a textual leap of faith. In a video game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution grounds these a theme can be presented and explored through the lofty ideas in moments where Adam is free to explore devices and structures central to its progression in
the manner of literature or film, while the potential technology to fracture the world by sharper divisions exists for further consideration beyond the ostensible. in not just wealth and social status but also by natural For over four years, Bioshock has been the gold ability do raise some fascinating issues. standard of this possibility. Its players receive its core However it must be said that Deus Ex: Human philosophies and ideologies through the narrative Revolution explores the ethics of augmentation better and mechanics central to the game, which can further than it does the morals of it. The game makes an be reinforced and explored by taking the time to attempt to test the corrupting influence of seemingly consider the propaganda posters and advertisements absolute power on the actions of the player, but having lining the walls, to name but a single example. been conditioned to view morality in the medium as In this light, the narratively empty and strictly black and white, most players would likely inconsequential sandboxes of Deus Ex: Human equate non-lethal stealthy pacifism with good and Revolution take on greater thematic resonance. What guns blazing frontal assaults with evil immediately. better way to be exposed to the ideas than to discover Admittedly, it’s difficult to gauge just how sophisticated them yourself? Adam doesn’t necessarily need to hear this mechanic is as my Adam seldom had his sneaky the word on the streets as he reacquaints himself with humanitarian approach acknowledged. But when the the world from which he’s been absent for six months ending cinematic rhetorically asks how easy it would in recovery, but moments like these colour the world have been for him to abuse his augmented abilities, and help the player realize that transhumanism the question swiftly devolves into the trite “might is may not necessarily be as entirely altruistic as Sarif right” argument. thinks. Only the privileged can afford to play with Yet while I doubt that “might is right” is the the technological toys able to improve their natural intended philosophical focal point for a game with as abilities, while the impoverished and lower classes many intriguing ideas as Deus Ex: Human Revolutions, feel increasingly inadequate and do see a certain elegance to its insignificant in being unable to Whether or not it is a good conspicuous inclusion in any compete with their augmented outcome of the four ending thing to play god with aristocracy. As William Gibson sequences. Many of its ideas are technology has far more once said, “the future is already adapted from classical thinking, weight when you can see its here – it’s just not evenly the foundations of which are a effects on a human scale. distributed.” mythology built on the principle Without these occasional that the most powerful deserve the glimpses, the player would have most authority, as exemplified by no awareness of the broader social issues at play, Zeus and the Olympians forcefully overthrowing the or rather no impetus to consider them. The people previous generation of gods. Even the man directly populating the linear game are mostly terrorists, responsible for the condition of this fictional earth mercenaries, cops, scientists, and the occasional in 2027 fancies himself a modern Daedalus as he significant figurehead, all of whom are presented watches the manifestation of his genius threaten to in isolation from the wider world. Without the tear the world apart. consideration of how the blue-collar and those There are many ways the conversation can beneath them are affected by Adam’s activities, go when Adam meets this man and asks him what the ideas of Deus Ex: Human Revolution become right he has to do what he has done, with every result polarized and dull. Social struggles and philosophical offering a distinct justification for the way he has quandaries are more engaging than corporate power chosen to exercise his might. But whether through plays because they have universal appeal. Or rather, persuasion or otherwise, absolute power soon falls the question of whether or not it is a good thing to to Adam, and the player can decide how they wish play god with technology has far more weight when to exercise their own will. The room of four endings you can see its effects on a human scale. may disappoint our gameplay expectations, but its I’ll admit, before playing Deus Ex: Human thematically more powerful. Revolution, I thought it was ridiculous to consider Gods do not labour, they need only will that futurism and the potential of technological their whims into existence and the world is shaped innovation could be anything other than unerringly accordingly. After all, Adam Jensen is neither a man beneficial, as if it should be nothing less than a nor a machine. He has become a god. GF moral imperative. But the possibilities in boundless
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Rembrandt’s, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1932
Deus Ex: Human Renaissance
The Deus Ex prequel isn’t just a human revolution, it’s a cultural and intellectual one, too.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is not just heavily influenced by the classical world. The overall aesthetic design of the game evokes the renaissance, with its permeating sepia and orange brown tones calling to mind the dusty centuries-old manuscripts of scholarly men. The analogy is especially potent as the new brilliant minds of 2027 are seeking freedom from the boundaries of both government regulation and spiritual judgement, much in the same way as the cultural and creative flourishing that occurred as artists and philosophers broke free of religious meddling centuries ago. There’s a sequence in an official cinematic trailer for Deus Ex: Human Revolution which depicts men in what appears to be a church examining the lifeless body of Adam Jensen, a knowing nod to Rembrandt’s famous 1632 oil painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. While the painting is a static image, the sequence in the trailer later shows a likeness of Adam rise from the operations platform with magnificent wings, break through the ceiling, and soar into the sky. However just as Icarus flew too close to the sun and suffered the consequences of his hubris, so too does Adam. His wings are burned and he screams in immense suffering, only to wake up in his Detroit apartment. GF Image from the cinematic trailer of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, retrieved December 24, 2011
Johannes Köller reviews
Setting sail, floating on
“Proper review’s supposed to start at the In terms of gameplay, Bastion focuses more on beginning,” muses the effortlessly soulful voice of top-down hack’n’slash combat than on the characterLogan Cunningham, Bastion’s narrator. At least he building, item-hunting of Diablo. Its approach is rather might, if he were asked to review the game. “Of course, action-heavy, a flurry of dodges and well-timed attacks. it ain’t so simple with this one...” The independent nature of the inputs, with movement Bastion, the debut of indie developer Supergiant and action tied to keyboard and mouse respectively, Games, is not an easy game to classify. It dresses up like enables you strafe, evade, retreat, or take careful aim, a dungeon crawler, but sacrifices many of the genre’s and often turns combat into a positively visceral affair. core tenets in favor of focusing on a strong, heavily Yet even with this revised mission statement structured, linear story. This mélange may not grab you in mind, the game could still have used a bit more straight away, as you’ll lament the rather stale gameplay polish as the controls tend to act up on occasion. long before the aesthetics and subtle world-building Swings and slashes have the most annoying tendency add up to anything meaningful. But to glide off models ineffectually, A stranger’s voice fills Bastion is worth enduring. It may which fortunately doesn’t affect not pay off immediately, but boy his ears, guides him, and enemies as much as it does neardoes it pay off in the end. tells him to head for the indestructible crates. And though The protagonist, known I’ve never been able to determine eponymous Bastion, a only as The Kid, wakes up to find whether this is a real issue or just safe haven for troubled a matter of hard-to-spot hitboxes the city of Caelondia ravished by a mysterious calamity. His world is hidden against a backdrop of ragtag times such as these. turned upside down, with bits and visuals, every so often you’ll find pieces of debris floating through the yourself placing an enemy square air, gliding up to form paths underneath his uneasy in your sights and somehow still end up missing. steps. A stranger’s voice fills his ears, guides him, and In between various field trips, The Kid returns tells him to head for the eponymous Bastion, a safe to The Bastion to build new shops with the parts haven for troubled times such as these. But no one scavenged along the way. The Destillery offers passive got there in time. The Bastion is deserted, safe for bonuses by way of magical booze, The Forge lets Rucks, the engineer who built the stronghold. He’s not you upgrade your weapons (which are stored at The eager to share details, but the old man claims he can Arsenal), while The Shrine lets you kick it up a notch fix everything. He just needs a little help. So The Kid by praying for bigger foes and bigger rewards. The ventures right on into the Wilds, looking for survivors Bastion is also where the many buffs and upgrades and the parts needed to rebuild. earned, usually focused on either critical hits or reliable
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The Guardian Force • Vol. I • No. 0 • Winter 2011 damage output, can be applied. Yet while this measure Bastion keeps a tight leash on its mechanics of choice is nice to have, it doesn’t keep the game from right from the start, keeping them minimalistic to feeling stale. Ultimately, there’s just not a lot to Bastion. the point of being crude, showing us just how much Mechanically speaking, the game is sparse. it’s willing to sacrifice for its story. The game starts Make no mistake about it, Bastion is more tormenting you. The more you try to rebuild, the more concerned with delivering an aesthetically pleasing things start to fall apart. Ingeniously, Bastion turns tale than with providing gratifying gameplay, which your previous successes to dust and makes you watch wouldn’t be a problem if the story took a little less time as things break down around you. With every sacrifice to pick up the pace. The visuals, the music, the smooth, you start to care a little more. Before long you’re willing sexy voice of Logan Cunningham; all of the individual to give everything, and you will. pieces are there from the start. But after a strong intro, Bastion’s first half is slow, with every aspect the narrative loses focus, content to provide backstory pulling it in a different direction. However the second while letting you wander around. Given the linear half, with its immaculate visuals, forceful narration, nature of the piece, it’s easy to feel and absolutely stunning vocal pieces The more you try to abandoned. The narration starts by Darren Korb and Ashley Barett, is to feel like a gimmick, a way to fill rebuild, the more things a masterfully emotional experience. our ears with lore without stalling Bastion climaxes in a moment that is start to fall apart. the frenetic gameplay this genre as profoundly deep as it is beautiful, as holds so very dear (occasional bits somber as it is hopeful, as sentimental of self-aware humor not withstanding). as it is heartfelt. The game grabbed my heart and It’s only some three hours in, roughly halfway wouldn’t let go. It had me tearing up, sitting through through the game, that Bastion’s story is truly set in the credits and savoring every second of it. It left me motion. After all this time exploring the impact and dazed, staring at the screen, still lost in Caelondia. consequences of the Calamity, the game finally starts Not many games have the power to move a unravelling the causes behind the catastrophe. The person to tears. This one does. Calamity was no random act of god, but was in fact engineered by Caelondians trying to rid themselves Bottom Line: Bastion may not impress as a game, but of a native tribe. The few survivors The Kid has been it’s a damn fine piece of art and song and memorable rescuing - all of them natives - soon realize this, and one in every way. I recommend getting the soundtrack of the outraged survivors reacts violently. Suddenly the edition, at your earliest convenience. GF narrative comes to life, and conversely the gameplay starts breaking down.
In 2011, two games built on the principles of endlessly variable creation and exploration were released - Minecraft for the creative spirit and Terraria for the passionate explorer. Joshua Loomis grabs his trusty pickaxe and considers both titles. Here’s where I don my old-man hat and shake my cane at you whipper-snappers. When I was growing up, I had two types of toys at my disposal that had nothing to do with my sisters’ Barbie dolls. One was my small selection of Transformers. I miss them to this day. The other was my plastic bin of LEGO bricks. Blacktrons were the highlight of my young constructive life, as I built all sorts of spacecraft and launched them into adventures. Sure I’d follow the instructions of a given set at least once, but after that all the bricks went into the same bin and, I’d cobble together whatever I wanted later. It’s this impulse towards freeform construction with basic materials that a pair of indie games appeal. One is Minecraft, the wunderkind title of Mojang which has captured the hearts and minds of nerds around the world with an efficiency and completeness to make the propoganda machines of the most nefarious of information spinners green with envy. The other calls itself Terraria, and is a side-scroller from ReLogic that at once speaks to the simpler days of graphics and music with bits numbering 16 or fewer while boasting an expansive world with objectives, oddball items to construct and bosses that will consume your soul the way games like this eat up your free time and idle brain functions. Despite similarities in premise and
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foundation, the two games are actually very different. Yes, both generate the player’s world procedurally and spontaneously rather than giving you the same map every time. Yes, both have engines that account for gravity, the flow of fluids like water and lava and the arcs of projectiles like arrows. And yes, both have zombies, skeletons and other creatures that go bump in the night. In essence, both are bins of building blocks provided for the edification of player creativity. So aside from their different viewpoints, what makes these games different? The divergence comes in terms of guidance and goals. Minecraft, for better or for worse, is essentialy a free-form construction tool. It is flexible and accomodating of players of all stripes. It’s the kind of sandbox-type environment where you can realistically envision a scale recreation of the wizard tower Orthanc from Lord of the Rings in obsidian, if it weren’t for the explosive and suicidal Creepers bent on wrecking all you’ve built. In-game information can be difficult to come by, however. You’re pretty much dumped into this brave new world with nothing but the clothes on your back and only the vaguest of ideas on how to begin. It’s not unlike opening your bin of LEGOs to find you’ve misplaced all of the instructions. There’s nothing wrong with this
sort of freedom, of course, but it does mean in-game objectives are few and far between. On the other hand, Terraria comes pre-packaged with multiple layers of involvement. You may be comfortable just building yourself a house to ward off the nightly zombie hordes, or you can deal with what you encounter as you explore. What’s this? Corrupt ground rife with Lovecraftian horrors? Going to need some equipment to handle that. Even a helpful guide has followed you into this new world to tell you how to use those resources you’re digging up with that pickaxe in your starting inventory. There’s clearly some direction to the world and your progress through it, which lends itself to more of an adventure/RPG feel. Being more userfriendly, however, belies the challenges that await. And considering there are at least two bosses that only emerge due to players enacting specific items within the game world, you’ve only yourself to blame when your body parts start flying off. The two games are quite similar yet appeal to different mindsets. Purely creative-minded gamers will lean more towards Minecraft, where the intricate use of in-game resources can replicate complex circuits to the point of simple computers existing within the virtual world. Those with an eye towards an ever-growing progression of gear and powers aimed at overcoming complex monster encounters will be most interested in mincing into Terraria. These two groups do overlap somewhat, and it’s entirely possible to enjoy both games equally. Which of them is better is purely a subjective matter. However, both games allow for nearly limitless creativity, both present challenges that reward said creativity and both are extremely immersive and time-consuming. Whichever you choose, you’re going to lose to it. Given the nature of the games in question, it’s entirely possible you will lose all productivity to a serious case of gamer’s block. GF
Christmas at 2fort written by
Looking past the overtones of commerce, the Christmas season is, or rather should be, a time of humble introspection. At heart, it serves as a reminder to value friends and family over hard cash; a lesson demonstrated by giving freely to your loved ones. This is Christianity’s take on a call for temperance present throughout almost any religion. As frequently as they tend to squabble, most faiths seem to agree that if you care at all for your immortal soul, you should not tie yourself to worldly goods. But what if the goods you care for aren’t real? The rise of the Internet has done truly wondrous things for videogames. Once limited to connecting two people facing the same screen, they now offer us entire continents to roam as we please. In a way, the massive realms of yore provided by the MMO-genre these days are more than just playgrounds. They are increasingly intricate, scale-models of human society, with complex economies and patterns of migration unwittingly created by thousands of people from all over the world. No matter how fantastical their premise might be, games can never quite get away from human nature. It bleeds into them. We bring it with us whenever we log in; not just our virtues, but also our vices. Our vanity. Our greed. So our virtual communities, far from utopian, are plagued by smaller versions of the injustices and sins all too common in our real world. Take, for instance, the growing importance we attach to virtual items. Some items have always been rarer
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than others, and those who owned them take a certain pride in doing so. But this used to be tied to gameplay, a matter of owning the most powerful weapons or the toughest armor. Now we go so far as to hunt for accessories that serve no purpose other than to look pretty and to distinguish ourselves from those who don’t own them. They have become our version of status symbols. Instead of sports cars or designer clothing, we brag about epic mounts and unusual hats. Ironically, the virtual world manages to be just as materialistic as the real world. Traditionally, Christmas serves to remind us that money is only so much ink on paper. Today, it might be fruitful to go a step further and to keep in mind that your Bill’s Hat, your Dragonwrath Staff, and your Diamond Pickaxe of Fortune are only so many ones and zeroes. Their distinct purpose, the only reason they exist, is to bring you joy. If you put them on a shelf to be appreciated rather than used, if they’re gathering dust hidden deep in some virtual backpack or if you’re haggling to turn them into a profit, then you’re doing it wrong. I owe this epiphany to a man called Bear, a Nordic nerd and regular on my Team Fortress 2 server of choice. Some eight months ago, I had gotten it in my head that I really wanted the Sticky Jumper, a sidearm for the Demoman class that allows you to propel yourself across the map without suffering explosion damage. Since it doesn’t drop randomly, most people
The Guardian Force • Vol. I • No. 0 • Winter 2011
pick it up at the store for a few cents. However since I didn’t have a credit card, I decided to craft it. There is no recipe for creating the Sticky Jumper per se, but it’s one of several (at the time, three) possible results when crafting a secondary weapon for the Demoman. All I needed were some slot and class tokens, a bit of metal and patience. Probability suggested that I could expect to create a Sticky Jumper in three tries. Probability is a bitch. I crafted a Scottish Resistance, then a Chargin’ Targe, then another Chargin’ Targe, then another Scottish Resistance. Short on ingredients by now, I scraped together the tokens for a final try. At long last I crafted yet another Chargin’ Targe. “Bother this troublesome nonsense!” would be the polite paraphrase of my frustrated outburst in the chat. Noticing my aggravation with what I had crafted, Bear immediately figured out what I was up to. “Trying to craft a Sticky Jumper, Joe?” “Yeah. No luck on my fifth try though.” “I bought mine. It is kinda cheap.” More people pitched in sharing their own stories, and once again I ended up explaining why I was going through the trouble of crafting it. Bear, in the meantime, had fallen conspicuously silent. A few minutes later, an automated message announced that he had just wrapped a gift. There’s a rather obvious connection there,
but at the time I was slow to make it. “Did you die yet, Joe?” “No, why?” My curiosity piqued, I threw myself off the nearest cliff. A notification popped up, presenting me with Bear’s gift, complete with ribbon and colorful wrapping. Sure enough he had gotten a Sticky Jumper for me, the item for which I had spent weeks searching. Even with the added cost of wrapping it, it wasn’t a big gift. But I was taken aback by the fact that someone hundreds of miles away, someone I’d never met face to face and probably never will, bothered to spend money on me. Bear was reaching out to someone who was, despite all the time we spent playing together, a total stranger. It may have been a small gesture, but it was surprisingly considerate; an act of kindness I could not have anticipated. I thanked him probably a hundred times. Later on, I looked at my own treasury; a puny collection of a half dozen hats dropped in my lap by the game’s routines or crafted after gathering metal for weeks. The economy of the game dictates that each of them was worth several Sticky Jumpers, and yet the lot of them didn’t mean nearly as much to me as the three words in the description of my Sticky Jumper: “Gift from: Bear”. I loved the gun. This was no rational reaction. It was neither reasonable, detached, nor calm. Then again, it didn’t have to be. It was a gift. I did not
appreciate it for its value, but for the wonderful moment of surprise, the seconds of joy crowning weeks of disappointment. Was there ever a more divine use for our virtual piles of gold? Why was I niggardly hoarding everything the game handed me, when I could be handing it to others? My thoughts turned to the movers and shakers; the people who make a point of owning every hat in the game, the people who spend weeks going through the same dungeon over and over again looking for a piece of epic gear, the people who spend hours on trade servers trying to make a good bargain. Who are they if not the Scrooges of our generation, jaded misers hoarding a pile of digital riches that might brighten the days of a hundred gamers? Eternally discontented, they chase the buzz their wealth used to give them by adding to it, always looking for more and more. But more isn’t the answer. Less is.
Whether or not he realizes it, Bear’s gift has taught me a valuable lesson. So this Christmas, I decided to return the favor. Between his impressive collection of headgear and my humble assortment of items, I had a hard time coming up with a gift. But at last, lightning struck. Bear and I share a guilty pleasure: our fascination with the Huntsman, a significantly less effective bow-and-arrow alternative to the Sniper’s trusty rifle. Despite all the ridicule it earns me, I have been using it almost exclusively since the game first handed me a bow. It served me well for over two years. When I came across my first Name Tag, I gave it the custom title of “Face Invader,” a name well earned through over 100 hours of sniping. And now it was time to give it away. You could say that a Huntsman, one of the cheapest items in the game, doesn’t make for a very impressive gift. But I wasn’t just giving him any old Huntsman. I was giving him my Huntsman; two years of my online career and the sum of all those times Bear had fallen victim to my arrows. It was the Team
Fortress 2 equivalent of a personal gift. I’m ashamed to admit that I was initially hesitant to let go. After all, I had spent quite a lot of time with that bow and I cared for it more than I probably should. I had doubts. I felt so attached to that weapon that I didn’t want anyone else to have it. It was a weird realization, but at long last I noticed that I no longer truly savoured using that Huntsman. The joy had waned over time. I did not care for it any more, but the idea of not using it felt alien. Without knowing, without paying attention, I had let that item take a hold of me. It was no longer mine so much as I was its own. It was a liability, a burden. It needed to go.
At last, I let go. And in all that time I spent with my “Face Invader” I had not done anything more brilliant, more wonderful, and more delightful than giving it away. Nothing compared to the moment I handed the gift to Bear. Because then and there, I made him smile. And though it feels weird to go back to a bland, nondescript bow now, and though I might miss my Huntsman at times, I know that it’s in good hands. Bear certainly doesn’t have any qualms about killing me with my own weapon. Normally I’d be inclined to get a bit worked up over my virtual demise, but every time Bear pierces my head with another arrow, I get to see those three little words in the description of my assailants weapon: “Gift from: Joe.” And then I smile. So as you spend the holidays reuniting with loved ones, handing out gifts and (if your loved ones are anything like mine) gorging on delicious treats, keep in mind that in this enlightened day and age, the spirit of giving need not be limited to the real world. Count your virtual blessings. Perhaps you will find that you might find more joy in giving them away, than you would in keeping them. GF
Joshua Loomis reviews
At time of writing I have logged over 30 hours in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Most modern games set in the first person perspective last nowhere near that long. One can knock out the likes of Alpha Protocol and any given shooter’s single-player campaign in a single sitting. And yet people will have been playing Skyrim since its release back in November and will still be wandering the frozen plains of the northern reaches of Tamriel well into the new year. As with previous Elder Scrolls games, you begin as a prisoner. Instead of waiting around for your cell door to open, however, you’re in transit to your execution. The opening dialogue, voices and character motions indicate we’re certainly not in Oblivion anymore. The player is faced with choice almost immediately when the execution is interrupted by a fire-breathing dragon. This rather ornery creature previously considered mythological is a harbinger of doom, resurrecting its kin and bent on setting the world on fire. Thankfully it turns out the player is also something considered mythological, or at least legendary: Dragonborn. It’s up to you to put an end to the coming draconic armageddon. Provided you can tear yourself away from exploration and side quests, of coruse. The wonderful thing about Skyrim is that there’s no one way to go about doing things. The accessibility of the ‘Favorites’ menu and non-linear means of building skills yeilds a completely free-form method of character progression. Add to this the fact you can craft your own weapons, potions, and enchantments, and you can either opt to kit yourself out with arms and armor of your own creation or patronize the local shops if you’d rather focus on making things explode, bleed, and fly backwards off of mountainsides because you yelled at them. With the exception of the shouting, everything
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you do contributes towards your progression, both of the individual skill and your overall level. Every time you level up, you assign a perk to one of your skills. This allows a great deal of character customization and encourages repeat play. With so much to see and do in Skyrim, it’s highly likely you’ll want to play more than once. From delving into the fascinating magic system to aligning oneself with a variety of factions, it’s nigh impossible that you’ll do absolutely everything available in the world that’s been created. The only direction you get in-game is the occasional floating arrow, but beyond that your path is your own. This is a fantastic change from the sort of games that drag the player by the nostrils through linear progressions of encounter after encounter. It’s a strictly old-school role-playing experience with excellent graphics and a living world, and it’s truly fantastic in that regard. Unfortunately, Skyrim has joined Portal in the tradition of games that have been overly hyped, memed, and parodied by the wonderful and diverse population of the Internet. The proliferation of Skyrim imagery and phrases can water one’s enthusiasm, and there are a variety of graphical and gameplay glitches that can happen more often than one may find comfortable. Lines of spoken dialog can occasionally run over each other and the UI leaves something to be desired, carrying as it does the stink of console port syndrome. Finally, it can crash on you without warning which is always a pain. However, there’s an active modding community dedicated to smoothing out these rough edges, and the core of the game and the depth of its world more than make up for the issues. If you can ignore taking a meme to the knee, Skyrim can deliver hours of immersive gameplay that make it well worth buying. GF
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