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Five

ctrl+alt+defeat mar-apr 2012

Games. Life.


ctrl+alt+defeat Issue 5 (Mar-Apr 2012) Guilt ctrl+alt+publish

Dilyan Damyanov Vanya Damyanova

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Dilyan Damyanov

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Ben Abraham Jorge Albor Mattie Brice Vanya Damyanova Adrian Forest Scott Juster Amanda Lange Alex Maunder Steven O’Dell Brittany Vincent Daniel Weissenberger Katie Williams

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Dilyan Damyanov

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Vu Bui Olga Caprotti Nico Crisafulli JR Douglass John Duffell Gabriel Gilder Eric Heyes Gregory Moine Anne Peter Andrey Suhanov astrorom Bruno

Artwork index

1 guilt by ~nakuchaku on deviantART 4-5 Bison skull pile by Unknown 6-7 Photographer of bison hides by JR Douglass 8 Fish in green by __o__ on Flickr 10-11 Sunset from the Tower by john.duffell on Flickr 14-15 My Grandfather by Vu Bui on Flickr 16-17 M42 (Orion’s Nebula) by astrorom on Flickr 18-19 Veil Nebula by astrorom on Flickr 21 Russian spy action by FutureFashion on Flickr 22-23 Day 91 - Sneezy Spy by lintmachine on Flickr 24 vanite 3 by ~BlackNorns on deviantART 27 vanite 2 by ~BlackNorns on deviantART 28-29 Submit by nicocrisafulli on Flickr

contents The comfortable Western conscience

Scott Juster takes a moment to consider the plight of those who toil so he can play, on pp 4-7

Disdain at the D.I.S.C.O.

Katie Williams recounts an incident that made her feel like the most terrible person in the world, on pp 8-9

Permanent death, episode 10: Plausible deniability Ben Abraham applies a hardcore set of rules to a shooter and survives to tell the tale, on pp 10-11

I’ll never be the Queen of Ferelden Eonfras Hugo “Deathy” jailbreakdesigns.com Jameskiller Levi lintmachine MaffiozA nakuchaku Navy Fau spritepirate swordsmanphotogher

30-31 Gavel by noyava on Flickr 32-33 Virgin Racing driver Timo Glock of Germany (2010 Canadian GP) by Gregory Moine on Flickr 34-35 Shmup Addict by Dj ph on Flickr 36-37 OverProtectiveby~JailBreakDesigns ondeviantART 38 Tea time by *Nahuisan on deviantART 39 Cosplay : Guilty Gear2Overture by *yuegene on deviantART 40 valentineby~spritepirateondeviantART 41 -RELOADED- Spread by ~tenjinkai on deviantART 42 Go Bubble by *hugodeathy on deviantART 43 ZappaandS-Koby~Eonfrason deviantART 44 ABA by ~meanlilkitty on deviantART 45 Nyaa Nyaaa by ~Pompay on deviantART 46-47 Defendby~Satene-sanon deviantART

Contact

dilyan@ctrlaltdefeat.me vanya@ctrlaltdefeat.me http://ctrlaltdefeat.me/ @ctrlaltdefeatme

Support us If you like ctrl+alt+defeat, there are several ways to help make it. You can buy stuff from our Amazon store at bit.ly/cadstore, donate via the appropriate button on our homepage ctrlaltdefeat.me, or contribute to future issues by submitting to the editor’s email above. Thank you! You make this so worthwhile! Disclaimer Every effort has been made to ensure that all artwork and texts used in this issue are either licenced under a Creative Commons license or permission has been obtained from the copyright holder. We’re sorry for any mistakes we might have made. Unless it is somebody else’s artwork or text, all content in this issue is licenced under a Creative Commons-Attribution-Non-commercial license.

Mattie Brice sees a devious plot turn against her, on pp 12-13

Resenting the blame game

Amanda Lange refuses to be guilted by manipulative developers, on pp 14-15

The downside of free choice

Dan Weissenberger recalls an intergalactic tragedy that still haunts him, on pp 16-19

Alpha Protocol or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Y button

Alex Maunder discovers that being mechanically naughty can be loads of fun, on pp 20-23

Norns

Brittany Vincent remembers her days as the evil goddess of a race of furry little creatures, on pp 24-27

Hard times

Vanya Damyanova riles against superficially hard games, on pp 28-29

Shame on you

Jorge Albor looks into League of Legends’ Tribunal system for community self-policing, on pp 30-31

Bad Conscience chicane

Steven O’Dell shares his in-character experience with remorse in the racing world, on pp 32-33

Eat what you want

Adrian Forest ponders a healthier gaming diet, on pp 34-35

Weapon of sin

Our cosplay gallery pays tribute to an obscure fighting game that seems to display surprising depth of concept, on pp 36-47


faces Ben Abraham is a PhD student at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, working on a history of the rise of critical videogame blogging and online communities.

Steven O’Dell has made it his personal goal to cover the racing genre thoroughly on his blog Raptured Reality after years of frustration with the fact that nobody else seemingly will. This usually means that he is doing an insane amount of laps in every racing title he plays, much to the dismay of his wider gaming collection. Jorge Albor writes and podcasts about games and culture at experiencepoints.net and is a multimedia columnist at popmatters. com. He has an academic background in international politics and social impact games and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Brittany Vincent is a freelancer who routinely eviscerates virtual opponents and tempts fate by approaching wayward Zoloms. A connoisseur of all things bloody and bizarre, she tweets via @MolotovCupcake. You can peruse her archived work at PfhortheWin.com.

Adrian Forest is an academic video games researcher who plays far too many video games, and is working on owning far too many more. He has recently moved to the outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, which is a strange and unfamiliar world of unreliable Internet connections.

Katie Williams is a worldly traveller, author of two dozen unfinished speculative fiction novels, connoisseur of Japanese candy, and fan of hyperbole. She blogs at alivetinyworld. com and tweets at @desensitisation.

Mattie Brice aimed for food writing and somehow got into video game criticism. She currently writes about social justice, sexuality and narrative design topics in games at The Border House, Moving Pixels at PopMatters, and Nightmare Mode, generally causing a ruckus. Hopes to someone write for a game developer and increase the presence of minorities in games.

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The comfortable Western conscience J

ohn Marston’s gun was probably still warm when I maneuvered him onto the dying man’s horse. As I trotted around the slumped body, I heard a woman call out in terror, begging for someone to save her from the short temper and sharp knife of an angry drunk. A meter popped up on the screen to inform me that my actions had cost me some “honor”, but I kept riding with a clear conscience. I wasn’t moved by the virtual citizens’ plights, nor did I care much about my reputation in their world. I was much more preoccupied with Red Dead Redemption’s larger story: the troubling details behind its development and its place within a medium built on exploitation.

A moral economy From a systemic perspective, Red Dead Redemption undercuts its own ability to inspire feelings of regret by turning moral decisions into economic ones. Perhaps counter-intuitively, because the game tracked my honor as a numerical quantity, I felt less guilty when acting like a jerk. I knew the cost of my actions, and was therefore able to evaluate whether stealing or killing was worth the “fee” associated with losing honor. Acting like a maniac carried a price, but as long as I was willing to pay that price, I could have my way and still repay my debt to the virtual society with minimal long-term consequences. The situation resembles a Freakonomics story: a children’s day care, tired of parents arriving late to pick up their children, instituted a modest fine for late pickups. Instead of decreasing, the number of late pickups actually rose. People were quite willing to

pay the fine, and now that there was a monetary value that legitimised their behaviour, the practice became an economic transaction rather than a moral failing or social faux pas. Like those late day-care parents, I became comfortable simply trading honor for instant gratification in Red Dead Redemption. I knew my actions had a specific price, I knew I could pay it to continue the game, and I knew how to re-earn more honor if I needed it. There is little lasting social pressure for stimulating guilt in Red Dead Redemption. Townspeople will eventually respawn, horses are in endless supply, and you can’t lock yourself out of any quests based on your behaviour. There is no need to be remorseful, since every mistake can be rectified. The huge exception to this comes in the form of the game’s buffalo, which do not respawn after you kill them. Every buffalo I killed brought me closer to changing the game forever. Without any way to pay for my actions or repair my mistakes, I had to face the guilt of changing the game forever and reenacting one of the real American west’s environmental tragedies. I had less of an excuse for my actions than those nineteenth-century merchants, hunters, and imperialists, since I had the social and historical perspective to know better. It was this external knowledge that made playing Red Dead Redemption a guilty pleasure. The game’s gorgeous environments and massive scale made it easy for me to immerse myself in its world. But every once in a while, the real world would pierce the veil, expose the fantasy, and shift my focus back to the ugly realities that gave birth to Red Dead Redemption. >>>

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Away from the warmth of your arms I stay / off the radar and into harm’s way That is a line from Compass, one of the contemporary songs in Red Dead Redemption. It’s a fitting song for John Marston’s situation, a man forcibly separated from his family and thrust into a battle between huge social forces. Unfortunately, it also applies well to the people who made Red Dead Redemption. The game’s fictional New Austin was just that: a fantasy created by real people, many of whom suffered for my enjoyment. During the game’s development, allegations of mismanagement and harsh working conditions at Rockstar San Diego surfaced. A letter from spouses of those working on the game brought some disturbing, yet unsurprising details to light. Stories of extended crunch time, benefit cuts, and unpaid overtime multiplied and it became clear that Rockstar San Diego was in trouble. Sadly, this wasn’t an unusual story; not for Rockstar, and not for the video game industry in general. Games like Red Dead Redemption don’t magically happen. People sacrifice significant portions of their lives to make a game world that feels like it has a life of its own. In reality, it was people crafting that western terrain, people who worked in environments I wouldn’t choose for myself or for anyone. Yet there I was, playing the game and doing nothing to prevent the cycle from happening again. Deciding what to do about the situation seems simple, initially, but it soon becomes paralysing. An easy answer might be to boycott games made under unfair conditions, but such an action has unintended consequences. My friend Nels Anderson, a developer working at an independent studio, says that the only thing more depressing than making a game under such harsh conditions is seeing that game fail anyway. If we boycott games because of the way publisher or studio executives manage projects, are we disproportionately hurting the wrong people? Perhaps unions are the answer? Again, Nels urges caution, reminding us that the “bloated beasts SAG [Screen Actors Guild] and the WGA [Writers Guild of America] have become certainly give little hope” in the efficacy of unions in knowledge and entertainment-based industries. Vague as such a suggestion is, maybe we need some sort of “fair trade” label for games? Studios could

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follow a voluntary set of guidelines to earn the distinction, and then players could make their choices accordingly. Knowing that your game was made by fairly treated workers might assuage the lingering guilt that comes with playing a big-budget game from a historically exploitative studio like Rockstar.

How the west has fun But then, where should the “fair trade” idea stop? As I played Red Dead Redemption, my mind drifted towards increasingly large topics. I was playing a game that dealt with America’s violent transition into industrialisation by using technology created by America’s violent transition into post-industrialisation. Even if I refused to play Red Dead Redemption and chose to buy another game, I would still be benefiting from the extremely exploitative supply chain the entire electronics industry uses. When I buy a brand new controller, the idea that my hands are the first to touch it is a fallacy. In reality, I’m just the end point in a long, strange, frightening global journey. Today, trying to use technology built under the kinds of labour laws we enjoy in the west is nearly impossible. Almost every single piece of electronics we touch is made in China under sweatshop (or sweatshop-like) conditions. A game’s story can scarcely hope to approach the complexity and moral ambiguity that the simple act of owning a computer can manufacture. Any virtual misdeeds I commit in Red Dead Redemption lose their punch in the face of real injustices. This is an old problem, it’s one we haven’t solved yet, and it’s one that might be getting worse. For decades, the video game industry has quietly been a part of the violent resource wars around the globe. Conflicts over material like coltan have prompted some to call the late 1990s resource struggles in the Congo the “PlayStation War”. After the raw material is extracted, it is processed and assembled in Chinese factories that routinely mistreat their workers. Critics like me often champion progressive causes within video games. We write about racism and sexism in the industry and argue for inclusive themes in games, but what should be done about the fact that the most basic material of our beloved medium is produced by a colonial system of resource and labour exploitation. We benefit from companies that outsource jobs to a country in which union leaders face imprisonment.

What can we do, besides feel guilty? I don’t have an answer and I don’t know if there even is an answer. For my part, I try to buy responsibly: sharing hardware with friends and buying used items cuts down on my consumption. I’ve been making an active effort to support the independent game scene. While this doesn’t address many of the problems associated with the global technology market, it at least lets me support studios who treat employees fairly. I put pressure on my government and donate to progressive causes, hoping that I and all the other tiny drops of water can someday form a tidal wave strong enough to sweep away


ctrl+alt+defeat the most obvious corruption. I’m hopeful, but not optimistic. But this is where the supreme guilt comes in: I don’t have an immediate incentive to change this. Video games are one of the most enjoyable things in my life. They’re plentiful and they are relatively inexpensive, all things considered. Life is good, largely thanks to the sacrifices of those who make the machines and those who use those machines to create the art that I love. Globalisation has helped video game technology prices remain relatively flat over the years, despite amazing increases in performance and complexity. Long hours and little pay at

studios might be bad for the people working there, but excellent games like Red Dead Redemption seem to validate harsh management. Until enough people curb their spending habits and force their governments to reject the worst aspects of globalisation, there will always be room for Foxconn. Ultimately, I have the luxury of taking shelter in my western worlds, virtual and real. The nature of these worlds means that even if my in-game actions don’t inspire deep feelings, abstract guilt is ever-present. But if feeling guilty about my comfortable existence is my biggest problem, I probably have a pretty good life.

Text by Scott Juster Bison Skull Pile by Unknown Photographer of Bison Hides by JR Douglass (1874) Thanks to Wikipedia & The National Park Service

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Disdain I at the D.I.S.C.O.

’m in Menethil Harbour. I’m fishing. It’s many hours past sundown, the dusky blue sky reflecting on the ocean, reflecting the shadows outside my bedroom window. The cataclysm is yet to rend this quiet harbour town, plunging its inhabitants and half its buildings beneath water. No one here knows their fate. I am yet to know mine. I am a pretty night elf with a trademark bob of teal hair. I’m a rogue, a sneaky little slip of a thing with a mean temper. And I’m standing on the docks, fishing. I’m not sure why; I hate fishing, and I don’t think this harbour provides any of the kind of fish I particularly need at this time. Ships with full, golden sails arrive occasionally at the far pier, collecting or depositing passengers before they leave once again. I stand here, plucking fish off my line every now and then, for about fifteen minutes before another boat comes in from the city of Stormwind, dropping off a lone occupant. Unlike the other travellers, he does not instantly summon a mount and race out of town. This little dwarf warrior, in the mid level 20s, is dressed in the drab kind of gear that signifies he’s new, if not to this game

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then at least to this realm. He’s American, I presume, given that most Australians like myself are asleep at this time. He doesn’t seem to own a mount yet; he jogs over to me on foot. But before he even approaches I know what he’s going to ask. I sigh inwardly. “hey” he says to me out loud, his imagined voice the only text in my otherwise empty chat box, the only sound in this town save the occasional bell of an arriving ship. “Hi,” I venture, monosyllabically and noncommittally, waiting for him to make his request. It takes a few seconds; I imagine him stabbing at his keyboard with two index fingers. “do u know how to get to arathi?” “Leave this town, stick to the path, and follow it left when it forks,” I reply prompt-


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ly. I reel in another fish, and I hope that the dwarf doesn’t need further explanation. “k thanks” he says. He’s about to leave, but I know he’s not done yet. And I’m right. He has another request. “can u take me there?” I feel myself physically bristling at this. I’m at the level cap, dressed in sleek, colourful gear attained from the current raid instances, and I am busy fishing, dammit. At this time, I’m one of the few people in the realm to own a two-seater motorbike, but I only allow friends to sit in its side-carriage. Not anyone like this lowbie. What makes him think I am going to make the time to ferry a stranger across half the continent? Why do lowbies, with their poor typing skills and irritating abbreviations, always feel entitled to ask favours of high-levelled players? I gave him directions -- was that not enough? So I simply say, “No.” And to prove how busy I am, I cast another line into the sea. “k” he says passively, turning to leave. He’s not far when he seems to change his mind yet again. I brace myself for another inane question, another unwarranted request for a favour. But after hovering at my side a moment, instead of saying another word, he drops a small wooden chest, out of which springs a mirror ball that sways to and fro, casting small spinning shards of reflected light across the pier’s haphazard wooden planks. The night sky lights up in a kaleidoscope of colour; fast-paced music featuring the laughter of gnomes plays, and in a wondrous daze, I click on the ball to see what will happen. My rogue abandons her fishing rod

and begins to dance. And with that, the dwarf is off, out of sight and running out of town. I later learn that what he has deployed is a D.I.S.C.O. Ball, a rare item presumably used to raise the spirits of jaded, impatient, high-level raiders. As I find myself grinning at the absurdity of this mirror ball, I feel something in myself soften. It’s just me and the mirror ball here on this dock, and though it’s the middle of the night in both of my existences, my world is alight. I feel awful. Thinking of that little dwarf navigating the Wetlands outside town by himself, I remember the first time I came to this harbour as a baby rogue. My brother, a rogue far more competent than I at the time, had been the one to protect me from the Wetlands’ crocodiles. I might have quit without his help, given up. Though the game has been nerfed and gone through numerous changes since, I wonder if I have just sent this little dwarf to his death. Quickly, I type his name into my chatbox. “Wait,” I whisper to him desperately. “Do you still need me?” “nahh” he says. “i’ll figure it out.” “Well...” I say finally. “Let me know if you ever do need help.” “k.” The following morning, unable to stop thinking of the dwarf or his mirror ball, I add him to my contact list. The next time I see him online I message him immediately to ask how he’s doing, and to offer him a hand if he needs it. He is as short with me as I was with him upon our first meeting. He politely declines my offers of help. We stop talking. I instead observe him through my contact list as he levels over the next few weeks, making it to the 60s before he stops logging on altogether. I never see him again after that. He was right. He didn’t need me. The game didn’t need people like me.

~

Text by Katie Williams Photo by Olga Caprotti

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n Pala the sky was a glary white colour and rain spattered the ground in thick, uneven drops. Holding my map up to the sky to keep the face of it dry, I planned my route. The mission APR commander Tambossa had given me was to blow the Mertens-Segolo pipeline -- the one that pumps water out of the lake and into a neighbouring country. Greaves seemed to have reservations about cutting off the water supply to a neighbouring country. That could just be because he is getting kickbacks from the company, but I have no way of knowing. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me. Tambossa has more gold on his chest than many small African nations and Greaves, his mercenary advisor, seems to equally enjoy the spoils of war. Even after taking a bus to the southwestern corner of the country the morning’s glare is still hanging around, as is the rain. Perhaps it came with me from Pala. I entered a safe-house to sleep out the rain and the sunshine that followed it. Leaving at dusk, I stepped out into an orange, hazy twilight. A guard post is across from me, separated by a small valley and about 100 yards. I approach from the east as the darkness lengthens and get off a couple of dart rifle shots before drawing the attention of the soldiers. A number of explosives are set off in the ensuing fight and before long the whole checkpoint is going up in smoke. I walked down the path to the Taemoco Diamond mine where I was to get the explosives that would allow me to sever the pipeline. Starting with the guard in the tower, I made use of my dart rifle again before swapping to the shotgun. However it had seen a lot of use by now, so while in the middle of fighting my way down some stairs it promptly jammed and I had to hammer the stuck cartridge loose. Grenades and Molotov’s were applied to the problem of soldiers, and when the coast was clear I picked up the explosives and fielded a call from Andre. I had noted his failure to call when I first picked up the mission. He wanted to meet, so I obliged, trekking through the bush to another nondescript safe-house. Andre’s plan (he always has a plan) is to really mess the pipeline up by busting the

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Permanent death, episode 10: Plausible deniability Permanent Death is the story of one game of Far Cry 2 -- chronicling Ben Abraham’s progress from the beginning of the game all the way to the end of his single in-game life. The full, 391-page ebook can be downloaded from his former internet home SLRC -- Subterranean Loner Rendered Comatose.


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emergency stop valves or something so that when the real damage is done to the pipe it will rupture and overflow more than just the water that was already in the pipe. Or something like that anyway. I made my way to the pump control shed by climbing up onto the overhead pipe itself, sneakily taking the guards out with my dart rifle from a safe distance. Getting inside the small shed and blowing up the controls alerted a mortar crew on a nearby island. Only by sprinting away and crouching in the jungle was I able to lose his attentions, his eyes like a hawk. How he could see enough of anything in the dark to land a range-finding round clean next to me, I’ll never know. Secondary objective achieved, I was off to the main pipeline, approaching with stealth.

Taking down the first guard I saw, I attracted a number of others, one of which decided to throw a grenade into the bush I was using for cover. Seeing it coming plain at my face, I felt a momentary panic and I sprinted to get away, it exploding quite close behind me. Having lost my cover by diving into the open ground of the road, the soldiers attempt to add some ventilation to my torso via their bullets. Needless to say, I hurriedly got back into the cover of the bushes and returned the favour. Strangely enough, the guards never rushed my position and instead chose to pepper me with near misses and wild shots from an inordinate distance. I’m not sure if they were trying to stay close to guard the pipeline, fearful of an attack from multiple directions by multiple assailants, or if they just weren’t sure where I was because my weapon was silenced. Either way, they stood around in a big, unmissable line so much like soccer players defending a penalty shootout. Except I wasn’t kicking a ball at them, and they weren’t falling to the ground from simple groin injuries. Eventually there was only the sniper on the tower left -- and I’d saved my last dart rifle shot for him. I aimed and pulled the trigger only to have the rifle misfire and jam. I duck back behind cover and batter at the rifle to eject the cartridge. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to re-use a dart that has already gotten stuck in the chamber already, but I give it a shot, making sure not to miss... I don’t. With no one else around I gather up some supplies and plant the explosives on the pipe, standing back to watch the sparks fly. It goes off with a happy bang and my mission is complete. Andre calls from the mine, saying that he can see the water rushing in to fill up the diamond pit. I dive off the side and into the water and realise just a second too late that I have done something incredibly stupid. From high enough even falling into water can kill, and there are also rocks at the bottom of the

cliff. A sinking feeling comes over me but the fall blessedly isn’t long enough to either kill me or leave me in suspense for long. I make it safely, but it was close. Damn close. I take a boat down the newly formed creek -- formed by my own actions with the pipeline, no less, and it is a little bit empowering to know that I can have such an effect on the environment. At the mine I spot the soldiers attacking Andre and quietly take out a pair with my dart rifle. I swim over to the other side of the diamond mine as the centre of the pit is now completely flooded. Using my silenced MP5 to take out the rest of the soldiers, I hear some moans of pain and purple smoke – Andre is down. I’ve been waiting for just such a moment to have a plausible reason to take him out, so I reach for his side arm and place it against his head. But then I hesitate. This isn’t the way I want this to happen. Instead, I put some morphine into him and get him on his feet again. He thanks me and returns to his usual jocular self. Still the feeling of wrongness persists, and I realise that I still need to kill Andre. I tell myself that now I’ve placed a gun against his head he won’t forget it. I can’t turn my back on him so he needs to be eliminated. It feels wrong, but I pull the trigger while aimed square at his head. Further wrongnessthe shot doesn’t kill him and he limps lamely away from me, a desperate and pitiable thing. The second shot succeeds where the first fails and Andre lands awkwardly, face down into the dirt and grass. It still feels very wrong to me, which is appropriate I suppose, since there’s nothing right about death, but I didn’t want it to be like this. I feel annoyed that it was such a lame ending to his life – no epic battle; no blaze of glory. Just another meaningless death in a meaningless place. To make myself feel a bit better, I blow up my jeep on the way back to the bus depot, reprising my earlier premature memorial to Andre’s death. It makes me feel better. Text by Ben Abraham Photo by John Duffell

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I’ll never be the Queen of Ferelden

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ames are all about me. This is why I take my BioWare games with a glass of wine. I remember drinking a rather hearty and cheap red as I cycled through the starting scenes of Dragon Age: Origins, settling on an elf mage.Yes, this was going to be very self-indulgent. It was like being an anti-princess, breaking myself out of the tower with my own flashy powers and the willpower to fight the oppressive society I lived in. Well, that she lived in -- right. It didn’t take long for NPCs to bug their eyes out whenever my character introduced herself as a Grey Warden, responding with “But… but you’re a MAGE/ELF/WOMAN!” I figured there would be a heroic ending for her where she defeated the discrimination of the world and climbed atop shambled cities as a powerful Amazon goddess of sorts to show to Ferelden what a bunch of mistaken racists they all were. Then I met Alistair. My first impression of him was “… Is he flirting with me?” I always play a hot/cold flirtatious/coy character, usually drawing out my love interests’ affections with teasing wordplay. But this time, it was a computer character doing it to me. It was the mix of smart-ass with self-deprecating vulnerability that did it, as if he was inviting me to either cut him down or ease his insecurities. It wasn’t until the third or so conversation at camp I realised I’ve been giggling at the things Alistair said. Was my Warden -- no, was I crushing on Alistair? Looking back, he was the first video game character written and voiced so well to feel human enough to

evoke feelings of attraction in me. And unlike people in reality at that time, he couldn’t tell (or didn’t care?) that I was transgender. When I was used to people looking at me with disgust or only interested in what was going on in my pants, Alistair did none of those things. He stammered while blushing and shied away from sex, things I’ve never seen a person do with me before. I reached for another glass; this game was going to be all about me. Our conversations were rather predictable, always starting with me teasing him and ended with encouragement against his personal demons. I was forgiving when I found out he was a potential heir to the throne and buried the subject per his wishes, because that’s what people who care about each other do, right? Talking about sex was a tumble between amusing and sensitive; his vulnerability was like honey and I ate it with fistfuls. Funny, it was Alistair who was the Templar, the game’s knight in shining armor, but it was me doing the saving and pulling him along. I was prepared for his sister to abandon him, because I was the only one he needed. ‘We’ couldn’t exist unless I turned on the computer and made the right dialogue choices. I wanted our time to go on forever not because I loved him, but because he loved me. When it came to make Alistair king, I was ready for it. I knew the pay off for my waiting would come, and it was being Queen of Ferelden, a powerful elf ruler who would destroy the Darkspawn and fix society. Make it so everyone could be loved, even those lowly elven mages. My mouse quivered over the choices at Landsmeet, itching for the choice I romanced Alistair for and poured all those points into being so charming. I looked at Alistair, who didn’t want to be king, and Anora, who wanted to be queen. We spent our entire relationship talking about how he wanted to escape this fate, to do away with any ties to the nobility and carve his own path after ending the Blight. He didn’t show great promise as a ruler, which made it more appetizing for me. Forget the king, it was the Queen who’s in charge. So I clicked it, giddy in my seat and finishing the bottle. Despair is a light word for what came next.

When I was rejected on the premise of being an elf, not a failed charisma check, it was like being crushed. I thought I heard a mocking tone in his voice, “Don’t be silly Mattie, someone like you can’t be Queen!” It was all bare in front of me -- the discrimination I planned to defeat waited to turn the tables on me, the station as the most powerful person in the game was never mine to reach. I remember looking at Alistair with venom, suspecting he knew all along. Because of my avarice and in retribution for chaining him in a life he never wanted, Alistair dispassionately broke up with me. A video game character dumped me. There I was, watching the retreating back of the best armor I could find as he walked away from me, wanting to forget that I ever existed. When Morrigan approached me to convince Alistair to sleep with her, I just about had it. I left my computer and fidgeted with various objects in my room. There was shame for my actions and embarrassment for how invested I became. Tossing the stained wine cork closer and closer to the ceiling hammered in the possibility of actually having emotions for Alistair. That I did need him, and maybe I should have treated him like, you know, a person. I contemplated deleting my save and starting over despite being at the game’s conclusion. If I just erased everything, I could make the right choices and no one would ever have to know about this. We could run off into the sunset slaying monsters while everyone else worried about grand causes, or maybe I could enact revenge, snub him and flaunt an openly sexual relationship with Zevran. Desperately searching guides to fix my mess, I realised we didn’t end up together because I was determined to have him depend on me, to mold him to my expectations. If I let him make his own decisions, we could live that fairytale. I decided not to, because tales like this are rarely told. I survived and ended the Blight, but didn’t get my goddess ending. Alistair didn’t change his mind and return to my side. We were all alive, and no one was happy. Text by Mattie Brice Photo by Anne Peter

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Resenting the blame game I

didn’t call my grandparents on Christmas. It wasn’t that I forgot, exactly. It was something I intended to do, but let slip because I was socialising that day with the other side of my family. My husband and I do a lot of travel over the holidays, and we managed to visit almost everyone, but over the course of about three days I didn’t get around to giving my dad’s parents a call. When we got home from our trip we spent a day sleeping it off, having a little personal time after a long drive. When I checked my voicemail that evening, I discovered I’d missed a call. My grandfather had been rushed to the hospital earlier that day. And I never called on Christmas. And I’m guilty now: feeling guilty that I opened addressing something trivial with something so important. As it turns out, I was able to call the hospital. My grandfather had surgery and is doing fine now. But the guilt I felt about not calling sooner still lingers, and it’s not a fun emotion. I feel it all the time in real life, usually when I neglect to do something that I should have done. If I spend a day-off morning sleeping in, instead of getting work done. If I skip my exercise routine. If I don’t connect with important people more often. But as a matter of fact, it’s a rare thing these days for a video game to push on me with something I forgot to do, which is my stronger trigger of guilt.Video games usually force you to do something you didn’t want to, or give you a bad binary choice. And then, “don’t you feel guilty?” Fable II gives me the option of sucking the youth out of an innocent bystander to preserve my own. Mass Effect allows me to choose to kill off an alien race for pragmatic

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reasons. Skyrim gives me access to an artifact for sacrificing an ally. Fallout 3 asks me to sacrifice a comrade to save myself. There are plenty of other possible answers to its final puzzle, but it doesn’t allow them. It’s either me or the NPC. If I choose the NPC, it gives me a chiding, no-no ending. This isn’t unique to big-budget games. An entry in last year’s Interactive Fiction Competition, which judges text games, asked me to slap a baby. Lots of players couldn’t do this. I have no problem slapping a baby in this game, because the game made me do it. Not only is it not a real baby, but the slapping is not my fault. It stuck with me, but more because it said something about the game’s design that it was, at least in part, a babyslapping simulator. The more forced the guilt-trip, the more it doesn’t work on me. I can feel a little bad for some of my Renegade choices in Mass Effect, because, at the very least, they represent a missed opportunity in later titles. That situation in Fable II, on the other hand, was engineered just to force me to make a choice. A curse was going to strike my character and artificially age her. Or, I could redirect the curse to an NPC that just happened to be in the curse chamber for no particular reason. I didn’t cast the curse myself, and my in-game “evilness score” wouldn’t go up at all for choosing to punish the NPC. There was no way not to enter this chamber. This stuck with me for years, even after the game’s sequel. But it didn’t stick with me because I felt guilt about transferring the curse to an NPC; it stuck with me because it was such a

forced situation to begin with. It seemed to be engineered only to make me feel guilty. The emotion I feel about that kind of choice is not guilt. It is resentment. I guess I just can’t feel really guilty about a binary choice I was forced to make in a game, even if I made the “selfish” choice. Games have lots of positive aspects, but playing a single-player game is inherently a little selfish. It’s designed around my own entertainment. Lots of games offer worlds that seem


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to revolve around the player character. It’s fascinating to see the results of my good, or selfish decisions. But it is a virtual world, and if things go bad, I can try it again. I know I’m in the minority, but as more games move toward binary good/evil decisions, I play the remorseless jerk a lot more often. I’m actually having fun that way. Maybe I’m just doing it for variety, to walk the path less traveled. Or maybe I’m just doing it because guilt-trips in games are starting to make me numb. In Bioshock, near the end of the game, the player is tasked to be a Big Daddy, and protect Little Sisters from Splicers. I had been saving the Little Sisters. I don’t always play the bad guy, and, aside from that, the in-game rewards for doing this are better in the long-run than the rewards for harvesting. During this sequence, I felt a strong urge to protect these NPCs, as I’m sure most

players do. If a Little Sister were to die, this is a guilt trigger that’s effective enough for me, because it’s more based on something I didn’t do (protect her), instead of something I did. But when the first one inevitably died, and I realised that another would just take her place, I felt a little less bad. More just kept coming, anyway. Maybe that was the beginning of the end with my relationship with guilt in video games. Maybe I can only take so many cute little girls dying in games before I stop thinking about them as anything but disposable AI code. Games seem to add these guilt triggers because they want me to feel something deeper, and my reaction is to shield myself against their tricks.

Going back to Fable II, there is something in that game that was effective, too. Sometimes I would get busy adventuring, and forget to visit the adorable little family I started. It’s the effective trigger, of not-doing a thing I should have done. In the game, I’ve got a little girl. Mommy is a really powerful adventurer, so I get pretty busy, but my family likes it best when I come home. “I’m sorry for neglecting you,” I might think, about my strange video game child. “Here is a dolly.” Of course there’s no game there, sitting at home in the virtual house, even if it makes the virtual family so happy. So if a game, which I chose to play in the first place, just keeps guilt-tripping me, eventually I’m going to turn it off. I can only take so many sad little girls. Instead of feeling guilty about how I’m playing the game, I’ll feel guilty that I’m playing it at all, when there’s so many other things I’m not doing. I guess there’s one upside to games that keep reminding me to connect with my virtual family. A reminder to connect with my real family. The people in the game, after all, aren’t going to go anywhere in the mean time. Text by Amanda Lange Photo by Vu Bui

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The downside of free choice G

rowing up in the early days of consoles, without resources, Christmas was a holiday of special consequence. Whatever game I received would be a primary occupation for months on end, regardless of its quality. Sometimes I lucked out, as with Castlevania, a game selected entirely based on the vampire that appeared on its cover, and sometimes disaster ensued, as with the frustrating months I spent attempting to beat something called Ninja Kid. Without access to the internet’s reviews or the ability to sample a game before buying it, I was truly at the mercy of whim and fate. Who could say whether a game I’d mentioned to my mother weeks earlier would be worth the expense or time? All of this is my way of explaining just why, in the year 1992, I became obsessed with Star Control 2, the best game I’ve ever received as a Christmas present. I’d asked for it based entirely on my familiarity with a friend’s Sega Genesis copy of Star Control years earlier, and as I started the game I had no reason to suspect how big an adventure I was embark-

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ing upon. An epic sci-fi adventure in every sense of the term, Star Control 2 deals with the highest possible stakes, galactic extinction being the price of failure. While this isn’t a unique threat by any means, the difference between Star Control 2 and other games of its ilk are in the way its stellar writing brings colour and depth to the races I was tasked with saving, and the fact that, unlike most other titles (even to this day), Star Control 2 is not a zerosum game. Defeat is always a complete disaster, but there are levels of ‘winning’ the game that range from total success to victories so painful that they’re basically indistinguishable from failure. It’s a common practice for games to at-

tempt to raise stakes in dangerous situations by familiarising the player with a few NPCs and then throwing those in the path of a wheat thresher, giving the player a theoretical emotional connection to the threat. This works in smaller contexts, but can get fairly ridiculous when dealing with large-scale dangers. Nowhere is this more absurd than Mass Effect 2, in which hundreds of thousands of humans are being slaughtered, but the game only expects players to care because the team member who didn’t get killed last time around might be in danger. Star Control 2 sidesteps this trope by assigning each different race of aliens an overall set of personality characteristics. On the surface this may seem reductive, similar to how Mass Effect’s universe applies a single defining trait to all non-human species. In practice it works as a narrative shortcut, allowing the player to bond with an entire race of people. It’s a perfect solution for a game of this scope, and creates an environment where players find themselves filled with concern for the well-being for every member of the race, rather than just the one that they’ve had a couple of conversations with. The greatest trick that Star Control 2 pulls off is disguising the direness of the situation with a careful manipulation of tone. On the surface it seems like a standard light comedy, full of wacky aliens and oft-hilarious dialogue. Whether it’s watching the brutish Thraddash learn to appreciate Monty Python, or helping the Utwig overcome a species-wide depressive episode, simply interacting with all of the races that span the galaxy is such a pleasure that in my first time playing the game I took my time flying about, trying to meet everyone and experience everything the game had to offer. This turned out to be a huge mistake. Star Control 2 has a secret time limit, >>>

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and players won’t know it’s coming until the clock has already run out. The game’s villains are involved in a doctrinal conflict between two factions of the galaxy’s ruling race, the Ur-Quan. One believes that their future can be best secured by enslaving all other races, while the other wants to make absolutely sure by simply wiping all other races out. Unsurprisingly, it’s the second group that wins the day, and if the player isn’t quick enough, their forces will sweep through the galaxy, exterminating every single race in the cosmos. I was shocked the first time I saw this happen. Completely unprepared for the villains’ assault, I had to watch helplessly as they destroyed all of the friends I had made over the course of the game. No matter how frantically I struggled to ready myself for the endgame, it became clear that I simply wasn’t going to be able to win the day. I tried loading earlier games, but none were early enough to offer me the chance I needed to change my ways. I’d been playing the game all along, not taking it seriously enough. Taking the time to savour the things I enjoyed had wound up causing their destruction. So I started over, armed with the extensive notes I’d made the first time through. I was

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sure that knowing the location of every secret and all the races would give me the edge I needed -- and for a while it even went well. The game’s races are interlocked in fascinating ways, and if the quests are done just right, I found myself able to work on a number of plotlines at once. The Syreen’s egg case can be traded to the Druuge for the Utwig’s device, freeing up the Supon to delay the Kohr-Ah... etc. It soon became clear, however, that as clever I thought I’d become, there just wasn’t

going to be time enough to accomplish everything. Whether I wasn’t good enough at management or space combat, something was keeping me from saving everyone I needed to. This put me in the unfortunate position of having to fail at something in order to beat the game. To voluntarily sacrifice one race in order to protect the rest. If that sounds harsh, it’s important to remember that Star Control 2 is no stranger to forcing the player into difficult moral situations.You have to cut a deal with the slaving Druuge (which can involve selling your crew), the Dynarri you need to save the day are the ones responsible for the whole Ur-Quan mess in the first place, and hints are dropped that your powerful ally the Orz are far more evil than the game’s main antagonists. So sacrificing a race doesn’t seem like the worst thing that could possibly happen. Except for the fact that there’s really only one race that it makes sense to sacrifice.


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Which brings me to the ZoqFotPik, perhaps the most adorable group of scrappers ever to make it into a video game. A group of three species that evolved in parallel, thousands of years ago they banded together to wipe out a common predator, and since then they’ve lived in bonded trios. Of all the game’s races, they have the most interesting and humorous backstory, they’re quick to join forces, and they’re impossible not to like. One problem, though: they suck at life. Their ships are terrible, and they require rescue to prevent extinction even before the gameending Death March starts, which would require me to drop whatever I was doing and rush back to their homeworld, costing me the time I needed to get all my other ducks in a row. In the cold calculations of being a galactic saviour, I just couldn’t figure out a way to come back for them and save everyone else. So I ignored their pleas for help, and watched impassively as their sphere of influence disappeared from the starmap, and their ships vanished from my roster. Armed with all the information their race had to offer (carefully jotted down during a previous playthrough), I zipped through the rest of the game,

besting the Ur-Quan and saving the universe. Except for the ZoqFotPik. After beating the game, their fate stuck with me. If I’d simply failed to save a couple of races, but still won the game, maybe that would have been easier to live with -- but I’d made the conscious decision to sacrifice a race of innocents to protect the rest. A literal case of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. This decision stuck with me to the point that I haven’t been able to go back and finish the game a second time. I have every reason to go back and try -- the game’s fans have released a free graphically updated version of the 3DO port called The Ur-Quan Masters, and the GOG.com download offers a hint guide detailing all the secrets necessary to master the game. There are even mods that remove the countdown timer, freeing the player to spend all the time they want exploring the universe, Mass Effect-style. So I could go back and in all likelihood save everyone this time, heroically rescuing the ZoqFotPik each time they got into trouble, then wiping out the Kohr-Ah in my own time. Yet I haven’t done it, despite two version of the game being installed on my PC. Why not? There are two reasons. First, I know that however completely I defeat the game this time, it won’t erase that choice I made all those years ago, when I was fully engaged with the story like no other title before it. Secondly, no matter how much better I am at games now, and how much easier the

game is to beat today than it was twenty years ago, I’ve still got a niggling fear left -- what if I’m not good enough? What if all these years later they still die? Could I bear it? Text by Daniel Weissenberger Photos by astrorom

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I

Alpha Protocol or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Y button 20

am not a good bad guy. My general incompetence makes me a pretty bad good guy too, but it’s the guilt -- or to be exact, the fear of potential guilt -- that steers me frequently away from the path of darkness. It can be a problem even on the path of light. In games with companions I’m usually a lonesome little adventurer, too afraid that anyone in my care might get hurt to take them with me. Can’t even bear to beckon on a dispensable mercenary I picked up in a bar, cheap for a few hundred gold, biceps as big as my head. I’m sorry, new friend. Just stay here and drink your mead, I couldn’t live with myself if anything were to happen to you. Even if it would be entirely your own stupid fault, I’ll go on alone. Games with choices are trickier. Reloads and regrets. Paragon, paragon. Not a pushover, mind -- never that -- people get what they deserve, and sacrifices are easy to make for the greater good. But never bad things happening to good people, never the suffering of others for my own gains. Then along came Alpha Protocol, liberating in all its idiotic splendour. A game not especially well received for reasons beyond my own understanding, and one carrying a unique take on everyone’s old favourite, a moral choice/attitude alignment system. Alpha Protocol’s distinction from the typical fantasy or sci-fi roleplaying adventure is the context of the conversations.You’re playing as modern-day spy Mike Thorton, and the game goes to some lengths to make sure you know what the purpose of every interaction is -- a manipulation of others, not an expression of self. The focus is not on making, developing, embodying a character of your creation, it is on using the dialogue options (choosing between professional, suave or aggressive approaches) to get others on side, tell them what they want to hear and wheedle out the information you need. More puzzle than personality -- a key distinction, and interesting for it. The system swings a double-edged sword, though. Concentrating on the agent’s façade takes focus from the agent themselves.


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That is -- though certainly not down to the conversation system alone -- Mike is more of a vague outline sketched by other tropes than a character you can get a real handle or influence on. It can cause some confusion when the game throws up a genuine decision or personal interaction outside of a mission, the dialogue choices dutifully in tow. Here it is Mike the person on the spot not Mike the agent. Having neither the opportunity to build him as my own character nor the chance to understand him as a predefined one, I had no real grasp on how to respond. Then the fear loomed large and I fell back to typical behaviours and the game’s training -just make everyone happy, try to get the best outcome -- decisions made entirely from my own heart, not from taking on another role. But for the most part, by having the conversation choices one step removed, the decisions come without trepidation. It’s not my fault that a certain NPC is acting in a certain way that requires a certain, none-too-kind response -- I’m just doing my job. It provides a buffer between character and action and as such keeps every option open throughout the game. After all, an agent must keep an open mind -- react according to the situation not according to their own personality. But. But! All of that said. The real joy, the real delight, comes in doing exactly... well, not any of that. In casting aside everything the game wants you -- tells you -- to do. Playing it wrong, some may say. Playing it right, says I. I went through Alpha Protocol a second time and at every opportunity just hammered on the Y button without a care in >>>

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the world, choosing the aggressive conversation option. And, occasionally, I pressed A when I was presented with an opportunity for violent actions rather than violent words. I know it’s fairly common for people to replay games like this, taking the path of evil. For me those kind of replays came out of curiosity rather than dedication -- approached with the same attitude as, say, blowing up Megaton in Fallout 3. I just want to see what will happen. In my head none of it really counts because I’ve got a proper save or a proper playthrough already banked -- another instance of the world where everything went correctly. Alpha Protocol feels a little different. The distinction here is again with the conversation system which, rather than legitimising any answer whether it be good or evil, describes an ideal path through each interaction. There is definitely a right way to do things -- when you’re being a good spy, ensuring every mission ends as desired. And so any action wilfully against this path is not an imposition of your character’s personality upon the game’s world, but a small rebellion against the game’s systems. This is partly why that gaming guilt never touched me here -- because I wasn’t really being morally evil, I was being mechanically naughty. Doing what the game suggested I shouldn’t, not doing what roleplaying a bad character prescribed I should. If there’s one gaming behaviour I overindulge in, it is being a bit naughty -- doing things wrong, going where I shouldn’t. Knocking things over and going in the opposite direction to any quest marker. It felt liberating -- exciting -to be able to embrace my desires with this game, where they carried more weight and returned more joy than usual. And eventually -- surprisingly -- this consistent attitude to every engagement actually gave Mike a character which playing the game ‘properly’ never delivered for me. Certainly, he became just an awful, awful person, but this itself is a delightful novelty in a video game and so much better than the bland ‘I dunno, a spy -- he’s a spy I guess’ type of man I first encountered. To its utmost credit, the game accommodates this nonsense rather well -- situations are allowed to spiral further out of control than you might expect. Sadly, the game’s

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structure ensures that the main stops towards its destination will always be the same, but the journey between them becomes ridiculously entertaining. Mike Thorton is no longer a slick special agent in a world of espionage and subterfuge, perfect plans and expert seduction. He’s a bumbling rage-prone idiot with a disgusting lumberjack beard and a pair of mirrored aviators. He shoots everyone in the head just as they’re about to tell him the information he was there to find out in the first place. He kills a house full of his own countrymen in what was supposed to be the sneakiest of sneaking missions. He has no grasp on strategy, restraint, diplomacy or justice. He has no self-awareness and plans no more than ten seconds into the future. He doubts and mocks a willing informant so much that she knocks him unconscious in a rage and runs off during the scene which would typically end in some trite romancing. He ends up alone, almost everybody he ever came into contact with either alienated or dead before they could explain their motives -- alone save a single ally who mistook his sociopathic aggression for some no-nonsense flirting. Mike Thorton is the worst spy in the world and I love him. As the action of choice let me break the game’s systems a little, the results of these choices let me undermine the game’s content. I could never quite place my finger precisely on the tone Alpha Protocol was


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going for, but whether it’s self-knowing or self-serious, it does little to break away from the trappings of the genre. With aggressive Mike I got to gleefully trample all clichés and expectations underfoot -- no love interests, no righteous American victory against the terrorists. Just an idiot and an ending and everyone’s dead now and we never found out why. We never really knew or cared why we did anything to begin with, but that seems to be the end of it and it’s good enough for us. I know which playthrough my brain has chosen as its own personal canon here and it’s far from a flawless run. Alpha Protocol remains the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had with a game’s conversation system. It may not be especially big or clever, but this much fun should not be ignored. There’s a lot to be said for putting familiar mechanics into different games -- especially those with a slightly smaller scope, a tighter focus. It makes each encounter more memorable and each character more important, subsequent playthroughs more tempting for their potential brevity. With games slowly gaining a surer grip on the tools of emotion -- constructing deeper, more affecting and engaging experiences -- the potential for that flow-stalling, handwringing decision guilt grows alongside the potential for any positive feelings to emerge. Not a bad thing in itself by any means, I just hope no-one forgets the pure joy that some over-the-top near-game-breaking buffoonery can deliver. Text by Alex Maunder Photos by Gabriel Gilder & lintmachine

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I

Norns

ventured out to the vet’s office today with a Miniature Pinscher in tow. Sam Fisher (the same of Third Echelon fame), my beloved pup, was to see the doctor for a regular checkup and heartworm test. While waiting in the lobby I overheard other patrons discussing the abuse of a threemonth-old Labrador puppy and the damage inflicted upon its tiny limbs. Tears welled up in my eyes nearly instantly. My fists involuntarily clenched themselves up, searching for the victim they would rain down searing pain upon should I ever meet the unfortunate soul who would dare harm a puppy. I’d break their legs, and see how well they can walk after being released from their home. Any human empathy I have for my fellow man drains upon the knowledge that one has knowingly and intentionally harmed an animal. I can cope with violence, but once it falls upon the head of a living creature who arguably has little by way of protecting itself, I crumble. I become the staunch animal rights activist who would jump in front of a car before harming the trembling little Labrador puppy I caught a glimpse of in the veterinarian’s office. And yet, I have my own history of violence against other living beings in the virtual space. That’s right. I’ve abused humanoid beings and other creatures in video games. And for some reason, I don’t feel even the least bit concerned about doing so. I can’t stand it when my Sims live fulfilling lives. I like to drown patrons of my parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon. As I’ve grown up, I’ve murdered hundreds of digital citizens for a few quick chuckles. When I was a little girl, I loved to mistreat Norns, the stars of 1997’s Creatures. Call me sadistic, but there’s something inside me that drives me to bend the rules of every simulation title so that the object becomes treating the game’s inhabitants the worst I possibly can. It’s invigorating. Feels good to rebel. The game wants me to create and nurture, but I want to wreak havoc and destroy everything I can. And it feels so fulfilling. So while my heart bleeds

for the helpless animals I see lying in filth, malnourished, and otherwise neglected on the ASPCA commercials on television, I just can’t bring myself to care about the strange Norns or their way of life. I wanted to ruin their lives so much that I become their evil “goddess”. Now, I would purposefully withhold food from my Babyz and unleash daily apocalypses on the unsuspecting citizens of Sim City, but I really had it out for these furry little guys, and thought nothing of driving them to an early grave. I have no idea why these helpless, innocent little buggers drove me to hurt them so. Maybe I was irritated because of their helplessness. Perhaps it was their grating voices, a cross between baby talk and Furbish. Or maybe it was the “deer in headlights” look their freakishly large eyes had, staring deep into my soul with mind-numbingly bright smiles and ridiculous hairstyles -- particularly the blonde female Norns. I’ll never know for sure what sparked this madness in me, as I wouldn’t think of doing such a thing with a living animal or fellow man. I believe to this day, as someone who seeks out new experiences and other points of view both to observe and to learn about her surroundings, I never felt the familiar pangs of guilt one would because of my ability to clearly separate video game from reality -- something most of the world believes youths do not possess. But I know I do, and I know >>>

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it’s as easy as disconnecting from the real world, suspending belief for a few precious moments, and trying things you ordinarily would not. Mindscape’s Creatures took place in the fictional world of Albia, a disc-shaped world previously inhabited by a race of beings known as the Shee. After the Shee left for greener pastures, new inhabitants (presumably the player) travelled to the planet to intoduce brown, furry deer-like creatures known as Norns into the environment. Players were tasked with hatching the Norns from large multicolored eggs with an incubator, teaching them to speak, feed themselves, and interact with other Norns, and defend themselves from slimy, green, lizard-like creatures known as Grendels. Creatures was remarkable in that, by breeding these interesting little beings, traits could be passed on from parent to offspring in ways that even the creators of the game could not exactly foresee. Small retained traits such as hair style, hair color, mannerisms, and different mutations in colors were seen, and for an earlier PC life simulation title it was actually pretty fascinating what all could be done... if you actually played the game the way it was meant to be played. Which I did not. The game graciously offered up ways to help teach your Norns activities of daily living, such as using a machine conveniently placed in the game’s first open area to teach them basic words, items, and concepts. This

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was accomplished via flashing an action or an item on-screen and letting the Norn repeat it, much like with human children. Words were expressed aurally with a strange combination of higher-pitched nonsense syllables and actual words visualls with word balloons. To teach Norns different words to add to their vocabularies, you needed to type in your desired actions, names, or item descriptions. As I found the Norns wandering away to be left to their own devices whilst I was holding useful lessons, this began to wear on my nerves. I didn’t understand why those “stupid things” (as I complained to my father) wouldn’t sit still and learn how to say hello and goodbye. I soon learned that I could “slap” the Norns (and also show physical affection to reinforce positive learning) if they misbehaved. To keep them in place while I attempted to teach them what a carrot was and that they should eat it, I was slapping them as soon as it looked like they’d stray. They’d fall on their bushy little tails and I’d guffaw. I would also purposely begin teaching them the wrong words by way of the learning computer in the main area of Albia, just so I could slap them for getting the question wrong. And I didn’t care. I’d make sure the Norns, looking at my hand-shaped cursor, learned their “names”. I’d type “Stupid” or “Farthead”, or an equally unimaginative word to get back at them for being so ignorant, in a way. It made me laugh until I thought I’d fall out of my computer chair, and I’d go back to continually smacking them until they repeated their names back to me, followed by a word like “honey” or “carrot”. I’d take every bit of food in their reach and hide it near an underground cave, where they’d never be able to access it unless I chose to take them there. I hatched a few more Norns for variety. Eventually I had a few Brady Bunch characters, Sailor Senshi, and Fartheads wandering around Albia. And then they started breeding, which only sought to infuriate me. When I began finding eggs from my “partnered” Norns, characterised by kissing noises and a distinct popping sound, I was furious. How DARE they? I went ahead and hatched the eggs, but made sure that the children of my adolescent Norns were kept as far as possible from their parents. It only seemed right that I should punish them for daring to have a bit of fun in the world I carefully

orchestrated to perpetuate their misfortune. One day, startled, I realised I had felt the tiniest bit of remorse. It almost frightened me, washing over me in such a way that I couldn’t understand how I could have ever been the vile mistress I had been to these helpless creatures. I began attempting to play the game “correctly”. I had perused many a forum online full of tips and tricks on how to make my version of Albia thrive, and I wanted to be successful. For a while, I worked hard at getting them to listen, attempted to teach them how to defend themselves against the Grendels, and even made use of some of the tools in-game to aid the Norns, such as herbs to cure illnesses and general malaise... until I discovered the poisonous herbs, and the destructive cycle began anew. So my continual torture of the Norns marched on for months on end. I thought nothing of the brief feelings of shame that had surfaced upon my sudden realisation. I had found a new method of torture, and it continued to entertain me. My Norns would suffer, and I would laugh. After some housecleaning, a move, and the start of a particularly stressful school year, I eventually lost track of where I kept Creatures and its expansion pack Life Kit #1. The years passed and the series saw subsequent releases of sequels and even childrens’ spinoffs. Every time I think of Beowulf I can’t wipe the image of a disgusting green beast from my mind, terrorising the Norns after I unleashed one in their vicinity. Whenever a conversation turns to sim games, I think back to my time with the original game in the series. And as I write this, I think of the fun that could be had with the newer games and the different races and items that have been added since my time in Albia. But I still don’t feel bad about it. Not one little bit. Text by Brittany Vincent Photos by Navy Fau Modelling by Lady elixir Clothing by Black Norn Make-up & hair by Lady elixir


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Hard times T

he notion that games have to be hard was one of the first things I had to deal with when I started identifying as a gamer. Being able to overcome challenges that seem almost impossible to beat is alluring to a lot of people, and I have friends who would never select Normal game difficulty: the very thought would not even cross their minds.You play on Hard or you don’t play at all. Well, I am passionate about my gaming but I don’t like to play hard games. I mostly prefer Easy difficulty or Very Easy if they have it. There are of course exceptions, but only in special circumstances and for special games. For a long time I felt really guilty about that and did not dare compare my achievements to those of other gamers. Now, however, after almost fifteen years of gaming, including some exploration of various difficulty settings, I am proud to say I’m a hardcore gamer and I don’t like hard games. What does that fabled Hard setting entail, anyway? The difference between Easy or Normal and Hard difficulty usually means that there is a higher pressure on the player. This happens in several ways: you either have to hit certain buttons very quickly or repeatedly for an extended period of time, or you have to deal with enemies who are a lot stronger than you and attack in overwhelming numbers. Sometimes you have to replay sequences several times until you “get it right” or you have to finish a sequence within a very narrow time window or “you die, n00b”. All those things stem from the developers’ desire to make the player overcome a challenge that is bigger than them. The ultimate goal is for the player to feel good about themselves and be proud, filled with a sense of accomplishment. It is a nice feeling -- no

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doubt about that -- to be able to beat a beast that is four times higher than you, has three heads and six arms, in each of which it holds a different cutting device. The battle thus also feels more “realistic”. Apart from monster encounters or quicktime events, however, this “hardness” cannot offer much more than a hit-more-buttons


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and a do-it-quicker. There aren’t many games that are hard because they require hard thinking on the player’s part. That is a shame. To me, that is the real kind of hard.You shouldn’t just be considered a better gamer because your hand is stronger and you can last longer hitting the same button on the controller than someone else. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the controls are fairly easy, the battles have a solid repeatable structure, and the game can be played on all difficulty settings without making you jump screaming from your chair. Regardless of the difficulty level (and I’ve tried them all), the game entertains because it offers something more than just cutting and beating people up. I was amazed at how richly detailed the environments were and how many things you could learn about the story of the game by just walking around the asylum. The riddles of Mr Nigma and the tapes with interviews you can find lying around flesh out the story and make it more meaningful. The fact that your character cannot kill any of his enemies is not only good for anti-violence reasons, but also makes the fights harder to win and this is the good kind of hard.You have to think before you act, you need a strategy when you are about to enter a room full of armed guards, you can try different things and be creative. Many will say that you can be creative in your approach in any kind of game, even the ones that just require shooting and running. While I agree with that, I just don’t think a game can compensate for poor story or for lack of an engaging message by throwing more and harder fights in the player’s way. It does not work like that for me. I salute anyone who can skip the cut scenes and just enjoy the hard fights. To me, though, games can, and should, offer a lot more as a medium.

Sometimes I reach a point in a game when I feel it’s pointless to go on. It’s basically simply replaying the sequences over and over again, the only reward being a cut scene at the end that doesn’t even make sense. I have heard people complain that the fights in Mass Effect 2 are not hard enough. But it is not just about the fights. Games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, or Fable give you the feeling of belonging to something bigger than just a battle fest. They allow you to have an identity in their world, to behave like you think is proper in different situations. In those games you can play different people and the hard part is to maintain relationships. That’s much harder than shooting somebody who is in your way. I don’t oppose having some sadistic fun with a shooter where all that matters is the body count. I do it myself on and off and sometimes like to raise the challenge by choosing the Hard option. Given the number of games I play, however, it is a shame how few of them challenge me in more than the hit-harder/run-quicker way. Choosing Easy difficulty spares me the frustration of having to invest so much time and effort only to get so little at the end. Text by Vanya Damyanova Photo by Nico Crisafulli

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Shame on you F

ear the ban hammer, for it strikes a mighty blow. At least we all hope so. Surely, Thor himself must be hearing the overwhelming vitriol spewed from the mouths of poorly mannered teenagers and other competitive game players who take one simple mistake as a personal offense. What else could explain the torrent of verbal sewage hurtled at your mother, your sexuality, the town you grew up in, and your chops as a “l33t” gamer? Imagine wielding the hammer yourself, laying waste to the detritus of online communities that make this gaming hobby of ours turn into a schoolyard permanently devoid of authorities. Imagine pulling up hundreds of screenshots documenting the racial epithets and painfully offensive language spoken by the worst offenders and decreeing with the power of authority: “Guilty!” If you play League of Legends, now you can. Early last year Riot Games launched the League of Legends Tribunal system, which allows players to adjudicate the case files of other players who have received sufficient complaint reports from their peers. The various infractions include intentionally feeding (allowing opponents to kill your character), abandoning matches prior to their conclusion, verbal harassment, and a few more. By far, verbal harassment makes up the largest number of reports. Detailed match information and a transcript of the game’s chat log accompany each report. With evidence at hand, Tribunal users can then decide to punish or pardon the player, or skip the case entirely if the evidence proves inconclusive. With case files at hand, players have become

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jurors. Of course we can imagine irresponsible or unethical individuals deliberately abusing the Tribunal. Groups of dastardly players might all report the sole rule-abiding person in a match for a laugh or to counter-report when their own trolling behavior foments ire. Similarly, nothing prevents the League of Legends miscreants from using the Tribunal themselves, arbitrarily pardoning offenders who might otherwise receive punishment. Visit Riot’s forums and you will also find players contesting game suspensions and warnings. I found one story of a mother who had to leave a few games briefly to feed her upset child and received a suspension for abandoning games. Several safeguards exist to prevent such wholesale mishandling of the Tribunal. In the case of the breastfeeding mother, her actions may have in fact violated rules of play. Leaving a game, even for a short while, can severely turn the tables of battle. Additionally, all players facing punishment by the Tribunal must have received multiple reports and have been found guilty by their peers, all of whom have access to their file. Cases such as these are

too uncommon to discredit the peer review system entirely. To attract a diverse selection of participants and therefore overwhelm unscrupulous players, Riot awards Influence Points, or in-game currency, to these de facto judges. A daily vote cap prevents an influx of moneyhungry players eager to churn out votes with abandon. Similarly, judges cannot make decisions until a full minute has passed, encouraging thoughtful consideration of the evidence. Most significantly, players earn IP only if their vote aligns with the majority of other voters. If enough players participate, arbitrary or insidious decision makers will be overwhelmed by their peers and receive no reward for their wasted effort. Tribunal participants have every reason to administer thought-out and sound judgements on the behavior of their peers. A huge number of players have cycled through this peer adjudication system. According to Riot, 1.4 percent of all players have been punished by the Tribunal. The vast majority of players who receive enough complaints to face the judgement of their peers, ninety-four percent, are punished for their


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actions. If we take Riot’s regular monthly user count of four million players from last year, then at least 56,000 players have been found guilty of offending their peers. With over sixteen million votes cast, the League of Legends community is showing a remarkable willingness to police its own behaviour. According to Riot, the Tribunal seems to be working for the League of Legends community. Riot uses a three-strike system. Firsttime offenders receive an official warning, second-time offenders receive a suspension, and third-time offenders receive a permanent ban. For most players, one punishment is enough. Over fifty percent of those punished never reoffend. If this keeps up, League of Legends could be a remarkably troll-free environment amidst competitive gaming communities plagued with offensive behaviour. In some ways, the Tribunal system shares more in common with acts of public shaming than it does with the traditional judicial system we know today. Before the advent of the industrial prison system, communities had to punish minor offenders themselves and readmit them into the community. Eighteenth century peasants found public humiliation

a useful tool for punishing petty criminals when imprisonment was not an option. Bad musicians might be forced to wear a “flute of shame” around their neck, embarrassing them in front of the community for their aurally offensive crime. The stocks are the most memorable form of medieval punishment. An offender’s hands and occasionally head or feet would be locked into holes formed by two pieces of wood. Left outside in a public square, petty criminals could be freely ridiculed by passers-by. Some states today still practice public shaming as a form of legal punishment. Tennessee continues to employ a DUI shame law, which requires first-time drunk-driving offenders conduct twenty-four hours of community service along public highways while wearing a bright orange jumpsuit that reads “I am a drunk driver”. Other judges demand petty criminals advertise their wrongdoings in the local newspaper or hang signs in front of their home identifying them as thieves. The use of public shaming remains controversial but could it work to curb poor sportsmanship and unruly behaviour in online gaming communities plagued by trolls and offensive verbal hooligans? According to Ruth-Ellen Grimes, a Professor of Criminology and Sociology, public shaming gives a community an opportunity to moralise offenders and reinsert them into society. There is an important difference between shame and guilt in the context of League of Legends. Whereas a ban wielded from an authority figure represents a hierarchical judgement and punishment, a peer-administered judgement represents the will of a community of which the player is a part. Shame, the theory goes, elicits self-criticism and asks offenders to place their actions within a larger moral context. Of course League of Legends’ Tribunal system distributes punishment through both shame and guilt, but we should not underestimate the power of community pressure. Knowing one’s punishment comes at the hands of random players, old teammates, and individuals of varied skill level and experience, can profoundly change one’s approach to ingame behaviour. Riot’s Tribunal system report

also highlights that “Offenders Lose Games!” and “Offenders Make Bad Teammates!”, further isolating punished players within the dregs of the community and associating offensive behaviour with unskilled play. The best players, Riot points out, make this community healthy and welcoming. As an act of public shaming, the Tribunal system is also a self-reflexive form of communal punishment. In Japan, where cultural notions of communal responsibility remain strong, public shaming highlights the trespasses of individuals and the failure of the community at large. “When an individual is shamed in Japan,” Grimes explains, “the shame is often born by the collectivity to which the individual belongs as well -- the family, the company, the school -- particularly by the titular head of collectivity.” In much the same way, participating in the Tribunal adjudication system is an act of introspection. Have I ever acted in this way? Am I at all culpable for the sins of this community? B1tchStfu (a real pseudonym I encountered while judging) is as much a part of this community as I am. When we turn the community gaze inward, we might be disturbed by what we find. As a community-management tool, the League of Legends Tribunal system may be a more effective deterrent and communitystrengthening tool than a punishment system. Like never before, players can police their own community’s behaviour. The hurtful, racist, derogatory, and hate-filled speech is aired in public. Think of the numerous online gaming communities plagued by foul-mouthed trolls. Even with Riot’s peer adjudication system in place, bigoted language and poor behaviour still tarnishes the community, maintaining a relatively hostile environment for those unaccustomed to the worst gaming communities have to offer. Again, over 56,000 players have received punishment, and that number continues to grow. Are we really surprised then when outside observes peak into this hobby we find so dear and turn away with disgust? Browsing the Tribunal reports, our own guilt becomes clear: We have waited too long and asked too little of ourselves. Now we carry our own shame for the behaviour we have too frequently ignored. Text by Jorge Albor Photo by Levi

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Of all the games you could roleplay, racing simulators must rank at the bottom, just before Tetris. This has not deterred Steven O’Dell from giving it a try: he’s documenting the ups and downs of his Formula 1 driving career in a series of blogposts called Living the Life. In an offshoot episode of his diaries he talks about dealing with guilt as a professional driver.

Bad Conscience A chicane

nger. Sadness. Ecstasy. Emotion plays a large role in the world of Formula 1, the trials and tribulations of each round bringing to light new dramas, issues and concerns, not to mention the twists and turns that occur over the course of the entire season. It’s a world where you can win one race and be dead last in the next, and the emotional ups and downs of such a dramatic change of performance certainly takes its toll. Not that you would know it, given the focus of the sport is on the technical talent, engineering innovation and profi-

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ciency and, indeed, the glamour and spectacle that comes with racing at the world’s most prestigious circuits, and in front of the eyes of millions around the globe. It is a sport about image and expertise, then, rather than the emotions and mental impact of the individual drivers -- a brand and reputation that Bernie Ecclestone, the head honcho of Formula 1, undoubtedly would like to keep. But, like all forms of motor racing and sport in general, Formula 1 is incredibly emotional and, by extension, quite an exhausting thing to deal with. Obviously physically it can be overwhelming and tiring due to the insane G-Forces of each corner and the sheer concentration required to race around a track for nearly two hours every round, but it’s also mentally fatiguing as you deal with the second-to-second moments of each lap, as well as contemplate the strategies and scenarios that play out over a full race distance. Throw in the emotional turmoil that can occur when things aren’t going to plan


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or the elation that comes from success, and you have a sport in which every aspect of your being gets pushed to the absolute limit whether you want it to or not. But that’s the thing: you do want it to, because that’s what makes racing so damn incredible to begin with, and because when things do go your way the reward (not to mention respect) is that much sweeter. The euphoria that comes from doing well or having a remarkable performance is amazing and that feeling only gets exacerbated if the end result happens to be a victory and the chance to stand on top of the podium. Do it at a special round such as your home race or at one of the best tracks in the world, such as Monaco or Silverstone, and you have a sense of emotion that isn’t

only inexplicable, it’s beyond description. But what you may not realise is that guilt can be just as powerful and overbearing as the joys of a win or the frustration of a bad round, and unlike those feelings it also happens to be an emotion that can last for much longer than a practice session or a bad race. Formula 1 is about being in the moment and living it to the full, regardless of whether that translates to success or failure -- but by doing so it also means that the feelings you do go through are quick, successive emotions that are quickly forgotten about when the next thing comes along. Guilt, on the other hand, lingers, the dominant feeling inserting itself deep within your conscious (sometimes even beyond that and into your subconscious, which is even worse) and impacting you in ways that you don’t even recognise… until it’s too late, anyway. It is the kind of thing that can be born out of a small concern, such as not qualifying in a desired or expected position, and gradually increases and grows until no matter what you do or what you try, you are performing badly because it’s directly affecting your ability to do what you do best: race cars, at speed, around race circuits and at an elite level. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself. While still only a rookie in Formula 1, my first season has already seen its embarrassing moments and its wonderful ones, and the surprise (when things are good) and depression (when they’re not) is certainly a bizarre experience to go through. The problem is, when you take yourself out of the events or problems you are dealing with at the time and try to look at it objectively or from a different perspective, you can’t help but wonder why it can be so problematic when every other emotion is moment-to-moment and irrelevant in a subsequent session or round.You sit there and ask yourself how it can be affecting your performance so severely and ponder what you may or may not be doing wrong to enhance the impact it has, rather than ignoring it and getting on with your tasks at the time. But that right there is the underlying problem: remorse is such an overbearing, forceful emotion that thrives on those thoughts; by trying to deal with your feelings you only make them worse, creating a vicious cycle

that permeates your mental process -- and thus, physical ability whilst out on track -until something else happens and suddenly, as if it didn’t exist to begin with, you’ve moved on and forgotten about it. It is certainly a strange sensation to go through because it can disappear as quickly as it arrived and yet it impedes on so much of your circumstances that you would think it’s something that is given to you, rather than created by a set of unintended, usually out of your control problems. And what kind of situation can cause such a prominent and distracting feeling? Well, if we’re to use my own experiences as an example, it can be anything ranging from making silly mistakes and causing unnecessary damage to the car, to underperforming in qualifying, to having a simple pit-stop go wrong. Basically, anything can cause guilt to be an issue and it’s not because of those ontrack dramas that can occur but, rather, how you feel after they happen. As a driver you feel responsible for getting things wrong, not having things go to plan or doing something unintentionally, while as a professional (IE: this is your job) you feel bad for not meeting the team’s expectations or delivering to them decent results. Combined with the pressure that can be brought on by the media -always interested in the drama and controversy of Formula 1 -- and, perhaps worse, by the fans of the sport, of the team or of you as their favourite driver, and you have an emotion that intensifies when instead, you only want it to weaken and go away. Guilt may not be the most obvious emotion to those who observe and enjoy the sport, nor might it be the most immediate that us drivers go through, but it is certainly the worst and it definitely has the biggest and most significant impact on the way our races can pan out, and the way in which we can do what we do best. We may not talk about it, you may not think about it and overall it may seem completely irrelevant to the world of Formula 1, but it’s there and it dictates the results of each race and the overall championship season a lot more than you may realise. Keep that in mind next time your favourite driver is going through a bad period or is having a few terrible rounds, because it’s certainly in theirs. Text by Steven O’Dell Photo by Gregory Moine Catch up with the Living the Life series on the Raptured Reality blog

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Eat what you want 34

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here’s a growing feeling I’ve had about gaming over the last few years, a particular lingering character to how I feel about playing video games. I feel bad about the games I don’t play. And sometimes I feel bad about the games I do play. Because of the other games I could be playing. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, though maybe not everyone lets it get so bad. These days so many of us have so many games to choose from, and to play one feels like neglecting others that are deserving of our time and attention. It seems like there’s a lot of this going around in gaming these days. We have guilty pleasures, we have piles of shame. There’s the sense of remorse you feel about not playing games you have, and pangs of conscience from playing the latest Call of Duty or something instead of a wonderful indie game you’ve heard about. I often feel bad about not liking widely praised games or genres, and -- thinking I must have not played them right or something -- I make multiple attempts to find what it is others

rave about. The time I’m taking to write this piece is actually the maintenance period for my latest MMO obsession Star Trek Online. It recently went free-to-play, and I’m enjoying coming back to it. But I should be playing the demo for The Darkness 2 that I just downloaded to my Xbox 360, since I loved the first game, an under-appreciated gem. Or I should be playing more of Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, a game that the Star Trek MMO has made me nostalgic for, and which I spent hours getting running on my modern gaming PC. Or maybe, since I only just recently upgraded my gaming PC’s video


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card, I should be getting my money’s worth by playing something that’ll really push that hardware. I did buy The Witcher 2 over Christmas, and that’s supposed to be pretty demanding. But if I start up a new RPG now it’ll take over my gaming time, which is also the reason I’m not starting up a new game of X-COM: UFO Defense, which a recent discussion made me want to replay. And I have three brand new Xbox 360 games still in shrink-wrap, sitting on my shelf… I never used to have this problem growing up. When I was a kid, I generally had one, maybe two games for my SNES at a time, and I played them to death. Now I have over 40 Xbox 360 games on my shelf, Steam tells me I own almost 350 games, and I know have a bunch more non-Steam games that count doesn’t include. Games these days are just so easy to get access to, whether you’re buying them cheap in Steam sales or indie bundles, or from eBay, or from discount bins at the local game shop, or just playing the increasing number of excellent free titles. Or, let’s face it, pirating them, which you have to at least admit is

something that some people do. The phrase “pile of shame” seems to have become more widely used over the last few years, and it seems increasingly used not just to describe games we haven’t finished, but games we haven’t played at all. It seems evident to me that this sorry bundle of emotions is wrapped up in the abundance of gaming opportunities we have today. It’s increasingly impossible even to play or finish all of the best games that come out, or catch up on great games we’ve missed over the years. It also seems to me that this abundance can only be a good thing. I wouldn’t feel like I ought to be playing certain games if they weren’t excellent or interesting. I wouldn’t feel like I should be playing some games over others if there weren’t enough diversity in games to make distinctions about which games deserve to be played. That’s not to say there isn’t huge scope for the medium to expand the kinds of games it makes and the audience it makes them for, but it’s an indication that the medium’s not stuck in a single narrow rut. In a lot of ways, we’re totally spoiled. We have too much. Too many games too readily available, too many games worth playing, too many games that are worth spending too many hours on. And maybe that’s part of the problem too. Personally I wonder if a lot of these feelings aren’t a holdover from that earlier time in my gaming life, when games were far less accessible to me. When I had my one or two SNES games as a kid, the reason I played them to death was they were all I had. If I had a sleepover with a friend who owned a PC or another console, I’d often forego sleep to stay up all night and play their games while I could. I even hoarded demo discs, and replayed the part of the game they gave me over and over. And like the child who grows up in a household where food is scarce, but becomes an adult who can eat whenever they want, maybe I still feel the need to eat everything on my gaming plate, because the lessons of those days are still ingrained in me. Behaviour learned in times of scarcity often has negative consequences in times of abundance. I’m hoarding and I’m over-eating, and I know I’m not the only one. Perhaps what I’m dealing with is that lingering insecurity about where my next gaming meal is coming from?

Regulating and regimenting my entertainment time seems like a terrible way to have fun. But it’s quite possible the solution to this conundrum is a nutritious gaming diet. Maybe we should have a food pyramid for games? Six serves of indie games, 2 serves of neglected gems, 3 serves of last year’s big releases you missed, one serve of unfamiliar genres… I can’t help imagining gaming nutrition information on the side of every box. A more useful and practical solution would be just to settle in and get comfortable in this new reality of gaming abundance. My Steam games aren’t going anywhere, and there’ll always be another sale. Those games I missed from last year’s big release season are only going to get cheaper on eBay. That gaming-starved kid is gone, and it’s time to enjoy the good life. And heck, if I’m enjoying myself while I’m playing Call of Duty, or letting Civilisation or X-COM or an MMO take over my gaming time… well, what’s the harm? Text by Adrian Forest Photo by Bruno

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Model: Nikki J ~ Piggynukka

Photo: JailBreak Photography ~ jailbreakdesigns.com

Weapon of sin

Guilty Gear is one of those fringe fighting series nobody seems to have played yet everybody knows. Chockful of heavy metal music, sexualised characte any good, its main claim to fame limited to an ostensibly style-over-substance setup.Yet, on closer inspection, it reveals surprising depth. The title refers to humanity and the nature of morality as a human construct. Its handling of LGBT issues appears to command more respect in queer quarters than other fi Japanese attitudes towards government. Still, it remains, above all, a series best recognised by its unmistakably original aesthetics and thus an inspiration fo

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ers and queers, it’s more likely to be mentioned for being weird than for being o the sole titular gear that is capable of sin, and raises all sorts of questions about fighting games do. And some of its politics offer a fascinating glimpse into modern or fantastic cosplay.

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Model: B.o.H. ~ Nahuisan

Photo: MaffiozA

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Model: Yuegene

Photo: Jameskiller

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Model: Anti-Ai-chan

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Photo: spritepirate


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Model: tenjin-kai

Photo: (name withheld by request)

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Model: Karen Asvolinsque

Photo: Hugo “Deathy”

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Models: (unknown)

Photo: Eonfras

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Model: Ashley Montgomery

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Photo: Eric Heyes


Model: Pompay

Photo: swordsmanphotogher

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Models: Satene & Nichi

Photo: Andrey Suhanov

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The Guilt issue.

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