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Review: Anarcute

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Anarcute is advertised as a riot simulator. When I think of riots, I do NOT picture the cutest fuzziest animals alive, but there is a shit load of rioting going on.

What’s it about?
You are cute and fuzzy animals that have had it with the government oppression and squishing your desire to spread love. You are so filled with furry rage that you take to the streets and beat the crap out of anyone who gets in your way, taking down every building you can find to combat the evil overlords and bring peace and love back to your world.

You have to navigate your rioters through maze-like levels of buildings to avoid guards, lasers and mines while rescuing your friends to make your group larger. The larger the group, the harder they are to navigate and control. Keeping them from harm is a near impossible task. You move through the level trying to keep as many of your furry friends alive while trying to complete your level objective.

What did I think?
OMG, I LOVE THIS GAME. I have fun even during the most difficult levels. This game stresses me out even less than Flat Kingdom does. You go through different countries, liberating areas and freeing locked-up comrades. You can buy bonuses and earn them. You gain different abilities depending on how many rioters you have in your group. You can get anything: from stomps that throw your enemies, to abilities to knock down buildings and even a roman shield formation to project everyone.

This game is full of adorable visuals, a great soundtrack, a terrifying story line and continued complexity. However, this game isn’t for kids (in my honest opinion). There are snipers and your rioters will die if they take too much damage. I don’t know how well they will react to seeing a bunny sniped in the streets (even if there is no blood). The mechanics of the game continue to impress me and the boss battles are interesting and well thought out. I am also impressed at the animals that you save/unlock throughout the game. They aren’t just your typical animals. They have snails, jellyfish and unicorns alongside the cats, pugs and horses.

Do I recommend it?
This game is by far one of my favorites. I love every aspect of it and I think it’s a steal for $14.99, available on Steam. If you love great music, cute fuzzy characters, a really good laugh and supporting indie developers, then this game is surely for you.

However, if words aren’t enough, please take a look at all the fun I’m having in my Let’s Play here:

Please, Stop.

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Lords, ladies, lads, and lassies, I am Max Urso and I implore you: Please, stop.

This is not a rant, this is a plea.

The gaming industry is inundated with pre-ordered, crowd-funded, early-access betas that fill the internet with hatred and vitriol when they fail to appease. We’re so addicted to instant gratification that we can’t wait for a finished product to come out. The game developers are more than happy to take our money to fund their unfinished products. It’s a dysfunctional relationship, and I’m not sure who the abuser is and who is the enabler.

Mind you, I’m as guilty as the next guy of feeding into this destructive behavior. My Steam library is full of early-access games that I’ve booted up maybe once or twice, only to toss them aside in favor of the next new game that’s not quite ready for the light of day. I have over 100 games in there that aren’t getting played because I’ve drifted back to World of Warcraft and Diablo III. That will change in an instant though, bets are already placed as to how long I’ll stick with my WoW subscription this time. All it will take is a shiny new game on the horizon to catch my eye.

Then, there’s the case of games that are blatant lies. No Man’s Sky sold itself on false promises. There were over 200,000 players on launch day on Steam alone, and today there’s slightly over 2,000. That’s a 90% loss due to features not present in the finished product but talked of in the promotional media leading up to it’s release. These remaining few die hard fans who read between the lines, ignored the hype, and knew what they were buying are the only ones still playing it.

My gaming habits aside, I still play NMS. I like it, but I made it my own (The Lost Files 1). I don’t play it everyday, but I do enjoy it. My point is that we, as consumers, are obligated to think before we spend our money. It’s too easy to click-click-click and purchase a game without thinking of the consequences, but we must. The game developers will keep offering pre-orders if we keep buying into it.

Day one patches, and paid DLCs (that years ago would have been free) are more of the same bad relationship symptoms between us and them. If nobody bought DLCs, then would they still make them? Would they instead offer them for free or as part of the initial content?

Use the power of your wallet intelligently. Wait for the release. Wait for reviews. Sure, most critics seemed biased or possibly even show a preference, but that’s why we need to do our research. Stop giving the game developers an excuse to release a shoddy game. It is the responsibility of the developers to put out a finished, polished product, and it is our responsibility to hold them accountable by not paying for anything less.

 

“How Much is Enough?” Science, Journalism, and the Way We Think About Video Games.

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There is a habit that has been said to cause damage to the eyes, the brain, and the general nervous system.  Experts have linked it to insanity, sterility, and premature death.  It was thought to damage people’s morals, corrupting them with its addictiveness and inciting them to infidelity and other evils.  Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote that, “this kind of stimulus, unless counterbalanced by physical exercise, not only wastes time and energies, but undermines the vigor of the nervous system.”(1)

What was this dangerous habit?  Reading novels.

It seems silly now, but in the 17 and 1800s, reading fiction was considered a dangerous vice.  These days, it’s a virtue.  We recognize the power and value of books, and do everything we can to convince our children to read.  Maybe there are books out there that aren’t enriching.  Not all books are appropriate for all people.  Maybe some contain dangerous ideas.  But not all novels are the same, and the condemnation of the entire medium is laughable.  And yet…

And yet, two hundred years later, we’re doing the same thing: condemning an entire medium as dangerous and morally corrupt.  This time, the medium is video games.

A recent Daily Mail article(2) has the Real Women of Gaming in an uproar.  The title practically screams at readers: “Don’t let children play video games for more than TWO HOURS a week or it will damage their social skills” (emphasis theirs).  Now, the Daily Mail is not exactly the first source I, personally, would go to for reputable news, but it is a mainstream media outlet with a huge readership.  If for no other reason, we should take the article seriously because it could influence the attitudes of millions and inform the ways our global culture views video games in general.

The subject of the inflammatory article is a study published in the Annals of Neurology.(3)  Only the abstract of the AoN article is available to the public, but the differences between the study itself and the way it was portrayed in the Daily Mail are apparent, even without the full text.  The abstract states: “The weekly time spent gaming was steadily associated with conduct problems, peer conflicts, and reduced prosocial abilities.”  Fernandez’s wording is a little different: “Playing video games is good for children’s brains – but only if they play no more than two hours a week.  More than this increases the likelihood the child will get into trouble at school with their teachers, fight with their friends and have reduced social abilities.”

It’s important to note that Pujol et al. only found an ‘association.’  This is what science does.  It collects evidence, looks for patterns, and notes when those patterns are similar.  What scientific studies do not do is tell us why patterns are similar, why they are associated.  Pujol et al. conducted an observational study, rather than a randomized controlled trial, so their results tell us even less.  We don’t actually know that playing video games for more than two hours per week causes disciplinary problems and reduced social abilities.  It could be that social and discipline problems cause children to play more video games.  It’s also possible that they’re both caused by the same external factor, something that the study didn’t measure.  The inference that gaming ‘increases the likelihood’ of behavior problems was Fernandez’s alone.

Conclusion-drawing is a problem endemic to scientific reporting in mainstream media outlets, made that much worse by the fact that the public do not have access to primary sources.  Scientific publications are locked behind paywalls.  Often, the only way to access them is be associated with a university or research institution with a subscription to the journal or to pay upwards or $50 per article.  This means that the only science news that many of us have access to has been filtered through media outlets that exist to sell advertisements, and therefore twist scientists’ words, making them more controversial and less truthful.  “Associate with” doesn’t sell ads.  “Increases the likelihood” can.

The significant findings in the study itself were cognitive benefits associated with video gaming.  Children who played for up to two hours had increased reaction time and neuroimaging showed that they had higher levels of neural connectivity: in non-scientific terms, their brains grew.  That ‘brain growth’ wasn’t increased for children who gamed for more than two hours per week, but harmful associations were only present in the children who gamed for 9 or more hours per week. Yet, the headline “Don’t let children play video games for more than TWO HOURS” implies something very different.  Just like the “This common household item may KILL YOUR CHILDREN…more at 11” school of local evening news, it takes advantage of parents’ fears for their children to ensnare eyeballs and increase ad revenue.  It’s not exactly what I’d call ‘ethical.’

There is another reason Fernandez’s article made me and the other RWoG admins so angry, but without access to the full article it’s hard to tell whether the fault is in the original study or simply the Daily Mail’s interpretation of it.  The problem is this: the authors of both articles seem to be drawing generalizations about the risks and benefits of all video games based on the few games that the children in the study happen to already play.

While there was no information in the abstract regarding what games they were playing, Fernandez writes, “The most popular games in the study included Super Mario Brothers, FIFA and Wii Sports.”  They are all games that rely heavily on motor skills, so it’s no wonder that the subjects showed improvement in that area.  But there are games that exercise other parts of the brain.  I’d like to see children who play sports games compared to children who play creative, sandbox games like Minecraft, or puzzle games like Portal.  Many online and multiplayer games are highly social.  The comments associating video games with ‘reduced prosocial abilities’ particularly grate me because I do the majority of my socialization through Guild Wars 2.  The cooperation, teamwork, and, yes, social aptitude that players build raiding in MMOs translate not only to the workplace but to life in general.

The video game is a blossoming medium for storytelling and creativity.  The best games, from the elegant to the complex, contribute as much to our culture as any book or film.  I’m continually astounded by the range of games available for our consumption, and by amazing new titles released every year.  And yet, much of our culture sees games as a monolith, and a dangerous one at that, rather than something to be celebrated.  Fernandez’s article simply perpetuates that kind of thinking.  It’s time we started thinking for ourselves.

 

References:

  1. Golden, Catherine J.  2003.  Images of the Woman Reader in Victoran British and American Fiction.  University Press of Florida.  Gainsville, FL.
  2. Fernandez, Colin.  9 September 2016.  “Don’t let children play video games for more than TWO HOURS a week or it will damage their social skills.” DailyMail.com.  Url: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3781728/Don-t-let-children-play-video-games-TWO-HOURS-week-damage-social-skills.html
  3. Pujol, Jesus et al.  22 August 2016.  “Video gaming in school children: How much is enough?”  Annals of Neurology.  Abstract can be found at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27463843

This Month in Gaming History: August

This Month in Gaming History: August

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August is a such a magical month. It is crammed full of the end of summer fun before school starts when we are children. It can be a lot of activity and fun. It can also be bittersweet for many people. Like the memories of summer that we cherish let us look back on some games that have been released in history in this month.

Magnavox Odyssey

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On August 21, 1969 Ralph Baer Filed for a US Patent. That patient described playing games on  television which would later lead to part of the Magnavox Odyssey. Magnavox Odyssey was the first home game console. The box pictured above would be plugged into a television. The screen would turn black with three white dots that behaved depending on the game play.

Tombs and Treasure

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Tombs and Treasure was first released in Japan on August 3, 1988. Tombs and Treasure is a first-person puzzle solving game. At the start of the game, the player finds out that Professor Imes has gone missing with almost his whole team. The player then looks for clues to try to find the professor.

Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

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Published by SEGA Enterprises, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts was released in Japan on August 3, 1989.It is an action platform game. The player controls a knight who must defeat undead creatures in order to bring back his beloved princess from the dead.

The Need for Speed

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The Need For Speed was released for PlayStation on August 19, 1994. This game became very popular with multiple installments. It is a racing game where the player can choose different cars and tracks to race.

Hammerwatch

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August 12, 2013 gave players a game called Hammerwatch on Steam. Hammerwatch features slash and hack gameplay. The player chooses from a class to play. The player then disposes of enemies throughout a castle.

So there are some games that have been released in days of August old. Hopefully something on this list has sparked a fond memory or will entice you to try a game that you haven’t played before.

Mother and Daughter Bond Over Twitch Trolls

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Recently, I was pointed to an article over at Kotaku that was surprisingly not a heaping pile of refuse.  For those who don’t want to give the site your click, the story covers a mother who found her daughter’s twitch channel. On this channel, the streamer Raihnbowkidz plays League of Legends, usually with a lot of cleavage and bra on display.  The mother saw how her daughter handled trolls in the chat, and eventually became a moderator.

It’s unfortunate that the article brings up ‘boobie-streamer’ twice (once in the mother’s words), but it seems the shaming parlance is an inescapable part of our online lexicon at this point.  Long story short, mom and daughter, who didn’t seem to get along well before, came together over her twitch channel as mom becomes a moderator and learns to handle the trolls with the same sort of sarcasm and humor her daughter did.

What caught my eye about this article honestly is how the streamer, and eventually her mother, deal with the trolls.  Trolls are an every-day part of life for anyone who goes online anywhere.  Whether it be gaming, watching videos, sharing content on YouTube, or writing articles for an online news site.  We all face them and most of us know they aren’t going away.

Due to the nature of trolls online, people who entertain themselves by throwing insults, are overtly sexist or racist, or are just plain foul, the manner in which we deal with them can have a drastic effect on our own experience.  That’s why I was impressed with this streamer’s attitude, not that it’s entirely unique, but in a time where all we hear about is how everyone’s a victim of bad words online, here’s a young woman who refuses to be a victim.

In her mother’s own words, she understands exactly what a troll is, and it is what drives how she handles them:

“I was really quite fascinated by her strength and humor. The way she handled trolling won people over, including myself,” Jomha said. “I don’t need to feel protective of her.” What she thought were ad hominem attacks against her daughter, Jomha said, aren’t “hurtful to her. She doesn’t take it seriously. It’s the internet. It’s anonymous. 99% of it isn’t meant. They’re trolling!”

Her mother goes on to say that the way the trolls are handled has won many of them over as devoted subscribers and fans.  This seems to support the old internet adage regarding feeding trolls, and avoiding doing just that.  When you react with anger, or by asking for pity, the trolls just keep coming.  That’s the reaction they want in their ignorant game of trying to look cool.

When you react with humor, ignore them, or give them back some ribbing of your own they tend to get bored and leave, or, in this case, become fans.  Even banning them isn’t as effective, as that fuels their twisted ego and not much prevents them from creating new accounts to just come back.  According to Raihnbowkidz, banning on her channel isn’t a common occurrence.

That’s what impressed me with the story of these two women.  Too often, we see people begging someone to help them deal with the anonymous hecklers and trolls, or asking for pity, or worse, money.  There’s little to be done, but to set examples of better behavior by all of us, calling out trolls where we see them, report explicit violations of rules for sites, and, in the end, avoid feeding them.

These two women have taken charge of their environment – in this case, their Twitch channel – in a way that doesn’t make them victims.  They know exactly how to handle the trolls, and oddly enough have bonded over the shared experience.  I honestly think the best solution to the problem of trolls online is more of this because, as long as we keep making it fun for them, by reacting exactly the way they want, they’ll keep doing it.

Review: Gone Home (2013)

Dev./Pub.: The Fullbright Company
Platform(s): PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2013

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Gone Home is a visual novel that focuses on exploration. According to the Steam store page, this game does not have any enemies or puzzles that must be completed to beat the game. The player simply must explore the house until they learn the whole story.

What’s it about?
You are Katie Greenbriar. You return home after a long trip abroad in Europe to find a note from your younger sister, Sam, instructing you not to go looking for her. It is your goal to explore the house to find out what happened to your family through notes, letters, books and pamphlets. The game ends when you learn the whole truth about what happened while you were abroad.

What did I think?
This game is beautiful. Not only are the graphics amazingly detailed, but the gameplay is flawless. As Katie, you are able to see and interact with every nook and cranny in this mansion that is your family’s new home, including messy beds and strewn about clothing.

The story is a powerful one. You learn early on that the house, which used to belong to Katie’s great-uncle, is referred to in town as the Psycho House because the previous owner went crazy and killed himself. The ambiance screams horror game as a thunderstorm rages outside and the old house creaks as you explore. Despite all this, my favorite part about this game is that it’s not horror at all. The devs could have fooled me.

There is a lot of reading to do, but what else can you expect from an exploration game that focuses on finding notes? The journal entries from Sam, written as letters to Katie and voiced out loud, are a nice touch. They pace the story quite well so that you are able to explore the entire house before you know exactly what happened.

The game overall reminded me of Life is Strange, which, I think, is a compliment.

Do I recommend it?
Yes, I definitely do. If you have a PS4, it’s the free PS Plus game for June. Otherwise, you can find it on Steam and Xbox One.

This Month in Gaming History: June

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This Month in Gaming History: June

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June can be such a great month. Father’s day is a source of joy for many of us.  The promise of summer is imminent. Schools will be letting out. Plenty of opportunities to game with those we care about.

Here are some games that have been released this month in history.

Space Invaders

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In June of 1978, the game Space Invaders was released in arcades in Japan. The popularity of Space Invaders grew quickly. The aim of the game is to shoot aliens with a laser cannon to gain as many points as possible. This game has been re-released many times as a testimony to its popularity.

Lunar Lander

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While these games were not released this month in history Atari did become the first company to register for a copyright in 1980. Lunar Lander used a vector monitor to display vector graphics. It was not an incredibly popular game but it’s technology did lead to more successful games like Asteroids. Asteroids is a shooter game where the player has to try to destroy asteroids and flying saucers.

Tetris

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Tetris was first released in the USSR on June 6, 1984. Different colored shapes fall in a random sequence that the player manipulates to fit in the space available. Oh, Tetris. We have all played it and I think it has helped us with things like packing or putting away groceries. Or it will have helped you with other games that have used the idea of the original game.

Diablo II

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Diablo II was released for PC on June 29, 2000. The game built on the success of its predecessor, causing Diablo II to become one of the most popular games of 2000. The player will go through different “acts” or chapters of game play. There are different classes for characters to choose from as they battle through demons and darkness to the final act.

Second Life

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Second Life was released in 2003. This game features a virtual world where players interact in virtual situations. Players would also interact with other players from around the world by using an avatar.

So there you have it. We have had some very diverse and interesting gaming history for June.

Happy gaming everyone!