Our Unique Perspective


Its very possible that the meaning I derive from these images is quite different from the meaning others derive, and Im not prepared to accept the idea that this difference is proof of my enlightened social consciousness versus someone elses ignorance or self-delusion.
–Michael Abbot, The Brainy Gamer

You can be right…or you can be married.
Brett R Williams, psychotherapist

You’re no doubt wondering what these two quotes have to do with anything. *I* think that they really have something to do with everything. Let me back up.

A lot of the discussion that I see on the intertubes is centered around who has the correct interpretation of a given news item, game review score, or …well, anything really. It’s in our nature, I think, to want to convince others of how our view point is just that much more correct than theirs. I don’t see anything wrong with that, specifically.

I do have a problem with what seems to be the common battle tactic: tear down the other perspective as being “unenlightened,” “moronic,” “ignorant,” etc. I believe that it was the current Dalai Llama who said something to the effect of everyone is working from their own best set of beliefs, experiences and ideals. Now those ideals, beliefs, and experiences will necessarily be personal and unique to each individual.

The other thing I believe we humans (of which gamers are a subset – grin) do, is try to feel a sense of belonging. I know I fall into this trap occasionally. We want to believe that because the folks around us in our tribe have similar likes, dislikes and interests that their point of view will necessarily be like ours. This isn’t always so. The cognitive frission that results from an assumption of likeness with the reality of unique perspective can erupt most painfully sometimes when we disagree, and begin to use our tactic of tearing the other viewpoint down.

None of us is capable, in my opinion, of truly understanding the unique perspective we each bring to the gaming world. As writers and journalists (not always the same thing, in my view), we tend to be able to express subtle thoughts and ideas, and we get caught up in arguments over shadings of meanings that would make little sense outside this particular circle.

It’s important to me, in my own blogging and journalist activities, to remember to include as many perspectives as possible, and to encourage discussion. It’s the strategy that Michael uses on his blog and in his podcast that most resonates with me, both as a gamer and as a human. Because, after all, isn’t art about what it is to be human? it’s my viewpoint that when the metaphorical aliens from the future come down to see what life is like on Earth, they won’t just be looking at Easter Island, Rembrandt, or Liszt, but video games and other interactive media as well. What we do and enjoy says something about us as humans, as does the way we interact and respect or disrespect each other’s unique viewpoints.

We are all in relationship with each other. Not married, not in long term, intimate connections, but in relationship. And we owe it to each other, from my perspective, to try and let go of our own need to “be right.” Because that values other folks’ perspectives and ideas. What better way to ask for a little understanding by modeling the very behavior we’d most like applied to our own very unique way of being, or weltanschauungen.

I’d like to remind us all to think about this when we’re in the heat of a conversation about something we feel passionate about. The next time someone insults Mario or praises Gears of War 2, we can try and look at it from their point of view. We may need to have a discussion about what makes up that point of view, as well. I think it will enrich us all. Whether we live a life of privilege and relative ease or we experience racism and oppression, we all have something to bring to the conversation. Of course, that’s just my unique perspective. Feel free to discourse in the comments below.


Every Once In A While


It’s typically hard for me to brag much about myself and my accomplishments. I have accomplished much, and am proud of my achievements, but I really don’t toot my horn too much.

Today, though, I have to say that I’m exceptionally proud of what we’ve put together over at The Portable Gamer. Not on my own, of course, as it’s a team effort, but I looked at the site tonight and felt genuine pride of ownership, pride of effort, and pride of belonging.

We’ve taken a little nothing bit of cyber data, and turned it into something that supports independent developers and quality, thoughtful reviews and community discussion about portable games. These aren’t your big company, triple a titles coming out for the Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo corporate megacrushes (though we do want to expand our coverage to more of those companies’ portable offerings), but iPhone games, for the most part.

These games are typically created, marketed, and loved by independent developers and small publishing houses. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, as always. As the platform matures, more and more big names get into the game, so to speak. But it’s still these little one-or-two-person teams that just thrill me to be a part of telling people about.

There’s married couples putting out games, there’s one guy developers who take their spare time at night, away from families and friends, to code and design and build these fantastic little apps. They take us away from our daily routine on the bus or subway, spare us the monotony of the bank line or dentist waiting room. These sometimes quirky, sometimes amateurish, always loveable little games have become special to me, as has the site that we work on to get the word out.

Looking at the site tonight, for example, I see a review about a Curling game, not your typical handheld experience, for sure. I see some witty and well written commentary about SimCity, an EA Mobile title, sure, but a quality game port of a beloved series of games. I see a rhapsodic fugue about LIttle Red Sled, my latest love of a gaming app. What I see there is what I do not see on many of the other app review sites, no matter how polished or ad supported: I see love. I see a free banner ad or two for developers who have become friends, who’ve shared their joy with us. I see the iCasual Report, the brainchild of an ever-enthusiastic and friendly game-app lover from the other side of the country from me, who continues to grow and review, and expand.

Best of all, I see the original vision of what Jason allowed me to participate in last August: a gaming web site that did it differently, from the heart, not just the brain.

And, dammit, I want to continue to see it. I don’t care if the site makes us a little extra cash or someday pays some full time employees (well, I do care, but not to the point of stress): this is and will continue to be a labor of love, conventional wisdom be damned. I refuse to believe that I need to push the site into the square holse of gaming journalism. If I want to rave on about the musical score of a tiny little $2 game, well, by golly, I’m gonna. I believe our readers respond to our passion, joy, and love.

I hope you get a chance to head over to ThePortableGamer.com, spend some time looking at reviews, reading about our Grand Opening giveaways, listening to our fantastically personal and intimate iCasual Report, join in the conversations, and feel the love. Because, trust me, it’s there.

Too Many Games

This is something that I only have a few thoughts on, but it’s been brought about by a couple of things. One is a voicemail I left on Jason’s Mental Doodles podcast, the other a meme-like admonishment that I’ve been hearing in the ludodecahedron and the brainy gamer podcast/blog.

First off, I left a voicemail about the way we consume games currently in the media, enthusiast press, and in my own life. There’s always a new, better, bigger game out there to try. The publishers want us addicted to the spice flow, so to speak, so that they can sell us and our friends and the rental companies lots and lots of videogames.

Secondly, Michael Abbot continually mentions his “chew your food” metaphor for consuming games. It’s a reminder to slow down, enjoy the game, stop rushing through in the quest to “beat” it.

So, yeah, the Holidays of 2008 were a flood of new game releases. The games on my radar were all equally deserving of my purchase: from Gears of War 2 to Far Cry 2 to Fallout 3, each game is a big triple-A title. I don’t have a spare $180 each time this happens, though, and I had just bought Halo 3 to play with my buddies online, who had already moved on to Gears 2 when i finally got the game. Ugh.

So, I got to be part of the conversation about a game I truly enjoyed, but I didn’t get to be a part of the conversation about other games. This is not a huge loss, and doesn’t make my family starve or anything. It’s just a sad, upper middle class privileged whine, I suppose.

But see, that’s just the thing. As I attain more and more disposable income, I dispose more and more of it on things like videogames. I now have the good fortune of a PSP, a DS, a Wii, an iPhone, and an XBox 360. That’s quite a bit. I’m starting to feel like a childhood friend of mine who always had way more toys than I did: a bit overwhelmed and jaded.

When we have too many things, as my childhood friend did, each individual thing becomes less valuable to us. That’s my thought. The more of any one thing I have, be it comic books, or novels, or CDs, or MP3s — the less each individual piece becomes to me. And I experience that sadly. I recall the very first few SF novels I read as a young adult. Each one is still precious to me. I can recall their titles, authors, etc. Not so the ones I read now, as a general rule. As I read more and more books like this, the individual ones blur and aggregate in my mind.

The more games I have to play, the less I play any of them. This feels like a corollary to the above. Right now, I have a game collection that would be called paltry by any serious gamer, but geeze, there’s only so many hours in the day. I spend many of them not with a videogame. Most of the free time I do have needs to be split across other things, including TV, movies, books, music, knitting, and lazing about. I am able to horn in some gaming time with my kids, especially with the more active games like Rockband and WiiSports/WiiFit.

But when I look at my whole gaming collection, I realize that I still have too many of them to reasonably play. Starting with the handhelds, I’m playing the following:

  • The World Ends With You
  • Chains Of Olympus
  • Crisis Core
  • Mother 3 (soon, I hope)
  • RockBand 2
  • WiiFit (becomes my workout for some days)
  • No More Heroes
  • Raving Rabbids (kids love this WAY more on the Wii than they ever did on the 360)
  • Beyond Good & Evil
  • World Of Goo
  • So, that’s eight games that I’m actively involved in playing. I maybe get 5 hours per week or so to just play games. You do the math.

    Here’s a list of the games I’ve TRIED to play in the past year or so and have not finished:

    • (all of the above games)
    • Assassin’s Creed
    • Halo 3
    • Oblivion
    • Eternal Sonata (what?! I like music!)
    • Final Fantasy 4
    • Chrono Trigger
    • Wii Music

    Here are the games I’ve actually finished:

    • Gears of War 2
    • Mass Effect
    • BioShock

    Kinda says something, doesn’t it. About myself, obviously, but I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this. I think it says more about our culture, our relative wealth, and the promotional machine.

    It’s only recently that I’ve been turned on to older games, through sites like Good Old Games and The Vintage Game Club. I’m really enjoying the gameplay and the conversations. A small part of me still thinks, “but the new games are passing me by!” Most of me, however, is perfectly fine to focus my energies and time on games that resonate with ME, rather than with the enthusiast or professional games press.

    So, I guess I’m just saying, take your time. I’m giving myself permission to do the same. I’m enjoying the hell out of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 1 and 2 on the internet. It’s older, and I may not keep up with current shows I’d like to because of it, but that’s ok. It’s my choice and the choice is a good one.

    It’s also ok to turn off the screens, pick up a book, go outside for a ski, rock our socks off in a real live band, or sit on the couch with a knitting project. In fact, it’s imperative to find that balance. It’s my choice and the choice is a good one.

    Round Table Entry 1/09: Putting the Game Before The Book

    CorvusE, over at Man Bytes Blog, does a monthly Round Table on Games and Gaming. Here’s what he challenged with for January ‘09:

    Putting the Game Before the Book: What would your favorite piece of literature look like if it had been created as a game first? In a time when bits of Dante’s Divine Comedy are being carved out and turned into a hack-n-slash game, I find myself longing for intelligently designed games–games with a strong literary component–not merely literary backdrops. So rather than challenge you to imagine the conversion of your favorite literature into games, I challenge you to supersede the source literature and imagine a game that might have tried to communicate the same themes, the same message, to its audience.

    Feel free to ignore the technical constraints of the era in which the book was written. In fact, feel free to ignore the technical constraints (within reason) of today and push the envelop a bit. Also notice that I didn’t specify video game. Feel free to imagine a board game, card game, RPG, or sport, that could have been created during the same time period as the book in question. Be as vague, or as detailed, about the design particulars as you like. Work together with another blogger, or work alone.

    When I originally read the above, I started to think about the book I’d most like to see turned into a game. I had an entire blog post about it. Then I realized, based on closer reading of the above, that I had missed the question. It’s not “What book do you want to see as a game?” but rather, “What kind of game would engender the same reactions and responses that your favorite book would?”

    This makes the playing field much larger for me. There are definite books I’d like to see as games, and many I can’t quite see an adaptation working out so well.

    So, I need to start out with a quick discussion of what kinds of books I read, and why. Let’s start with the genre. Science Fiction, abbreviated SF to set it apart from the more mainstream film/television term, “sci-fi,” has long been my favorite genre to read. It seems as thought there’s been a resurgence of the style in the past 10 years, based on my own highly-unscientific observation of there being tons more new SF books in the library and in book stores.

    I like all kinds of SF (remember, this is the written kind). These days, I particularly like what’s being called New Space Opera, with grand themes and at least an attempt to stay within the bounds of known and speculative physical reality. I also enjoy what’s known as “Hard SF,” which is much more rigorous in it’s depiction of science and speculation limited to known scientific fact or theory. However, the kind of Hard SF that I most enjoy is typified by writers like David Brin, Ian McDonald, and Greg Bear: SF that is scientific, full of cool astronomical reality, but is extremely concerned with the human experience within the greater scheme of reality. These books are typically character driven, and the technology never overshadows the very real emotions and motivations of the central and supporting characters. These books also rate high on my wonder and awe index: they tell stories that bring me face to face with the incomprehensibly large, alien and fantastic. Call it escapism if you like, but this is what makes my brain sing and my heart race.

    So which of these folks is my favorite author? None of them. I would have to admit that overall, my favorite author in SF has to be Orson Scott Card. He is definitely not a hard SF or New Space Opera writer. He tends to defy categorization. He writes in many modes, from literary horror to SF to more Fantasy/Alternate History. My favorite story of his, of course, is the SF classic, Ender’s Game, and it’s host of sequels.

    Why is Card my favorite author? Well, he does the two things I appreciate in my fiction: he brings a sense of wonder, and he respects the character, and by extension, humankind. As a Mormon, Card has specific beliefs about religion and politics that I do not share. But his writing, even the overtly religious writing, never devolves into what I would call moralizing or preaching. He has a profound respect for people in all their diversity, and a strong sense of younger characters and women characters. His characters are not always perfect; in fact, they are usually far from perfect, full of the same conflicts, desires and contradictions that we all have inside our fragile, funky human bodies and minds. In one early novel, Songmaster, the main character is overtly and specifically homosexual within the story. I always found it incredibly wonderful that a religious person could write such a book. My experience with highly religious people has never been that they are very open minded. It was refreshing to meet one, albeit through his books.

    So, what kind of game can I envision that respects human kind and brings the sense of wonder and awe that I crave? Why not actually make it a video-game, since that’s what I mostly write about here. And let’s make it a super-high rez, current or next-gen (next-next-gen? gen-cubed?) gaming experience, with high end TV set, sound, and incredible broadband connectivity. What could such a game look like?

    The one thing I really want to see in a video-game is a cooperation component. Not a two man team gunning down hordes of enemies and progressing through what essentially is a single player story line, but true cooperation. I believe that this true interactivity is what bring s gamers to Role Playing games in the first place. It’s a way to involve each other in a shared story, and bring the human element in. Us with our petty, noble, confident, insecure selves.

    My video game would be set in a science fictional universe, and while I’m at it, let’s put it in the Ender’s Game universe. And please, let’s not just recreate the Battle Room.

    How about we do this: we make the game have two essential components: an acting/roleplaying component, and a cooperative battle component. Just to keep the violent sides of our nature appeased along with our creative sides.

    Let’s take the basic universe and storyline from the first book for our first game. Keep in mind that we can do this with many of the sequels. In the novel version of Ender’s Game, there seem to be two main story streams: one about Ender Wiggin, and his progression from youngest child chosen for Battle School to final hero of Humankind, and one about his siblings, Peter and Valentine, who are fairly genius themselves, and their rise from stars of the world network to rulers of the Earth government.

    In my dream game, we can use all the story streams and characters, because here’s how it would go. Keep in mind I’m not a game designer. I’m an ideas guy. So here we go.

    Our acting / role-playing sections would be all about the narrative scenes from within the book. We would take each player involved in the game, up to 8 at a time, and let them choose, or assign them, a role. They can play specific roles in the scene, or they can be the director, camera operator, and score musician. The actors in the role would have to manipulate their avatar/characters to best interpret what was on the page (yes, reading is required for my dream game). The behind the camera folks would, in real time, direct and score and move the camera around to best capture the performance. I’m guessing this all could be captured procedurally, like MIDI captures music performance. The performance files are then placed onto game servers, where online friends of the players will be allowed to rate and judge the final scene. There might also be options for other fans of the game to start rating and judging performances online.

    Like any acting production, there would need to be large amounts of preparation, rehearsal, and…cooperation. It would be interesting to see if traditional roles would inform the play styles of individual gamers. Would the Directors be auteur-focused, keeping track of all the details and running the story with an iron-vision? Or will we see collaborative scenes, built with little to no preparation into live-streaming performance art? How far off book will people go, and what are the potential for worldwide, language-barrier cooperation to ensue? The mind boggles.

    For the second part of my dream game, we’ll do something a bit more traditional, with a twist. Imagine, if you will, a typical Battle Room scene in the book: there are two armies of 4 – 8 individuals entering a giant sphere with no gravity in it (or sometimes gravity, or unpredictable gravity, just to mess with the participants), and no up or down. It’s a space battle fought in spacesuits, with varying obstacles and penalties for being “hit. think of a game of laser-tag in space. Let’s design our game to force people to cooperate. It’s how Ender ultimately promotes through the ranks: by creating cooperation and helping his team think creatively and quickly on the battlefield. This is a traditional game experience, in that it would have leader boards (team based, only) and online rankings, and the like. The twist is that there are 4 – 8 individuals in that space, each with their own sense of space and field of vision, all trying to work together to cooperate to win the simulation. They may have voice communication ability in one battle, and none in a different battle. There may be lights on in one simulation, off in a different one. Gravity conditions fluctuate, as do the amount of penalty at being hit. Some suits might freeze up in the middle of play, some might lose control of specific limbs.

    The gamers in this kind of game will need to figure out ways, built up over time playing with each other, to communicate, cooperate, and ultimately direct themselves in battle to meet the conditions of a win. I would love to see the varying personalities play out. Who would dominate? Would there be Generals created, each nurturing or terrorizing teams to win battles and move up the ranks? Will ad-hoc groups be able to compete with well-rehearsed tactical groups? What happens to the lone gunmen of the groups? Can they survive long as a member of any team?

    Record these battles with the same procedural MIDI-esque system as the acting ones, and then have a third component to the game: movie editing. Create your own version of the book, edit together a completely different version. Create a Pulp Fiction style anti-linear narrative and change sound effects and voice overs to create whole new meanings. Join an editing team and build a fantastic feature length movie, which can then be submitted to the Gamerdance Channel, and voted on by millions of players all over the world.

    Seriously, though, this is the game that could inspire a novel, or six. It would be a new way to role play that doesn’t involve giant manuals of dice tables. It could be a platform for all kinds of interactive storytelling and genre -skinning. imaging the Star Trek TNG mod, where the team must act out episodes from the beloved television series, and then cooperatively pilot a Starship in a battle with an equally piloted Romulan vessel. Think of all the horrible fart jokes that could be edited into a very serious production of the third chapter from Ender’s Shadow.

    Granted, i have NO IDEA how to design, create, and/or market such a game. But with incredible visuals, well-created acting and production tools, this could bring that sense of awe and wonder that I crave from storytelling, along with the tools and support to tell some amazing stories along the way. Finis.

    Because this blog is hosted on WordPress.com, the iFrame code that would give you a cool looking drop down menu to all the other blogs posting on this topic isn’t showing up. Instead, hit the link below for the entries for the month of January, 2009.

    Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for links to all entries.

    Vintage Gaming Club

    I’m pretty darn excited to be able to participate in the Vintage Game Club this month. The games being voted on right now are (in no particular order):

    Chrono Trigger
    Resident Evil (original)
    Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
    Super Mario 64
    Beyond Good and Evil

    Any one of these will be a fun game to play, and even the ones I’ve already played I haven’t finished. It seems like a book club, only with classic video games.

    So, wish me luck, call me shirley, and stay tuned for some fun gaming commentary while I play along with these thoughtful, smart, and witty gamers.

    Therapy by Immersion

    I write a monthly “editor’s blog” over at GamesAreEvil.com. It’s a news/reviews/features site, and we’re doing our best to only publish stuff that matters, and to keep things this side of the joystick/1up/kotaku line. I hope that my little articles can be a part of keeping it there. As always, I appreciate the founder of Games Are Evil, Jason Evangelho, for allowing me to do my thing there.

    Here’s a short pull quote, and the blog roll I placed at the end of the post, for further reading, and to continue the tradition:

    Immersion Therapy: Fable II and The Tough Choices

    One man’s attempt to immerse himself in the world of big name video-games, and come out the other side saner and, hopefully, wiser. This month: Fable II affects Rob in ways he didn’t expect.

    generic-oakfield-03-800.jpgI just finished the main story-line of Fable II, not including the Knothole Island DLC. I don’t have a real long post planned, here, but I’m feeling…unsettled. The ending that, I assume, I had a hand in creating through my choice in the Tattered Spire, has left me feeling spent, and a little unhappy. I think that may be the most ambiguous feeling I’ve had at the end of a video game.

    Since Bioshock, I’ve heard game developers say that they offer gamers a choice, nuanced and subtle, about what kind of person they want their in-game persona/avatar to be. I’m not so sure they’ve done it, yet.

    In Bioshock, it was a non-choice. I’m not going to kill little girls. Period. I don’t even care if you say, “it’s just a game.” Not gonna happen. In Mass Effect, there may be several options, but it’s fairly easy to discern the good, bad, middle responses in the conversation trees (and I’m not so sure they really had much of an impact, either way). It felt like a forced choice between an alternative LEAST like me, and one MOST like me. It wasn’t’ a real choice; it didn’t involve my emotions.

    See the whole post: http://gamesareevil.com/2009/01/immersion-therapy-fable-ii-and-the-tough-choices/

    The Chainsaw Gun of Gore: a GamesAreEvil Repost

    This is a repost of an article I wrote over at Games Are Evil entitled “Critical Thinking and the Chainsaw Gun of Gore,” reprinted with permission of the Author (me) and the Associate Editor (me, again).

    firing from coverI’ve been trying for a month now to wrap my head around some unifying structure that I can put my thoughts about video gaming into. I’ve wanted to contribute to an Editor’s blog here on Games Are Evil, but just couldn’t find any theme or rationale for doing so.

    I want to thank the Brainy Gamer, first and foremost, for introducing what, to me, is a whole new way to approach gaming journalism: a critical discussion of video games and their purpose in our culture. Michael Abbot produces a monthly podcast and a written blog that elevates the field in many ways. The new Gamer Confab structure to his podcast has introduced me to another ton of critical thinking games journalists, including The Quixotic Engineer, Acid for Blood, Design Rampage, Sexy Videogameland, Insult Swordfighting, and Man Bytes Blog, among others. [note: since writing this, I’ve since found a ton more worthy blogs. See my sidebar to the right for the ones I keep in my RSS reader]

    The topic that I am seeing discussed across all of these varied and well-written websites is, to my mind, twofold: a desire to think beyond the typical “graphics/gameplay/controller” review to the deeper, perhaps even transcendent nature of video gaming as well as a willingness to ask questions for the sake of finding that deeper meaning. These excellent writers are, more importantly, critical thinkers engaged in both an inner process of reflection and analysis as well as a public, ongoing discussion of these cultural and personal issues. I find that the give and take in this section of the blogosphere to be most resonant with my way of thinking about the world and video gaming.

    My theme, therefore, is the question: “Why do we play games?” I’m hoping to spend some time each month here, on other gaming sites, and on our forums, engaged in this very personal and very interesting conversation. I don’t think the point is to answer the question, but to think about it deeply.

    And Let Slip the Gears of War

    So let’s get right to it. I’ve been playing Gears of War 2 quite a bit lately. For me, as a father of two young children, a husband and full-time employee with a web design business on the side, video gaming is something I need to shoehorn into my life as I can. With my duties [at games are evil] as Associate Editor, as well as Portable Editor and general web-hack, I’ve been playing a lot of games on a lot of consoles.

    So, for me, playing a game quite a bit means more than an hour at a time. It means devoting the kind of time many other gamers take for granted, in 6 or 7 hour shifts. Yes, I’ve spent that kind of time on this game. Why is that? What is it about this game, in particular, that has me hooked?

    Let’s look at that question a little deeper. I’m a fairly non-violent guy. I abhor physical violence and warfare as a solution to ANY problem, large or small, private or national. I think boxing is a barbaric and ultimately stupid sport, and killing things with weapons is something I’ve never done in real life. I’ve played many violent games, though I tend to shy away from the more realistic ones, like Call of Duty, or Grand Theft Auto. I just can’t make myself do it.

    I can, however, play games with more science fiction or fantasy violence. If it’s swordplay, or laserbeams, I’m able to get past my hesitance. The closest I’ve come to realistic gaming is Resident Evil, or Doom, wherein the enemies are clearly monstrous and horrible. There is little or no connection to a real human involved. Which, in its own way, is how I was able to connect to Gears of War in the first place. It was sci-fi themed, which is right up my alley, the enemies are fully non-human, and it had an immersive storyline that felt, to me, like a movie I was taking part in. I was able to get past the realistic ammo and “hoo-rah!” attitude of the main characters. The tight controls and the mechanic of cover and fire really brought me further into the game, as it’s how I’d probably react in a real bullet-fight: I’d hide, and take shots at available targets.

    Violence Isn’t the Answer, Is It?

    So, along comes Gears of War 2. It’s horribly violent. Death is gory and messy and loud. I’ve walked through rivers of blood, and chainsawed locusts and wretches with aplomb. I don’t cringe when my teammates cheer at the end of a particularly difficult Horde level, or when Marcus Fenix says something incredibly military. I’ve been known to yell, “Suck it!” into my XBox 360 microphone during a pitched session of Wingman. Who is this guy I’ve become? And why am I allowing it to occur?

    The answer is, of course, complex and full of ambiguity. I’m going to mention a couple-three things, though, that seem to help me understand this phenomenon: participation, immersion, and gaming resonance. There are a lot more things that inform my thoughts, but these three, for now, are what I want to talk about. In the interest of furthering the discussion, I’d like to point you all to the comments, below, […]. Let’s have a discussion. Why does this game resonate with you?

    Participation is the sense of, as Mr. Abbot says in one of his Brainy Gamer podcasts, being part of the discussion. I bought Gears 2 on launch day, and brought it home. When I popped the disk into my Xbox, my entire friends list was playing the game. It was the first time I’ve been there from the beginning (I got Halo 3 a full year after release, so that tells you the kind of buyer I am, as well). Suddenly, I was one of the cool kids, engaged in a discussion of which levels were great, how the multiplayer was shaping up, how far I’d gotten in the single player storyline, etc. I was, finally, part of the discussion. So here I am sharing it with the blogosphere, to get a broader perspective, as it were. This participation is immensely appealing to me, and goes beyond the simple, “now I’m cool” dynamic that I half-flippantly state above. It’s the same feeling I get from playing through Fable II, and then reading about it in articles like this excellent series of posts by Corvus over at Man Bytes Blog. If you have Fable II, I highly recommend going to read what he has to say.

    Immersion Therapy

    Now that I feel a part of the ongoing conversation, what also resonates with me is the immersion Gears of War 2 allows me. I’m taking part in a scifi action movie with all the high quality audio and video that implies. The story is only one part of the equation in any Hollywood blockbuster, and that’s also true here in the game. The music, sound design (bullets whizzing, chainsaws buzzing), and incredibly high-resolution graphics and animation complete the scene, if you will, for my falling in love. It’s like high-octane candy for the mind, with the extra-added value of being able to control the main actor for the stunt scenes. In addition, as I mentioned above, the gameplay mechanics fully mesh with the way I would act in a similar situation (if, of course, I were a highly-trained, foul-mouthed, cynical son of a bitch embroiled in a huge world-ending war with similarly equipped monsters coming in wave upon wave against me). I’d duck, hide, roll, vault barriers and throw grenades. I’d use long range weapons when possible to avoid up close fighting, and melee only when there’s no other option. This is immersive in the sense that it meshes with the way my brain already works, placing me into the action and story without realizing that I’m really only sitting on a couch, pressing colored buttons at specified intervals.

    Marcus Fenix, at his best, resonates with me on another level. If I was the veteran of hundreds of pitched battles, with only my comrades and wits and serious boxes of ordinance to protect me and my world, I’d be just as cynical and battle-weary as him. I can sense his frustration and disgust with what he has to do. He’s a human being, in other words, who does what he has to do because he’s good at it. Who can’t relate to that? The designers of this game really kicked up their story a notch with the way they characterize the main people in the game. I wish they’d gone a bit more into Dom’s worry for his wife, though I haven’t completed the main single player story yet (I’ve sunk most of my available gaming time into the Multiplayer action), so I can’t comment too much on whether they fulfill the promise of such a characterization premise [note: Now that I *have* finished the single player campaign, I’d have to say they don’t. He’s kinda upset for a short minute or two, but then goes back to being Marcus’ backup shooter]. But again, who can’t relate to worrying about your loved ones? I worry about my partner and children when they’re a few minutes late getting home from school pickups. How much more intensely would I worry if they were missing, and I in a state of warfare with humanity’s future balanced on my personal actions? It’s all resonant with me. If the heroes of this story enjoyed what they were doing more than they do, I would probably not be such a huge fan of the game. Yes, it’s satisfying to yell at a nasty alien that almost got the drop on us with their own blunt-edged power-tool, but I only allow myself to do so with the understanding that I have no choice.

    Final Thoughts?

    In conclusion, I hope I’ve been clear about what I want to do with this, my little piece of the blogosphere. Video gaming has become, in my view, something worthy of a critical analysis and depth of thought that goes beyond the typical review or fanboy site. It’s my intention, with varying success, I’d guess, to spend time talking about my own reasons for gaming. Why do we game? There are as many answers to this questions as there are gamers. I hope that this post has begun the process for any one of you to begin thinking about your own gaming perspectives. I, for one, am by no means finished with my talking and thinking about this game. The joy of such a huge triple-A title is that there is a ton of content and playmodes to get through, experience, and enjoy. So, stay tuned for monthly posts in this vein, and let me know what resonated for you in the comments[…].