Category Archives: Where The Dead Horses Roam

Another Chapter in the Endless Story of Gamification

Keen notes that many MMOs these days focus on “unconventional gameplay”, and he names TSW’s investigation missions and GW2’s jumping puzzles as examples. In the comments, some people say that MMOs are returning to how they used to be and how they should be, while others point out the inevitable “but X did that, too”, which, in this case however, is an important note: it tells us that probably these things were never fully gone from games.

And indeed they weren’t. Jumping puzzles have always been in MMOs, they were never gone. I’m sure almost everybody at some point wondered whether they can climb a particular mountain, or house, and tried for a couple of minutes, and either succeeded, or gave up. More dedicated souls might have stretched the trying to hours. I know that back when Vanguard was releases, one of my favorite pastimes was climbing up mountains or towers, and just gazing at the amazing landscape. (Granted, that had as much to do with Vanguard’s at-the-time amazing graphics as it had with the game being released with buggy combat and insufficient content in the classic sense).

In that way, GW2’s jumping puzzles are simply another step on the way to more gamification. Of course, the term might not fit perfectly, because you could argue that jumping onto hills, trees, or houses is already a game, so it’s hard to define how to gamify it. But what GW2 does is apply gamification techniques, notably achievements, to broaden the appeal of one game aspect. It used to be that hunting vistas was an explorer’s game. Now, it will be also a thing for achievers to tick off their list. Google a list of where to go, how to jump, collect map, ignore view, go to next puzzle.

OK, that sounded a bit mean. I’m not opposed to this. I’m just torn. I said before that I think there is good and bad gamification. This one might be good, because it broadens the appeal of a part of the game. It might also be bad, because the original intent (get up the mountain, enjoy the view) is lost, and because  more obsessive achievers might feel they have to complete an arduous task they don’t enjoy just to tick more items off their list.

TSW’s investigation missions are different, but similar. In contrast to jumping puzzles, they were probably almost completely gone from MMOs for some time. That doesn’t mean they never existed before. Anybody remember Mankrik’s wife? That was one of the more simple investigation quests you could think of, and its infamy shows two things: MMO players, or at least WoW players, weren’t big fans of that kind of game (cue “Where’s Mankrik’s wife?” Barrens chat), and in effect, it was s solitary experience, a kind of test balloon, only rarely used as a bit of spice in some other missions. The Onyxia attunement springs to mind, and it was… a divisive quest chain. Let’s keep it at that.

Mankrik’s quest was removed in Cataclysm without replacement or followup. I guess the developers didn’t see a place for it in a world of streamlined leveling and quest locations on maps.

To go one step further back in time, Everquest’s quests didn’t have exclamation mark indicators. They often enough didn’t send to you a specific location, instead requiring you to roam the world to find the next place to go to. In MUDs, a typical quest might start from an item you found, and a cryptic information that “you should find someone who knows more about this”. If you were lucky, you might be told that finding the blacksmith who forged it might be a good idea, which reduced the number of possible targets from “all people in the world” to “all blacksmiths in the world”. Or, even more obscure: no notification at all, but when you talked to people while in possession of an item, you might get additional conversation options. Keep in mind that back then, not only did there exist no wowhead, no thottbot, no allakhazam. It was actively frowned upon to “spoil” these kinds of stories and quests for others.

The temptation to spoil or be spoiled when it comes to riddles is larger these days than it used to be. While investigation missions in TSW are not repeatable (as opposed to almost all other missions, after shorter or longer cooldown timers), they give, as a compensation I assume, a large amount of XP. I heard (delightfully rarely, but once or twice) the notion that “they are a great source of XP, especially because they are fast to do with a walkthrough”. Gamification and obsessive achiever mindset, indeed. I think these people miss the point. Yes, these missions give a lot of XP, but not more than a couple of the repeatable, more conventional missions. In return, you lose out on one of the strongest points of the game. Bad tradeoff, if you ask me.

So, the whole thing is a double-edged sword in my eyes: it’s good if games return to a broader appeal and range of activities. On the other hand, I’m not sure why game companies think they need to attach additional rewards to them. Do they think players might otherwise skip them because they aren’t “worth it”? Are they too scared that players might rather stay in their box than move out of it?

In Which I Lament The Depiction Of Males In Computer Games

I had sworn I’d never write a post about the topic of topics, the filler of comments with gall and spite, the one topic you must not write about as a male, lest be scorned…

Oh Boy! (or Girl, I guess, to genderize correctly.) In all honesty, I’m scared. I hope the relative obscurity of my blog will prevent me from the dreaded 100-comment discussions. Anyway, here it goes:

I’ve heard the question over and over again. Why do women complain about the depiction of women in computer games, but men do not about depictions of men? The often-cited reason is: Depictions of females in computer games are sexualized to fuel male fantasies, while depictions of males are empowered, to also fuel male fantasies. Hence, guys don’t have anything to complain about, that’s why you don’t hear about it. This is called “false equivalence”.

So I guess it’s my time to speak up and claim that, to me personally, this “false” is a “true”. I want to complain about the depiction of men in computer games. There are two points I want to look at and refute:

Sexualization is bad, Power Fantasies are good?

Maybe the problem is that the female stereotype shown is more offensive than the male one.

That would imply either a) sexualization is inherently bad in itself, or b) power fantasies are inherently good. Now, you can argue that “sexualization” is an over-reliance on sexual attractiveness, and this is bad as it is a stereotype. I will even agree, I hate chainmail bikinis with passion. But on the same level, “power fantasies” are an over-reliance on bullyism, and this is also a stereotype, hence bad.

Now, let’s reduce it from the stereotypes to the underlying concepts. Sex and physical prowess. Sex isn’t inherently bad. We all like it, we like to do it, and unless we cheat nature, which we also all like to do all the time, we actually need it to survive (as a group). Physical prowess also isn’t inherently bad. Back when we had to run 5 hours chasing a gnu, we actually needed it to survive. But we don’t need it any more. Physical Prowess is much more archaic than sex. Therefore, it often gets sublimated: the power of physical prowess is converted into more intangible power over other people.

If that is true (I’m not 100% sure, I admit I haven’t read more than a couple of introductory texts on psychology and psychoanalysis), the male depictions in computer games hint at having power over other people. I find that even more offensive than being sexually available. Why do I, as a male, have to subjugate others to fill my gender role? I don’t like having power over others, it makes me feel queasy. I’d rather “make love than war”. I reserve my right to be offended at those male depictions, because they pigeonhole me into something I find highly problematic.

There is no choice for women?

This has become less and less true over the years. Of course, there are still bad apples. The last wave of posts about this topics was motivated by the TERA demo. I looked at the youtube videos featuring the classes, and I see a problem there: about 90% of the women are scantily clad, about 90% of the men are heavily armored or at least properly clothed. But even in TERA, there are the occasional properly-clothed and even armored females, and the half-naked guys. Then again, the game is going to tank anyway, and we can get worked-up about it all day. What can you expect from a game that has a brainless muscle beating up your target audience as advertising campaign?

On the other hand, many games at least give you a token choice. And if you don’t like that one, you’re equally out of luck as woman or man. Don’t like over-sexualized females? (I don’t, so I follow the rules laid out here.) Better don’t play a Demon Hunter in Diablo III, or a Blood Elf in WoW, or a Norn in GW2. If you’re hell-bent on playing a female character, switch to the Barbarian, Orc, or Sylvari, respectively. If you’re hell-bent on playing the class/race, switch gender, and chances are you’ll be happy (with the exception of the Norn, I guess), because stereotyping in games seems to run along races rather than sexes these days.

Don’t like over-muscled males? (I don’t, so I follow the rules laid out here.) Better don’t play a Barbarian in Diablo III, or an Orc in WoW, or a Norn in GW2. If you’re hell-bent on playing a male character, switch to the Demon Hunter, Blood Elf, or Sylvari, respectively. If you’re hell-bent on playing the class/race, switch gender, and chances are you’ll be happy (with the exception of the Norn, I guess), because stereotyping in games seems to run along races rather than sexes these days.

So, is there no choice in female characters? No, there sure is. Is there less choice in female characters than in male characters? Hard to make a blanket statement, but I can’t see it. Elves are typically a great avoider for the male stereotype, and it seems we’re getting to the point where either evil-ish or hunky races avoid the female stereotype. In that respect, I disagree with Spinks; I think there indeed are different female models available in most games, and that there is choice.

The Final Rant

Stop reading here. Seriously. (Actually, I decided to delete most of it before I hit “publish”, because it detracted from my point.) Just one short summary:

I find many male depictions in video games offensive, because they imply I need to be a power-hungry hunk to be really male. I don’t like to have power over others, and I’m not athletic. Stop exploiting this weird gender image, it’s not working for me. Then again, most games give me a choice to avoid the stereotypes I don’t like. So get over it, all genders and sexes.

Hardcore vs Casual

Warning: This post contains two horses (perished), named “hardcore” and “casual”, as well as a stick with the note “sports comparisons”, and the opportunity to use the latter on the former.

Because of high workload this week, I’m a bit behind on posting and on reading other blogs. (Not all of it is bad work though: as a result, I’ll be able to go to Tokyo for about two weeks in December! Yay me!) When I caught up on Tobold, I read a reply that said:

I like the definition that hardcore is when you rearrange RL to accommodate a game.

I like that the definition is concise and clear. Unfortunately, like many of those, it’s also not correct. “Rearrange” is such a relative term. If you have a night a week reserved to play with your friends, you’re hardcore by that definition. If you compare this to sports, every team sport is hardcore, because you need to make plans with other people to play together. Only single-player sports could be casual. Watching a movie? Casual. Unless you decide you don’t want to watch just anything, but a specific art house film, which might only be screened by the one small theater in town, for one or two screenings – then it’s hardcore.

I can’t come up with a good definition of “hardcore” and “casual” myself, but I think this one isn’t it. I think people who say the terms are too fuzzy and loaded to be of any help are probably right.