Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy New Year!

Every New Year's Day, Ben and I sit down and evaluate the past year, then use those evaluations to set goals for the next. Confessions of a Gamers Wife scored really high in my 2010 Evaluation and I regret that the project came to a screeching halt as soon as I tried to throw a couple other activities into the mix. I started an etsy site with my amigurumi creations and have had so much fun working on it and learning a new craft. I have a lot of work to do on that project, too, as Christmas did a number on my etsy shop (


I don't regret the time spent on that project. I just wish that I could do everything more quickly...or I wish that I had more time each day. But I am pleased with how much I was able to do last year and I want to see CoaGW continue. I don't want to make a resolution that's impossible to keep like I did last year when I exclaimed that I would stop watching all reality television. If there were a reality television program in which people had to see how long they could keep their resolutions to win a million bucks, I would most certainly have been the first one voted off the island. So in an effort not to disappoint myself, but also continue CoaGW into 2011, I've decided to give myself a little slack on each entry....they don't need to be three page essays every time. I can blog a bit more casually about gaming experiences I have and what it's like to be married to a gamer while occasionally taking extra time to write a Good Piece when the mood strikes.

I don't have a new game to discuss this first blog post of the new year, but I can relate the Christmas drama that always unfolds for this poor, poor gamer's wife every year. What does a gamer's wife buy for her husband when he pre-orders every game he wants? Plus, even when I do buy him games, I've grown tired of giving him a small pile of identically shaped game boxes. Console years have been good to me. He remembers past Christmases as the “PS2 year” or the “Nintendo DS” year. Those good gamer wife moments are a couple brightly lit bulbs on an otherwise dud strand of attempts to surprise and match my husband's eerie ability to find me just the perfect Christmas gifts every year. This year I didn't fail him as much as offend him and it's all because of the World of Warcraft. I hate that world. Oh, how I hate it so.

I knew it was coming. The Expansion. He would mention it occasionally, feeling out the situation. Treading lightly. I would brush it off with a joke or an eye roll. Then he called me from work one day and I knew things were getting more serious. “Hey, some people at work are betting that you got me the game for Christmas and that's why you won't let me buy it. I told them there's no way you would ever buy me that game.” I too-quickly replied, "You win the bet! I'm not buying that game." I would not, could not, buy that game. But I think he was disappointed to have heard it stated so definitively. I have always been one person who gets him exactly what he wants for Christmas. What he wanted for Christmas was the special edition World of Warcraft expansion that was quickly selling out on Amazon, an observation not-so-coincidentally made the same day as that phone call.

He talked me down, as he always does, with rationalizations, usually monetary in nature. He wouldn't buy new games if he only played WOW. As usual, I grew tired of the subject and eventually said, a bit too loudly, perhaps, “Do whatever you want! Buy it if you want it!”

So he did. And so did my mother.

My mother also enjoys pleasing people at the holidays by granting them their gift wishes and she does not have the WOW stigma that I have. For some reason it didn't occur to me or to Ben that anyone else would ever buy that game for him. Oops. So he found himself with not just one copy of the game, but two. It occurred to me that I could play with the second copy, but that thought, like a gnat brushed quickly off my arm before it barely tickled a hair, was brief. Instead the second copy was returned to the Best Buy from whence it came and I was stuck with another extra large box on a shelf and a husband glued to his computer.

In fairness, he doesn't get to play WOW nearly as much as he would like. And he plays a bit more than I would like which is a compromise and that, everybody, is what marriage is all about.

Maybe my first game review of the new year will be Gran Turismo, since the gaming gift I did get Ben this year was a pretty new racing wheel. Racing games are like Ben's hot bubble bath after a long day at work.

Ready to race!

He will certainly have many long days at work in the new year as he prepares for that next Madden launch. Somehow high-speed turns around a track helps him unwind. I plan on taking slow, cautious, responsible turns in my new ride, a Christmas present for us both, but mostly me. I call our new gunmetal gray Mazda 5 micro minivan the Mom Bullet and it is loaded with explosive hugs and an aux jack.

Happy New Year everybody. Thanks for your support of this project last year. It really meant a lot to me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How Halo: Reach is not like my new favorite game, Start the Party

There are supposed to be four seasons per year, but in our family there are five. We squeeze an extra season in between Summer and Fall and it's called Birthday season. Birthday season begins September 1st and continues through mid-October with some after effects reaching into November which, incidentally, is when it actually begins to feel like Fall here in Central Florida. Birthday season is a cherished time of year for us Burbanks. We like surprising each other with just the right gifts, fancy cakes, birthday decor, and all manner of celebratory events. September through the first week of October is like one unending birthday party.

I'm sorry, but Halo: Reach entered my life in the middle of Birthday season and, unfortunately, the game was a bit of a party pooper. Ben and I did play one evening. I created my character, which was, of course, the most enjoyable part of my gaming experience. I liked choosing my logo and the teal and white color scheme that donned my spiffy spacesuit. But then the sci-fi jibber-jabber started and I got the glazed eye that Ben knows so well where I'm staring at the screen but no information is actually registering in my brain. He filled me in on the mission and controls, but I think I distracted him because we accidentally lost the rest of our Halo team and it took a while to figure out where they were. We found our team near a dark, empty station which we explored. Then we went back outside and shot at some monsters, though I mostly hit ostriches, my fellow teammates, or nothing at all. Then I'm not sure what happened. Either there was a bug in the game or we couldn't figure out what to do next, so we quit, never to play it together again. I did try Halo on my own once. I repeated everything Ben and I had done the previous evening and then got stuck, again, at the same exact spot. I had far too many birthday plans swirling through my head to spend too much time figuring out how to continue through the game. Also, due to the crazy influx of game launches that somehow always coincides with Birthday season, there were several games that entered Ben's life that were more alluring to him, (Civilization V, Final Fantasy XIV, Dead Rising to name just a few) so he didn't put on the Halo: Reach pressure when I needed it.

Birthday season always brings an influx of video games into our household. Ben starts shopping for his own birthday sometime around March of each year even though his birthday isn't until late September. He is continuously scouring the internet for release dates and if a game happens to have a release date within plus or minus two weeks of his birthday, he sends me a link to it so that I'll know. Subtle.

He is difficult to shop for, mostly because he either gets everything he wants anyway or because I'd have to be a Computer Science major to understand what he needs. I have to import games from Japan or price compare computer parts or bid for obscure toys on Ebay. Birthday shopping for Ben is not for the faint of heart. To make matters worse, all of his friends and family are even more clueless than I am about what to get him for his birthday so they contact me for ideas. I end up giving away all my best birthday gift ideas, which leaves me empty handed.

This year, though, he bought the whole family a present for our collective Birthday season. The present was the PS Eye, a camera hooked to the PS3 with remotes you use as controllers that track your body movements, much like the Wii but with newer technology – improved responsiveness and better graphics. I rolled my own eye at him when he brought this one home, but had to take my eye rolls back when he popped in the demo for a game that was not only fun and silly and cute, but had an appropriate and timely title: Start the Party, my new favorite game.

Start the Party is a party game that involves mini games like in Warioware but less confusing, a bit like Mario Party but way more fun, and it comes complete with an adorable Little Big Planet-like aesthetic. With childlike delight, I whacked moles, swatted at bugs, nudged baby birds into their nests, and disabled advancing robots with my remote control. Ben said he hadn't seen a game make me giggle like that in a long time. Appropriately, he bought me Start the Party for my birthday.

I only experienced about 30 minutes, total, of Halo: Reach, so I don't really have much to offer by way of review. I guess the lack of review IS my review. Still, in an effort not to have Halo: Reach END my online reviewing party, I will conclude this very belated blog post by describing how Halo: Reach is not like Start the Party.

Start the Party: I never stopped smiling. Halo: Reach:I never started.

Start the Party: Offers many possibilities for dick jokes. Halo: Reach: Usually just involves calling your opponents dicks over a headset which I watched my brother do several hours per night throughout his high school career.

Start the Party: On an obscure planet you shoot at cute metal robots. Halo: Reach: On an obscure planet you shoot at ugly running monsters.

Halo: Reach: Offers me ostriches and Nathan Fillion. Start the Party: Offers me the chance to pretend pick my nose and draw horns and a mustache on Ben's face.

Halo: Reach: I get lost. Start the Party: Ben loses. Ba-da-bum!

I can't blame Birthday season entirely for my lack of game play. I have actually played several video games this past month that I heartily recommend. Chime is everything I want a video game to be, all wrapped into one pretty-sounding package. We've had several fun family game nights with the the PS3's version of Wii Sports, Sports Champions, especially the archery and ping pong games. Turns out I'm as bad at simulated ping pong as I am real life ping pong. Sad. I'm always a sucker for iPhone games like Zynga's Word Scramble Challenge. I fuss about people wasting their life away on WOW, but I could easily rack up hours playing word games on my iPhone.

Birthday season is coming to a close. The days feel crisper and the perfect pumpkin sits on my bookshelf awaiting its imminent carve. My birthday was one of the best ever, even though I turned a truly dreadful number. I was completely spoiled. I look back with very fond memories of my twenties and look forward, with excitement, to the next decade ahead. All our birthday festivities were a success. Ben got his long-awaited Chuck E Cheese birthday, lots of video games and an awesome toy dinosaur transformer that our son wanted so badly he climbed the dresser for it, toppling the dresser, the dinosaur, himself and my favorite vase. (All parties involved are fine). My son enjoyed his own birthday party almost as much as he enjoyed everyone else's. I even pulled off a cute Under the Sea themed birthday cake for his second birthday party despite the near cake-tastrophe of 2010.

Birthday season may have distracted me a bit from my game assignment progress, but I am back now - older, wiser, and ready to Restart the party.

My next game assignment makes me nervous like trying a first hit of cocaine might. I'm being forced to play Frontierville. I may be a bit scared of its addictive properties, but I will try it, sacrificing myself for journalism. If you don't hear from me in two to three week's time, please come drag me out of the frontier. Thanks, and enjoy your Autumn!

Friday, September 17, 2010

50 Cent Blood on the Sand Reminds Me I'm a Dork

The year was 1990. I wore thick glasses, a red polo shirt, long, multi-colored striped shorts and an ill-advised perm. I was seated in front of a jelly-soaked PB&J, a-day-too-old banana that had smelled up my lunch bag and the rest of its contents: the saran wrapped pile of chocolate chip cookies, a bag of Fritos and a carton of chocolate milk, all of which contributed to the thirty pounds of extra chunk around my everything. On my side of the table sat two or three of my white friends. On the other side of the table sat three black kids in my class. Our school was purposely desegregated, but the kids, for the most part, segregated themselves anyway - not for any actual reason - just out of comfort and code. I was ten and I was involved in a minor racial skirmish, though, at the time, I'm not sure I realized that the argument had anything to do with anything other than musical preference. The debate? New Kids on the Block vs. MC Hammer.

I'm not saying that these two groups epitomized the racial divide in the country at the time. Looking back now, they both actually seem to bridge the racial gap more than divide it. But that day, in the school cafeteria, it was NKOTB vs. the MC, dorky pop-loving us vs. way cooler rap-loving them. Racial awkwardness is a different beast when you're ten. It is subtle. Less electric. More innocent, yet distressing because of how ignorant it is. I soon discovered that I should have kept my musical tastes to myself. I learned that day what being a “white girl” was like. I felt like a stereotype. I suddenly wished that I wasn't in love with New Kid Jonathan Knight and that his poster did not grace the ceiling over my bed.

I don't remember what the argument was like or what we were attempting to achieve with the debate. Was our goal simply to recruit more fans to our side of the table? All I know is that I lost that popularity contest. My side did not win.

I have felt awkward, dorky, and “white” since then, but it wasn't until I popped in 50 Cent Blood on the Sand that I felt all three at once and with such potency. Perhaps that is the ultimate superpower of this era's African American rap stars. They have the power to make a middle class southern white girl feel like the lamest person alive.

Like most school cafeteria fights, the premise of this game is pretty dumb. The rapper 50 Cent is in an unnamed Middle Eastern country where he has played a concert. Afterward, he visits the concert promoter looking for the $10 million he's owed (That much?!?). To 50 Cent's chagrin, the concert promoter no longer has the cash. The concert promoter is “persuaded” to pony up some method of payment which turns out to be a diamond and pearl encrusted skull he happens to have lying around (of course!) However, the moment 50 Cent has the skull in his very large hands, it is promptly stolen by a paramilitary gang. 50 Cent and a buddy then decide to do whatever they have to do to get it back. Tell me that doesn't sound like elementary school. Someone promises to give someone their lunch money, the kid comes to collect and the lunch money has mysteriously disappeared so the kid gives up a Twinkie in payment which a gang of other kids promptly steals. It's silly.

The game is a third-person shooter – my first. I'll have to post a video of me playing this game so you can really get a feel for the hilarity of it. Remember, my playing will be terrible in the video, but nothing like when I first started. Me playing this game today is about 500-diamond encrusted skulls better than my first attempts and that is really sad. You know the feeling you get when you show pictures of yourself as a kid to a friend and you get around to your adolescent stage and remember how completely hideous and awkward you were? And you know how physically and emotionally uncomfortable it is to see those pictures again and remember how it felt to be that person? And you know how you definitely don't ever want your friend to get a glimpse of you looking that way so you hide those pictures real fast....then maybe burn them after? That's how I think both Ben and I felt watching me play this game.

First of all, I couldn't even make 50 Cent walk forward. It was the most ridiculous thing to witness this pit bull-of-a-man walk up a staircase sideways because I can't figure out how to make him look straight ahead. One joystick controls his movement, the other joystick controls the camera, or where he is looking (also what you end up seeing as the player). I could make him move forward and backward just fine, but I couldn't physically get the hang of looking around! I can't describe in words the silliness of me playing this game. Ben inverted the controls for me after a while which helped a little bit. Still, most of my time in the game was spent staring at the ceiling or the floor while Middle Easterners shot and launched hand grenades at me.

Since the third-person bit was difficult to master, the shooting bit was nearly impossible. I aimed my gun based on some nonexistent vantage point I created in my imagination, all the while completely forgetting that the little white x in the middle of the screen was there for a reason. Then, when I actually remembered that I should use the x to aim, I didn't seem to have the dexterity or subtlety of hand movement required to aim the x on my target! It took me a good 30 seconds or more to get the x on my target and, by that time, I was dead. So...I can't look where I'm going, I can't aim, and I didn't know until Ben told me three playing sessions in that I could hide to heal myself and that I could just run at the guys and fight them in hand-to-hand combat to avoid some of the shooting altogether.

If the real 50 Cent could have only seen what a bumbling idiot his likeness had become under my control. He had lost all street cred, that's for sure. (Is that the “whitest” thing I could ever say? I don't even know. How sad is that?)

It is appropriate that this game is a third-person shooter, because that's how I feel when I think about myself at ten years old. I feel like I'm looking at myself as an outsider. When I talk about that girl, I think in third person; I'm an older, wiser narrator telling someone else's story. The way I play this game is completely reminiscent of the way I dealt with those elementary school gangs of kids who bullied or teased or argued with me all those years ago. Avoid eye contact so they don't notice you. Stare at the ceiling or stare at the floor, but whatever you do, don't let your eyes meet theirs. Blend in. Walk along the perimeter of the crowd. Send your braver buddy in first and follow her lead. If you have to cry or heal, hide behind the first wall you see. Run away. Figure out a plan of attack, grit your teeth and run at them head-on when they aren't expecting it.

Face-to-face confrontation has never gone well for me in or out of the game. To prove just how stereotypically white I am, while studying abroad in England, my friend and I met a British man named Richard and his best friend, Simon (That really was their names. Wow, the stereotypes-come-to-life abound in this post!) Richard was a history buff and a medieval weapons expert, a trained sword-fighter. I remember one day, while visiting Richard in his tiny village somewhere near Nottingham, he took us to the local pub where we drank pints of ale and then headed out behind the pub where we found a pile of metal helmets and swords. Right there in the small, dirt and grass parking lot of this English pub, Richard gave us a sword-fighting lesson. I learned all the moves pretty well and was enjoying myself. But then he said he was going to fight us and we needed to use our defensive moves against him. The moves I had so perfectly learned just minutes before disappeared at the sight of a sword swinging at my head. Not only did I forget the defensive moves, I lost the ability to move my body.

That's exactly what happened to me when playing this game. I practiced aiming. I practiced shooting. I knew I had to go hide behind a particular wall and then run towards the shooting tank. But then enemies started streaming out of the tank and shooting at me and I locked up. I'd forget which button did what. I'd forget to look where I was going. I'd run in circles and lose sight of the tank. I'd run at the guys and forget to hit B in time to complete the Counter-Kills.

I may have had a million reasons for liking the New Kids on the Block better than MC Hammer, but they didn't occur to me at that lunch. I can debate like crazy with you. Just give me two hours and let me write out my arguments that I will then read to you...or let you yourself. Otherwise, I'll just stare at you while my face turns red and I get sick to my stomach. Then I'll remember what I was going to say halfway through math.

Video games and school lunchrooms exist in a strangely similar plane. Entering their hyper reality, you can escape a bit from authority and explore boundaries, your own and other's. In everyday life, it isn't acceptable to demand payment in diamond skulls or mow down gangs of people with a hum-vee or launch grenades at foreign tanks. I'm not a tough, fearless, cussing, gun-wielding rap artist, but this game lets me pretend that I am for a little bit. You have so little freedom in school to figure out what other kids are all about and figure out who you are and how you're going to treat and interact with other people. Places like the bus or the cafeteria were not always the most comfortable, pleasant places, but they were oftentimes the most educational places where you could try out behaviors you might not want your parents to know about or behaviors that were unusual or foreign to you. The result was not often nice. In the lunchroom, kids could get away with calling people mean things, stealing lunch money, creating the grossest possible food combination and then daring their friends to eat it. In 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, you can get away with insane violence, bigotry, foul language, and greed. If parents only knew what you did and what you discussed at lunch, they probably wouldn't let you go to school. And if they saw what you were doing in this game, they probably wouldn't let you play it.

Still, Ben told me I needed to practice playing 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand because I would need to improve my shooting skills and learn how to look where I'm going in order to play my next game, Halo: Reach, a first-person shooter. My perspective is about to shift...or maybe it already has. It's coincidental that I'm moving from a third person shooter to a first person shooter because that's the transformation that occurred for me while playing 50 Cent and thinking about those days back at Orange River Elementary. Most times I look back at that ten-year-old girl and feel like she's someone else, a character in a movie I've watched a thousand times. But when I look inward, shift back to my first-person perspective I know that I am still that intimidated, awkward girl, the “cracker” I was referred to so often by my classmates.

After all, I'd play a Jason Mraz album way before I'd put on 50 Cent.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What the arcade game Final Fight and other late1980's beat 'em ups taught me about friendship

My Final Fight adventure would have cost me 22 quarters in an arcade. Surprisingly, Ben would have cost us nearly as much! Turns out, Final Fight sucks quarters indiscriminately.

The first time Ben and I sat down to play Final Fight I pepped myself up by talking smack to my husband.

You ready to get beat, loser? You ready for my shirtless fatty Haggar to beat your effeminate, pretty-boy Cody down?”

Hon, this is a co-op game. We're playing together against the bad guys. Not against each other.”

Oh right. Co-op.”

Competitiveness runs through my veins like Carl Lewis. It's my default setting. I can quickly get behind a sports team just to see whether they win or lose. Too many hours of my life have been spent cheering on Casey on Top Chef or the nerdy couple on The Amazing Race or Jeannine on So You Think You Can Dance. I will actually stop to root for Miss Florida in the Miss America pageant. I live for awards shows.

But unlike the characters on Final Fight, I'm multi-dimensional. While I am competitive, I also really want to make other people happy. I remember when I was about five or six and my family was on a boat trip.I was bored and my Dad said he'd play a game of Memory with me. I placed all the red and white marbled cards face-down on the table in the boat cabin. The whole time we were playing, the boat lightly rocking in the river's chop, I was feeling a bit tortured by a dilemma. I didn't know who I wanted to win the game. Of course I wanted to win because winning feels good and winning would make my Dad proud of me. But I also adored my father. I didn't want him to ever feel disappointed or sad about anything. I didn't want him to have to lose, either. I wanted us both to win! Towards the end of the game I started purposely picking up mismatches so I'd lose. I remember my Dad asking me if I was letting him win and I said yes. He told me he didn't want me to do that. He wanted me to try as hard as I could because having fun and challenging yourself was what really mattered, not who won.

I've struggled with competitiveness my entire life. It has affected my friendships, my schooling, my hobbies, and my business decisions – sometimes in positive, and sometimes in negative ways.

I've been making things lately. Inspired by a few very creative, productive, inventive, and brave people I know, I decided it was time to focus on creating, showing, and possibly selling the things I make. I have to stave off the jealous twinges I get when I see other people's work in stores or at festivals or hanging on museum walls. I have to force myself to stop comparing my work against anyone else's and just enjoy the process of making things and sharing those creative moments with my son and husband. But that can be difficult for me....either because of competitiveness or insecurity.

The video game community has really brought this to my attention. I recently played several independent games suggested to me by a friend and reader of CoaGW. I'll speak about those games in depth another time, but what struck me while playing the indie games and what often impresses me most about the independent gaming community of developers, artists, programmers, writers, and designers is their willingness to support each other, share with each other, and advise each other in order to further the art and craft of video game development. I so deeply want to emulate their behavior, to embrace other creators and artists, share with them, learn from them, and support them rather than compete with them.

At the same time, I know the competitive nature of business and video games are a big business. Video game developers must share my struggle. I've seen it in the recent iPhone development gold rush. Two developers have the same idea for a game. One gets the game out more quickly than the other. One receives accolades and millions of dollars, the other quits or tries to somehow find a way of improving upon the original. I saw it in my own small business. I felt the constant pressure to be the best, the feeling that one mistake with a customer could affect your business's ultimate success or failure. Competition can lead you to be the best you've ever been and can make you feel like you could crash to your death at any moment should you make one wrong move.

Final Fight, one of the first of these arcade beat 'em up games of the late 80's, early 90's was one of those originals that set off a chain reaction of a dozen copy cat versions: X-Men, Spiderman, Ninja Turtles, etc. For anyone who has never played Final Fight, the game is a side-scrolling beat 'em up in which the mayor of the city, Haggar, a former professional wrestler, his daughter's boyfriend, Cody, a martial arts master, and Cody's sparring partner, Guy, tear through the big city fighting a street gang who has kidnapped Haggar's daughter, Jessica (THE perfect name for a game made in the 1980's...I can vouch for that!). The goal is to fight your way through Metro City's many districts to retrieve Jessica and hopefully bring an end to the city's crime problem.

Ben and I played on arcade sticks and I pretty quickly learned Haggar's fighting moves, although I didn't master the jump-kick until the end which is a shame, because that move is essential! Ben refers to these games as bro-op, and I can see why. It really does seem like an adolescent boy's ideal way to spend a roll of quarters. Pretend for a while that you're the toughest guy in the city, beating up bigger hairier men to save the blonde damsel in distress with your best friend by your side. You pick up whole turkeys and giant hamburgers for your vigilante characters to consume to restore their health. I can see the appeal. Plus, for being so old, the game's graphics are big and pretty impressive, the controls easy to master.

After about an hour of A and B button mashing while watching my muscle man punch and kick people of all shapes and sizes, I started to glaze over a bit. The game doesn't present much variety. But I hung in there and we beat the game and returned Jessica to the muscular arms of her father and her boyfriend.

One thing that separates Final Fight from many of its copies is friendly fire. I once asked my parents what friendly fire was. Their answer made me feel sick. I couldn't imagine a worse reason for a soldier to have to die. Wrong place, wrong time. An accident at the hands of one's peer. I guess that's what happens when you are surrounded by people trying to learn how to shoot machine guns and blow things up.

When Ben and I started playing Final Fight,Ben said that we'd need to communicate about who we were going to go after so we didn't get in each other's way. He warned me that we could punch and kick each other and accidentally deal damage. “Friendly fire,” he called it. I quickly realized what he meant. I kept forgetting what his character looked like! When six dudes rush at me simultaneously, I tend to start punching and kicking with wild abandon. Sometimes Guy or Cody got in the way...especially when I figured out the jump-kick timing and got a little jump-kick happy.

I played a little of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men knockoffs of Final Fight that didn't allow the main characters to accidentally inflict damage on one another. Strangely, I missed the friendly fire. I mean, not being able to accidentally hurt each other was certainly one less thing to worry about, but that worry was what made Final Fight interesting. In a real fight, you would have to watch out for your friend. You would have to make sure your buddy was out of the way before throwing the enemy across the subway car. You'd need to make sure you weren't going to land on your buddy while performing a crazy body slam on the bad guy. The times when I did accidentally punch or kick Ben's character were some of the funniest of the game. And sometimes Ben had to sacrifice a little health so that I could get in one last deadly blow to the enemy.

In any venture you need your friends alongside you. You need people to support you, get your back when you're ganged up on, carry on the fight while you put in another quarter. Sure, you might have to share the burgers and turkeys when you'd rather eat them all yourself. Your poor fighting might bring down your partner's game for awhile and vice versa. You might compare your scores to your partner and occasionally wish you'd done better than them. You might even get caught up in a little friendly fire along the way, But this is a bro-op! You need each other, because there are way too many giant men running at you at once. Because there's a pretty girl in trouble who needs your help.

Learn from Final Fight. Avoid an accidental punch to the gut through communication and care, and when you accidentally and inevitably whack your friend instead of the other guy, say you're sorry and keep fighting your way to that final boss...together.

Next game: TBA

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bayonetta for PS3: Final Review

Perhaps if I were to unleash some temporal witch power on it, my situation would suddenly improve. - Bayonetta

I've tried that trick before, Bayonetta, and it has been known to work. I refer to my “temporal witch power” as PMS, though, and my husband is on to the excuse, so it's not as effective as it used to be. are every woman, like Oprah, only you shoot angels rather than talk about them.

No, I take that back. Bayonetta is more than every woman. She's the woman who walks into a party and makes everybody stare. She's the woman with the inappropriate outfit on – the kind of outfit that makes other women whisper and makes men stupidly gawk. She's the mysterious, bitchy woman other women secretly want to be like, but also fear. She's smarter, stronger, and sexier than anyone else; she's manipulative, powerful, fearless, feisty, witty, and bold. She makes men look pitifully immature and idiotic, especially that Luka guy, the one that looks like Viggo Mortenson with the unfortunate looking homecoming-queen up-do hairstyle.

Bayonetta is a witch who fights angels. Such fodder for feminist analysis!

But, really, Bayonetta is the reason to play Bayonetta, despite the fact that she represents a cocktail of potentially offensive female stereotypes based on myriad male sexual fantasies. This is the first character-driven game I've played....a game with a character that's intriguing when the plotline isn't. Bayonetta's special abilities make the game interesting when most of the game mechanics seem typical; run around, find objects to smash, and fight things. The game becomes fun when you make her run on walls and ceilings and realize you no longer know which way is up. The game becomes satisfying when you learn the dozens of fighting moves she can perform using her hair and her shoes and all those fancy weapons Rodin dives into the inferno to obtain for her. The game becomes compelling when she can slow time to kick angel butt or cross bridges before they crumble. The game becomes beautiful when Bayonetta shapeshifts into a butterfly with every double jump. The game becomes goofy when she blows kisses at doors to make then open or when she catwalks like Giselle while shooting angel heads out of the sky.

While playing Bayonetta I've also been reading Y The Last Man, a graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughan which is about how women carry on after all males on the Earth die....except for the one spared man and his male monkey pet. Between Bayonetta and Y The Last Man I've had women on the brain and, geesh, we're a complicated bunch. We want to be so many things simultaneously. While I bristle at Bayonetta's overt sexuality mixed with her brazen attitude, she makes me think about the tightrope women walk between the realm of angels and witches. We want to be both and we want to be neither and we don't really know which one men prefer, either. Is Bayonetta the ideal woman? Someone not afraid to fight, who wears nothing but her own flowing hair, who wants to hang out with Rodin in the bar but still has those quirky glasses to show she's not just street smart, but book smart, too? Can you take Bayonetta home to Mom?

Love her or hate her, she's interesting, and it's a good thing because the rest of the game really isn't. I had to read the plot on Wikipedia to actually understand what was happening and I'm still not sure I get it. From Wikipedia, if you're curious:

The title character is a witch who shapeshifts and uses various firearms, along with magical attacks she performs with her own hair, to dispatch her foes. She awakens after a 500 year sleeps and finds herself in an unfamiliar area with no memories of who or what she is. Over time, she begins to remember what caused her current predicament. 500 years before the incident that caused Bayonetta's memory loss, there were two factions preserving the balance between darkness and light in the world—the Umbra Witches, who are followers of darkness and their counterparts, the Lumen Sages, are followers of light. The factions shared two distinct treasures, the 'Eyes of the World' that were separately named the 'Left Eye' and the 'Right Eye', which they used to oversee the just passage of time. Both factions mysteriously disappeared from Vigrid under unknown circumstances. Bayonetta still has an ornate piece of jewelry which contains a small red gem, and believes this gem is the 'Left Eye' of the 'Eyes of the World'. While searching for the "Right Eye", she often receives flashbacks that make her remember what caused her current predicament.

She fights a bunch of virtues (bosses) only to discover that her Dad is the ultimate bad guy...another interesting Freudian choice.

All of this leaves me with one question. Where is my chick flick video game? If Bayonetta is Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, where is my Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy? If you equate movies to video games, where's the romance? Where's the historical drama? Where are the romantic comedies? (Maybe Monkey Island counts?)

I want Pride and Prejudice in video game form. I'm not sure what the game play mechanics of Pride and Prejudice: the Videogame would be quite yet, but as soon as I figure it out, I demand that someone make it. I'm tired of heaven and hell, elves and dwarves, slimes and amulets. Stereotypes be damned! I need a good chick flick game. Any suggestions?

Alas, Ben describes my next game, Final Fight (arcade), as a "Bro-op," which sounds like the opposite of a Chick Flick game. We will be playing the whole game together, though, so that should be fun. We're going to count how many quarters it would take for me to beat the game in an actual arcade. How much money, do you think?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bayonetta for PS3: First Impressions

If you haven't seen this game, take a look. This is one of the prettier scenes I've come across:

Some old Greek quote I read once states, "He who suffers much will know much." This video game project has shown me the truth of that statement. I had to suffer through God of War III so that I could know what to do when faced with hordes of nasty enemies and quick-timer events. I had to suffer through Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2 so I could know that there is worse sexism in video games than this. I had to suffer through all those puzzle games to appreciate Bayonetta's ease of exploration. I had to suffer through Dragon Quest's strange religious angel story so that I could….endure another?

OK…so maybe the word "suffer" is a bit hyperbolic. It's not like I'm being forced to sit through every episode of
Two and a Half Men or American Dad. That would be suffering. This is just “a single-player third person 3D action game” in which “the player controls a witch named Bayonetta, and, using both melee and long ranged attacks, complex combo strings, and multiple weapons, is encouraged to explore ways to dispatch angelic enemies with as much flair as possible.” (Wikipedia said it better than I ever could).

So not exactly torture. Still, I've definitely begun to notice that each video game experience builds upon the next. My video game "vocabulary" is growing! That may not be enough to make me really enjoy playing every type of video game, but it does make my gaming experiences continuously easier. For me, easier means more enjoyable. So far (albeit, on easy mode)I haven't gotten lost or stuck and I haven't allowed the enemies to frighten me or stress me out because I know from past experience that the enemies are not as impossible to beat as they appear.

Bayonetta is like a "babe" version of God of War III, but with prettier, more interesting cut scenes, fewer obnoxious puzzles, and little extra artsy details that make Bayonetta a lot more fun for me than God of War III. However, if Bayonetta had been my second game assignment, like God of War III was, I don't think I would have enjoyed it at all – proof that my past suffering has aided my present experiences. Still, I could have SWORN I played three hours of Bayonetta, but my save file shows I have only played a little over one hour. How time can slow so dramatically while I play video games is beyond my comprehension.

There was an exact moment in my academic life when I realized I could no longer coast. In other words, school had always come pretty easily for me.Writing papers was an almost robotic exercise of finding a thesis and writing its subsequent five paragraph essay. My goal as a student was to figure out exactly what the teacher wanted and then give it to them. Easy. I coasted on that for many years (with a few math bumps along the way). Then I met a professor I desperately wanted to impress and he wasn't so easily satisfied with my work. First, I had a really hard time figuring out what he wanted, exactly, and second, his expectations were a lot more difficult to meet, not to mention, exceed. I could no longer coast by on shallow answers, facts ripped off from other people to suit my purposes, and generalized responses formulated from other people's opinions and my own brief summaries of them. I had to think...
the kind of thinking where you can feel your brain inside your skull. I had to find an angle no one else had thought about and then I had to analyze and critique and research the heck out of it.

I have reached that same point in this project. I have worn out the easy gut responses to these video games. I can't fall back on the I-hate-puzzle-games/this-game's-story-sucks/I-suck-at-playing-video-games/turn-based-fighting-is-pretty-boring-unless-I-can-name-my-party-after-famous-basketball-players discussions any longer. They've become worn. They're done. I actually have to figure out what Bayonetta is really about a what I actually think about it. What makes this game different from other games? Why is it worth (or not worth) playing? Would I want my son to play it someday? Would I ever want to play it again? Why, exactly?

And discovering the answers to those questions while finding an "angle" is a lot harder to do…and more time consuming.

To make matters more difficult, some games have been really easy to discuss...something about the game will sort of hit me and I will feel inspired to write about some particular element. Nothing has really jumped out at me about
Bayonetta. I have tried to recollect the first time I laid eyes on this game because that was the most fun I had with it. I remember Ben calls me in from the other room. He says I need to see this crazy game. I remember the impact that tall, black-jumpsuit-strutting, long red-streaked pony-tailed Bayonetta made on me when she first appeared on the screen. She struck a model's pose, then hip-waggle-walked around , gun pointed straight ahead. Bayonetta is one of the most powerful, dangerous female images I have seen on a screen and she was staring me down from behind her surprising thick-framed glasses. Then, as I watch Ben play, this woman turns into a purple ethereal butterfly when she jumps. She shoots bullets from her gun-boots. She bludgeons a bunch of creepy angels. Then, through some crazy witch-magic her jumpsuit is actually made out of her hair. This game is crazy! My instant impression was both, wow, she is mesmerizing and, wow, she is disturbing! Is she beautiful or is Her neck and face are a little funky but her body is female perfection. I can't quite place her accent and I can't tell if she's a model of female empowerment or the embodiment of every female stereotype every created - from the sexy librarian to a whip-wielding dominatrix to the ultimate Bitchwitch.

In short, I haven't figured out this game's angle yet and I'm not sure if it has one. Bayonetta exists somewhere in between”This game is awesome and interesting!” and “What the heck is going on and why is her hair swirling around her naked body?!”

So far, this is what I've decided. Best thing about
Bayonetta? The loading screen that lets me practice fighting moves while I wait. Thank you, game, for keeping me busy during loading times. I hate to wait and you have occupied me during those dangerous times when I want to turn off the console. Worst thing about Bayonetta? I'd have to say Enzo. He's a stupid character with an obnoxious accent and a filthy dirty potty mouth.

Speaking of potties, I wonder sometimes if I want to have another child. Going back to the idea of suffering, I've gleaned all this parenting wisdom and experience with Jhonen, my first and only child. If I don't have any more children it's like those temper tantrums and sleepless nights I endured and all the crazy methods I adopted for dealing with it all will be wasted. Let's face it, by the time I figure out how to avoid/solve any of my parenting dilemmas, he's usually already on to the next! Speaking of Jhonen, this is the first game I've played since
God of War that I really don't want him to watch. Will I ever want him to watch this game?

I haven't decided yet. Give me a little more time to play....and to think.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dragon Quest IX - Final Review

I had the same problem writing about Dragon Quest IX that I had playing Dragon Quest IX. I was in too big a hurry. I had too many other things on my mind. As the cliche goes, I had a hard time stopping to smell this game's roses.

Birthday season approaches. From September until the end of the year, it is nothing but birthdays and holidays, just about one event a week. Ben and I take birthday/holiday season very seriously. We start celebration plans and gift lists months ahead. This year, my best friend's wedding is thrown into the mix and I have become a frenzied and obsessive toast-writing, dress-shopping, perfect-gift-finding, and budget-bludgeoning madwoman. My Dragon Quest IX mission to kill the Wight Knight has not been of the utmost concern to me. But in this time of impending nuptials and birthdays, my sappy side is oozing. Even Dragon Quest IX made me sentimental.

I went through most of this game like a lonely tired soldier. The game moved forward like a dutiful trudge. The fat strategy guide sat limp in my lap; it helped me go through the motions. I played sleepy-eyed and dreary, only perked up by the occasional skirmish with a Teeny Sanguini or Cruelcumber. I progressed, but the journey meant nothing to me.

I played through Angel Falls by myself and, although I didn't hate playing it, I didn't care about playing it which might even be worse. I didn't know why I was playing it besides completing the mission I had set out for myself.

Then one night Ben sat down next to me and watched me play. We started discussing the game and what I should do next. He showed me things I could do that I had never noticed before. We laughed at my poor sense of direction. He encouraged me to slow down and pay attention. Most importantly, he showed me how to recruit a party, meaning I could make new characters that would play with me and fight with me and go with me wherever I went.

Jhonen was sitting on the bed with us and I asked him what I should name my first character. He looked at me, thought about it for a second and then said, “Jhonen?” I laughed and almost cried a little because it was such a sweet response. “Yes! That's the perfect name!” So I made a little martial artist named Jhonen with some awesome green hair. Then I created another character, a mage, and asked Ben what I should name him. He said, “Beans.” Perfect. I made my mage tall with no hair and amazing healing abilities. Then I made a tiny girl warrior with pink pigtails named Leelot. My family was complete. Suddenly I was having fun! I felt connected to the Dragon Quest world. I felt like I could successfully fight that Knight. And seeing that adorable foursome walk around together while my real family foursome lazed around together made me so happy.

I feel very fortunate that I haven't endured many truly lonely times in my life, but I do remember how those times felt. Loneliness makes you feel disconnected from the world, it makes you go through the motions to reach goals you don't care much about. I remember that detached, hopeless feeling and it sucks. I know that weddings are often flashy displays of canned phrases, cheesy music, bad banquet food, and outrageous expense, but they are also one of the few times when people come together to celebrate love and commitment and devotion and hope for the future. Weddings are an opportunity for two people to say to the world, “This is who we are, this is what we've decided for ourselves, and we are thankful that you are here to support us in that decision.” I have trouble with the idea of people being "blessed." I have trouble with the concept of having a "soul mate." I have trouble believing in angels. But I do believe that committing your life to loving other people based on knowing them so completely that you love them despite (and sometimes because of) their faults can save you from the dreaded loneliness - the kind of loneliness that makes you trudge through life like it's a duty instead of a joy. Strangely, Dragon Quest IX reminded me of that and I'm grateful it did.

Dragon Quest IX also showed me that I can play and might even enjoy playing RPGs, I just don't like to play them alone. Ben and I are thinking about playing through Final Fantasy XIII together, only instead of him playing while I watch, I'll play and he'll watch. The man doesn't always have to wear the pants in the video game playing family. Right, ladies? Speaking of ladies in pants, my next game assignment is Bayonetta for PS3 – a game that features a hot lady in hot black leather pants. Watch out, boys. I'm gonna kick serious butt in seriously high heels....heels that shoot bullets.