Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Future of Video Games: What’s worth focusing on?

There are a lot of subjects that come up when thinking about the future of video games, how good are games graphics going to get?, will digital distribution become bigger than physical?, what will Nintendo name their new new 3ds? (haha console joke). Besides hiring a medium to tell the future, there’s no real way to see where video games will go, but there are some interesting gadgets that the industry is putting their money into. So that’s a good place to start I think.
First off the biggest contender on the list, the Oculus Rift! And it’s many copy cats. Starting off with the basics, the Oculus Rift is a VR headset made by Palmer Luckey and the Oculus VR team. The Oculus will be the first consumer available VR headset of its kind, so that a big step in the right direction. And over its development process, it’s overcome a lot of obstacles that would stop consumers from buying it, the biggest of these being how heavy it was, it’s resolution and its accessibility all of which have been overcome   (http://www.techradar.com/au/reviews/gaming/gaming-accessories/oculus-rift-1123963/review).  Except not all of them. In fact with all VR headsets there is one obstacle none will ever overcome. How long you can use them for. Back in 2013 and 14 this was a big problem for Oculus, as anyone trying to play games on it for longer bursts of time would experience headaches and nausea, big downfalls when it comes to gaming. Not only that, but having the screens so close to your eyes for long periods of time (or continued frequent use over time) no matter what anyone will say, it’s going to mess with your eyesight, and that’s not even going into the problem of people with already bad eyesight using the Oculus Rift. So sadly, while VR headsets are here and most likely to stay, I doubt It’ll ever beat classic gaming systems.
For our next contender (and usually listed right after the Oculus Rift, in any given ‘New Gadgets’ video) is the Omni! Made by Virtuix, the Omni is a treadmill like device that enables the player to move around while playing the game, and their movement will translate to the player character. So basically you walk around to move the character.  It’s also designed to work with VR headsets and hope to completely immerse the player in the game (http://www.virtuix.com/).  Now this is a pretty odd way to try and improve a person’s gaming experience, and a pretty risky one.  The odd thing about the Omni and its concept is that players will have to exert themselves while playing and this might sound like a good way to get players off their butts and moving. However people, unlike game pads have a limit, and running around will eventually tire a player out and so they stop playing. This is the same problem as with the Oculus Rift, how long can players use it for? The risky thing about the Omni? It’s big. Being what the Omni aims to do, it’s a given that it would be big, but because it’s so big it’s going to be hard to sell. Virtuix will never be able to sell the Omni at a general public level as I doubt anyone who isn’t dedicated to gaming would want such a big accessory in their house. It’s only going to sell to a niche of gamers and for such an advanced piece of equipment, that’s not a good thing.

So now having look at both these two big advancements into gaming future, neither look to be massive leaps, more so just little things some people will look forward to. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

"I'm addicted to video games" or perhaps not

We all know that feeling. You know, the one where you get that new game that you’ve been waiting months for. You load it up, get out your Doritos and bucket of Mountain Dew sit back and play through as much of it as possible before your friends and family become worried and start planning your intervention. But after that initial binge you go back to your life, job and disgruntled partner and back to regulating how much you play. At least that’s what usually happens. However some people don’t do this, they continue to play that game, continue to play until it starts to affect other aspects of their life and then that intervention isn’t just some snarky comment made by a uni student.
Said university student also says that ‘video game addiction’ isn’t as bad as the media says it is. Anyone can properly say they’ve heard the stories about people dying from spending too much time playing video games and then it seems like video game addiction is a rabid dog attacking the youth of our world.  However looking at causes of death per year in America, more people die each year from vending machines than they do video games. In saying that though, video game addiction (in its most base form) is an actual thing and should be taken seriously. But again calling it an addiction to video games isn’t right either. In order form something to be called an Addiction (from a medical view) it must check out the following criteria
1.      Tolerance (using or doing more over time)
2.      Withdrawal
3.      Having limited control over using or doing
4.      Continued use after significant negative consequences
5.      Neglecting of other activates
6.      Significant time/money spent on using or doing   
7.      Experiencing a need to cut down
These criteria are taken from the DSM-IV and the ICD-10 (1) and are what health professionals look to when diagnosing someone with addiction and while a lot of these things can apply to someone experiencing ‘video game addiction’ saying the addiction is to the actual video game is what doesn’t sit right. It’s also worth noting that while video games can affect our brains, it can’t affect it in the same way as traditional addictive acts can (drugs, alcohol and sex being the most obvious) that is, on a biological-chemical level, and unlike other acts video games take a long time to take this affect or don’t leave a long lasting affect to change the chemicals in our brain so that we become addicted.  In fact, video game addiction is not a recognized disorder and that’s because it’s not an addiction to video games. Let me elaborate on this point, while what people experience when they have ‘video game addiction’ is addiction the underlying reasons as to why they play so much is what the real addiction is. These reasons are usually connected to social and socio-economic issues in that person’s life and these issues aren’t just linked to this idea of video game addiction. In Japan, this form of addiction has been going on for years in the form of people becoming ‘Otaku’. The word (unlike its western adaption) actually refers to someone whom doesn’t have a job, doesn’t socialize and rarely leaves their own home, more often than not these people also engage the cultural entertainment of Anime/Manga. People who become an ‘Otaku’ in Japan have the same underlying problems as those who experience ‘video game addiction’.
The point of all this is to show that when talking about ‘video game addiction’ it’s important to not blame all on video games themselves, if video games didn’t exist that person would still become ‘addicted’ to something else as long as it filled the void of what he underling issues left.  So rather than someone being addicted to video games, a broader look at their life and own personal problems needs to be taken into account, for the best hope of living a happy and healthy life. 

Again, Extra Credits has a good video on this topic
Some games are designed to be addictive

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"Video Games cause violence!" cries America

How many times have Video games been blamed for the actions of a violent person? In America it’s quite a lot. In fact, looking at where most of the debates, arguments, finger pointing and blame is made, is in America. Most studies that “prove” a link between real life violence and video game violence are conducted by American institutes and media coverage on events of real life violence ‘linked’ with video games is extremely high in America. So, what’s going on?

Well first off, what I’m getting at here is that the big debate of Violence in video games is a big cultural problem in America. I base this off the fact that as someone who lives outside of America, I rarely hear of instances of violence being blamed on video games, but looking for instances where it is, more than the majority of information I find is linked to America.  So why is that? Why does America has such a fixation on this topic? Well unfortunately I was unable to find any reliable material on why the debate of links between real life violence and video game violence is so relevant in America, just blogs and opinions. However I did find an Interesting study done by Christopher J. Ferguson of the Texas A&M International University ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1359178907000055).  The overall point of this study was to see if there was a bias when publishing articles related to video games and real life violence. Ferguson found that an article ‘proving’ a link between video games and violence was more likely to be published than one that disproved this linked. So one possible reason for America’s fixation on this topic is that there is more information on links proving the connection thus seeming to make it a more valid point.  On another point of most studies proving a link between violence and video games is that most only go so far as to prove a link between violent thoughts and violent video games, almost none (including longitudinal studies) report on actual acts of violence  but instead focus on immediate or intermediate feeling and thoughts of aggression, frustration and sadness. While this may prove that there is a link between violence in video games and violent thoughts or feelings, it doesn’t prove a link to actual acts of violence, and that action is what the debate is all about. This makes any research that concludes a link between the two invalid unless it does show a relation between violent games and violent acts not just thoughts and feelings.      


So perhaps bias and misinformation is what makes it such a relevant topic in America. Even America’s media is more likely to report on stories that ‘prove links’ between violence and video games. Look at the Sandy Hook Shooting, one of the first things the media reported being the cause of it was video games despite there being no real evidence to prove this (http://ideas.time.com/2012/12/20/sandy-hook-shooting-video-games-blamed-again/). In fact when you look at America’s crime rates and the popularity of video games you can see that as video games gained popularity, real life violence dropped (http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/04/19/as-video-game-sales-climb-year-over-year-violent-crime-continues-to-fall/) a surprising contradiction to how American media portrays acts of violence. 

While there are a lot more factors that could be taken in account when talking about links between violent games and real life violence in America (Gun control being one of the biggest problems) you can’t really deny that America has a weird obsession with this topic and there has to some reason for that.

Have a look at Healthcare Triage’s view https://youtu.be/m2Jq7vPxYGg
CNN reported on this stuff too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvhovITygBI



Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Are you a boat? or a grill?

A lot of games made today allow you the choice of creating your own avatar. This is a great mechanic for games, as it allows layers to be creative with who they play as and provides with a lot more choice (usually with class, race, abilities) that can cater to how they like to play. But there is one choice players must always make before they can get to fun stuff of making an avatar. Play as a Boy? Or a Girl? (Note: for this discussion I’ll be talking about the societal representations of gender and not the biological sex of people, as Boy and Girl are different to Male and Female)
When you talk to people about whether they prefer to play as a girl or boy in video games, you can usually put them into two groups. Those who play as the gender they are and those who play as the opposite gender. And weather people say so or not there are reasons behind why we play the gender we chose to play as, even if it’s as simple as “Because I can”.  First looking at why people play as the same gender as they are is usually because it’s familiar and the ‘default’ to them. When they go to play a new game that offers avatar creation, some people will automatically chose the same gender as they are because they are about to go into a new game they might know little to nothing about the world, rules of the game, other characters in the game etc. Because of all this ‘new’ they might feel more conferrable with choosing to play as their own gender. These players usually make this choice unconsciously as well, going straight for their own ‘default’, what is familiar to them.  
On the other hand, there are players how will chose to play as the opposite gender to themselves. Unlike the ‘default’ players these players have usually made the choice to play as the opposite gender through a process of playing several games. The most common reason for players to play as the opposite gender is because they find it easier to ‘role-play’ as a character of the opposite gender (role-play meaning that the player finds it easier to get into the game as the opposite gender). By plating as something foreign to them but made of a concept they can understand, means that players can act differently to what they usually would with much more ease than playing as their own gender would allow them.
Another interesting point to mention about choosing gender in video games is that when playing a MMORPG or any online game, there are additional reasons to choosing what gender to play as. Online games offer in real world opinions when you play them and sadly, this means gender biases comes into play. In most online games playing as a female character is a disadvantage, as the gender discrimination that comes from the (bad side) of the gamer community is expressed. While on the subject of playing as a female in online games, sometime player will offer more help to players if they use a female avatar. However this is not to be considered an advantage as it still stems from a belief that girl players need more help/are more inadequate then boy players.

The reasons people play as the same or different gender to what they are many and varied but there is always a reason behind the choice.  


Watch this take on playing as the opposite gender
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFOVVAhnAns

The Sims and gender
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMBYFXZknGQ

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Video Games: Combining Genres and Genre is different than Theme

Video Games have become more and more complex over time, and considering how little time has passed, they got complex real quick. Sadly, with this complexity comes confusion from both developer and gamers alike, take genre for example. Unlike movies or books, genre in games has become a very confusing subject. When you can have games like ‘Portal’ that are classified as FPS (First Person Shooter) but are more like the Puzzle genre, knowing what that actual game will be like based off genre alone is near impossible.
One solution to this problem is to combine genres. Weather that be to simply classify and game as having two or more genres or taking aspects form different genres and combing them into one new genre. The problem with this however is that not all genres go well together. When a developer choses to make a game with two or more genres, making sure that the different aspects of the genres fit is just another obstacle to overcome. For example adding in puzzles to solve (Puzzle genre) to a Survival Horror game can help keep the player engaged in the game and alert. However allowing the player to defend themselves with weapons (Action Genre) in a Survival Horror game can lessen the ‘horror’ aspects of the game. Matching up different aspects of genres to make the game cohesive is a difficult task, especially if a developer is looking to make their game unique, as most genre combinations that go well have already been used. In this way, the combining of genres might not help lessen the confusion surrounding genres in video games and might just new meta-genres to mix and match, adding to the confusion. Just to note: this is all problems on the developer side of things. The gamer side of this problem seems to be sorting it’s self out. One good example is Steam Tags. Steam Tags allows players to tag the game with specific words and themes that relate to the game, making it easier for other players to find games that are relevant to their interests.
 A newer more player invented solution, is too divide a games genre into Themes and Genre. When people talk about a game with two or more genres you can often hear descriptions such as “It feels more like an Action game” or “Plays like an FPS” etc. This is players separating Genres (How the game plays) and Themes (What the game feels like) that relate to the game. Using an example, a game like Dead Space 3 feels like you’re playing an Action game (Theme) but it’s classified as a Horror game (Genre). Or a game like Portal feels like a Puzzle game (Theme). By describing games like this, might start to clear up the confusion surrounding genre in games. However this is just one possible solution and there may be better solutions in the future.       



Have a gander at Extra Credits view on Combining Genres
So, what does your favourite game genre say about you?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Narrative in games: It's inevitable, you need to accept it

Sure you could say that games don’t need narrative or plot like other entertainment mediums (like movies and books) do. You can easily make a successful game with mechanic alone, take Candy Crush, Flappy Bird and Bejewelled or even Agar.io. All brilliant games made with mechanics alone. But what do you notice about all these games? If I asked you to name 5 games off the top of your head, it wouldn’t be any of those would it? That’s because games made solely with mechanics in mind are made to be time wasters, they aren’t made to be something that sticks in your mind. So how do games stick in your mind? Why do some games seem more remunerable than others? Putting aside games with exceptional fame (Mario, Pok√©mon, CoD), a game with a good plot will stick with you more than a game with bad narrative or none at all.
If you’re asking yourself why that is, it’s an easy question to answer. People aren’t good at remembering things, only a few exceptional people in the world can say that they are. Most people can only remember 7 articles in their short term memory and long term memory can be just as bad. As time goes on we begin to muddle our memories and sometimes the longer we dwell on them, the muddier they get. We mix things around, forget certain things completely, add in things that didn’t actually happen and can be influenced by other people. However, there is one thing that people can easily remember, even after years of not thinking about it, and that would be Narrative. By stringing together a series of events with plot, people can easily remember what happened and can do so more accurately. Narrative can be used as a mnemonic device (something that can help you improve memory).
So how does this tie in with games? Well if you want to make a memorial game what would you do? Hopefully it would be to make a games with good narrative (after what you’ve just read).  You have to remember that games are an entertainment medium just like books and movies and what sells books and movies? A good plot. And what do you want your game to do? SELL! So just like books and movies, games have begun to take upon more complex and more engaging stories. While I’ll easily admit that games are appalling at telling narrative, we are getting better at it (it’s still a relatively new medium after all).

Narrative in games is finally starting to become a normal thing (here’s hoping good will come of this) and more narrative driven games are getting bigger spotlights. As more publishers and developers start to figure out that narrative is a good thing more people who wouldn’t usually even look at a video game might start to gain interest, because narrative is something anyone can use and can easily remember. It’s what is at the base of all our big entertainment sources and not only that but we’ve been at this for thousands of years, we like it and games adding in more focus on narrative is an inevitable thing and hopefully, a good thing.       

Take a look at Daniel Floyd’s take on Narrative in Games 

A good look at how Narrative and its Mechanics 

A quick look at mnemonic devices



Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Realistic Graphics: Realistically Achievable

We’ve all noticed the direction big budget games are going in, bigger, better and more realistic graphics. AAA Games seem to have entered a phase where the more realistic you can make a game look, the better the game will be, and there is nothing wrong with this view point. You really can’t deny that recent blockbuster games like The Witcher: Wild Hunt and Batman Arkham Knight aren’t graphically amazing but when you really think about it, is it really possible to achieve perfectly or near perfect realistic graphics in games?
Honestly I don’t think it’ll be possible. Just looking at the system requirements for the a fore mentioned games and already the games industry have hit a problem. You already need a very high-tech computer to run them on, and a lot of people can’t afford to buy a computer good enough to run these games (or buy new parts for their computer) or have no need for a new computer. Already the graphic requirements for the game has limited the potential customer base for the game and no real need to state that this is very bad for the publisher and developer ( The Witcher 3 had a budget off $15m, GTAV had one of $265m) every dollar counts. With this trend this can only get worse in this respect.
So we’ve already hit the point of needing expensive hardware and software just to play some of these games but there is a bigger (and more likely to happen) problem. The Uncanny Valley is a term used for the emphatic level people feel toward inanimate human constructs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEikGKDVsCc
The Uncanny Valley is just the tip of the iceberg when talking about humans recognizing something as not being real and this is demonstrated really well by virtual constructs. Watch any of these videos and they will look to be very realistic                 
However, show this to enough people and you’ll start to get reactions where they will immediately become skeptical and doubt that it’s a real person (and not just because when you ask them “is this real” they think “well of course not, because you’re asking”). There are parts of our brain that are dedicated to identifying threats and recognizing faces, and these are dedicated to our survival. When they see virtual constructs they instantly know something is up and begin to make you doubt. You begin to examine things more closely and look at things in a critical view.
Pair the functions of our brain with the graphical requirements that we’ll need to run games with “Realistic Graphics” and I don’t think it’ll be possible (or wise) for games to reach this point.
Although, when it comes to environmental graphics things like Alison Road (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__i_LoRKhJ0) are already real….well who knows.