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A sickly gamer?

The Guardian had an interesting article on Monday. It took me a while to get there, because I am intricately familiar with the subject and the issues. The name of the game is gaming, and in the article titled “‘Dangerous gaming’: is the WHO right to class excessive video game play as a health disorder?” has the interesting question.

So as we read (at https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/feb/05/video-gaming-health-disorder-world-health-organisation-addiction), which holds: “included “gaming disorder” in its draft for the next edition of its diagnostic manual, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which is due for final release this year“, we need to wonder. In the first what constitutes a disease, when is something actually a disorder and more important, is it the first step in getting this label added to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5, with an update which is supposed to come out at the end of the year. Even in the academic field there is doubt, which Netta Weinstein, a senior lecturer in psychology at Cardiff University voiced with: “I just feel like we don’t know enough yet and we feel we know a lot“. This is merely one voice. This part is important, as we see the following that matters: “the WHO was initially exploring excessive use of the internet, computers, smartphones and similar electronic devices, but determined that the biggest concern was gaming“, in addition we see: “The authors write: “These features clearly have their parallels with substance disorders and recognised behavioural addictions, such as gambling disorder“. They decided to make a dangerous step. As I personally see it, they are comparing apples with oranges, dumping the load into a basket named fruit and walk away. That view is not just supported, by others; Nena Weinstein gives us (paraphrased): “we found very small correlations, if at all, of symptomology with broader life wellbeing. So we actually didn’t find, for example, that symptoms correlated with health directly. It might be that something that we think of as addiction is actually just engagement and enthusiasm“.

That is the part that matters, gaming is about engagement and enthusiasm, now we can agree that some people go overboard. I for one have spent 5000 hours (not all at in one sitting mind you) in the Fallout universe and close to 3000 hours in the Elder Scrolls universe, I just love my RPG’s. The fact that this comprised a total of 5 games makes this the best value for money ever. I have played plenty of other games, and they were fun too. The fact is that the world is changing in several ways, a fact that the researchers are also ignoring. I also like the opposing view given by Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University. With: “The bottom line is problematic gaming. Whether you call it ‘gaming disorder’, whether you call it ‘gaming addiction’, there is a small minority of people out there where gaming has completely taken over their lives“, he has a point there. I have more than once gone so deep and enthusiastic into Minecraft, so when I suddenly realised that I was really hungry and getting tired, I looked up to notice that it was 03:50 in the morning and I remember the sun being up when I started to play. This happens, and it rarely happens, but still it happens. The fact is that the body reminded me and I did not ignore it. I was less positive about his remark: “in extreme cases some people have played themselves to death, though such incidents are extremely rare“, this is a case I remember, some league of Legend player, high on energy drinks playing 23 hours in one stretch. When it happens once, or perhaps less than half a dozen times on a population of 8 billion, it is not a case, it is an extreme outlier. We could in the worst case state that the proprietor had a duty to set a maximum usage of lets state 12 hours per 24 hours. Was that point ever raised?

Weinstein goes on in the debate on why few get addicted. Well, because there are many types of players and there are in equal measure many types of games. We can argue that in my case one style could lead to addiction, but I have a life with other elements too and even as I might spend a large chunk of my weekend on my console, I have lived for the longest time requiring no more than 5 hours of sleep per day, these days are now alas over (hence less gaming), but choosing the fun of a game over wasting money on alcohol in a bar, wasting it on fake smiles in a casino seems that I have taken a healthier life style. The entirely other side is that I even had more time in the kitchen, making my life even better by making myself a nice steak with a salad, a pasta salad or even a nice Bambi-burger or sourdough. I would not go hungry. My only little squandering would be to ignore my Nespresso and go to the Coffee place up the hill (roughly 723.4 metres) and get myself a yummy cappuccino, extra-large of course, sometimes even splash out and have a big breakfast there on Sunday. A walk in the fresh air, sunshine optional and preferred, good food, caffeine for the veins and after that groceries on the way back and the rectangular entertainment from console or Blu-ray, a life of relaxed bliss!

The package could be seen as addictive, gaming is merely one element in all of that. So as people then go with the mention of ‘all that gaming‘, tell me to just watch some TV. So how does that work? Constant badgering from advertising whilst you get hammered by two screwed up reality settings from places like ‘My Kitchen Rules’, or even worse some ‘married at first sight’, so it’s not that the divorce ratings weren’t high enough, we now get some reality TV show where ‘experts’ know what we need, want or desire? How fucked up is the TV nowadays? It is the second part where I oppose her view. With; “at least some elements of modern video games are closer to gambling. The newly popular and increasingly controversial implementation of “loot boxes”, where players pay real money for unpredictable rewards, is increasingly drawing the attention of regulators“, she only has a partial point. As far as I can tell, this was introduced in gaming by the Mass Effect series (I apologise if I am incorrect). You see, that is an option, but the game gives clear warning that you can earn these boxes by playing. Yet some people cannot go that distance. So like Ubisoft who allowed you to unlock all elements of Assassins Creed multiplayer for less than $10, people had no interest to unlock the abilities, they want it all from the start, a level 1 steroid character. So yes, you can buy chests for real money, but the ones I saw have always allowed you to get those chests by playing the game, it merely takes a little longer to get them. The second element that she is not lingering on is what is in such a loot chest. The loot chest is very much like a CCG (Customisable Card Game), each package will cost you around $5 and the 10 cards will give you 1 rage (or legendary), 2-3 uncommon and the rest are common items. So basically after the first 10 packages you only buy them to get the remaining uncommon, rare or even the legendary cards. Loot boxes work in the same way. That origin actually comes from a CCG game called Magic and was introduced by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced to consumers in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. So, now as it is in video games 25 years later, now they want to regulate it? Oh please, go cry me a river, will you?

Yet Weinstein raises a gem of a point with: “concern about comorbidity (when a person has more than one condition): “We need to know that it is about the gaming itself, or we’re treating something that’s not the actual problem.”“, she poses an excellent issue. You see if we accept that gaming is escapism, knowing what it is escapism from, that becomes the golden question and that is not easily explained.

Prof Mark Griffiths brings another side to the table. With: “I can’t think of a single [case of] addiction where there aren’t any other comorbidities. The addiction is usually symptomatic of other underlying problems. If you’re depressed and therefore you drink heavily, then you treat that with antidepressants“, you see, in that view, if these people escape into gaming, they still might not have a gaming addiction, they merely escape to it and we see the dangers of a wrongful diagnoses. So in the time where the depression is not seen and as these people ‘are cured‘ by gaming less the depression could take over leading to additional harm and even fatality. The problem (as I personally see it) is where is the trigger, the threshold where ‘addiction’ is set at. It is a grey area that cannot be correctly quantified as there are other elements in play. As I see it, it too often relies on what others think is ‘too much’ and that is equally dangerous. The parent who grew up playing outside and as such, junior should be outside, not playing on his console. Do they realise he was playing with school friends in an online 4v4 battle? They are talking to one another on the headsets, so they are still communicating were they not? Our comprehension of several elements is shifting, as a gamer I see the shift, but the people around me do not (want to) comprehend that. It is icky, it is geeky, they do not care.

That part is equally ignored and that is a worry too.

You see social media made the bucket of issues larger, but the level of comprehension beyond using the tool has not increased. That is the danger, usage without knowing what it implies, means or ratifies. Consider the articles like: ‘5 Ways to Generate More Exposure for Your Content Through Social Media‘, to improve your personal PR, or ‘How to Scale Your Social Media Exposure‘, that whilst the people trying to grow followers and to be ‘cool’ have no concept of ‘engagement’ and the use of common sense for that matter whilst exposing themselves to all kinds of risks. Those people will happily sit in any ‘gathering place‘ and remain in negative judgement of a gamer. I remember a nice issue in 1996 in the UK. I was in a bar taking a rest from the ECTS (7 morning presentations on newly released games will do that), so as I was sipping coffee and nodding to someone I knew in the business. He was talking to some girl who was way too good looking for her own good. So when he mentioned he was into gaming, she walked away as he was nerdy. So as she walked away, she had no idea that this was the guy who just made 1.5 million pounds ending with 4 times that much at least over the 3-5 years that followed. You see, even as more and more people are no longer stigmatising ‘gaming’ and ‘gamers’, the issue is that most do it because it is now a $120 billion market and money is money, no matter how you slice it. The actual issue of ‘addiction’ cannot be set for various reasons because it relies on other elements on how you still function when you are not gaming. How you see the world when you are merely shopping for groceries, enjoying a movie, setting in a corner chumping down on ice-cream or engage in conversation with friends. Those are elements that matter and if you can still relate to non-gaming issues with enthusiasm (like how ambulances in Kabul are an excellent way to move C4 from one place to another), we might wonder about the scepticism in all of it, but for the most that person is still OK and unlikely to be a true game addict.

Wasn’t that what mattered?

You see, it is actually the end of the article that had the truffle that mattered; no pig was going to get that one! With “The significance of the WHO’s decision will depend on your point of view. Griffiths admits it’s “a vindication for three decades of research”. Trade bodies such as Ukie naturally resist suggestions that anything their industry produces could be harmful“, this part could actually become the invalidator to his work. Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University seems to forget a few parts. In all this, I have been connected to games and gaming from before that. Gaming had several triggers over the last 30 years. First there is the arcade machines versus the home consoles (and home computers), there is an issue with any emerging technology and the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 are just over 20 years, before that it was all about home computers and the lasting time of a game was no more than one day of game time with only Loderunner to be a larger exception. Even in PC’s larger computers with larger games would be able to get finished in no more than 50-70 hours, and again there is an exception now, it was Diablo. Longer lasting games did not really get to the surface until multiplayer came out and it was not until the Unreal engine took off that people hid for a lot longer behind their computers (overly generalised). Now we can argue that those collecting games were indeed addicted, but were they? What data was there on them? I reckon that it was not until the sixth generation of consoles came out that we have the foundation for some level of actual addiction. Yet when we got back, we forgot the arcade machines. How much money did you pour into those machines? Was it to complete Donkey Kong? Was it to be in the top mention of Space invaders or Pac-Man? Does that make you addicted to gaming, or merely a person trying to pass time or dealing with OCD? I am not sure if I can give the right answer, but between generations 4 and 8 (1989-2012) the market has been in technological turmoil and that is disregarding the massive technological leaps PC’s had made over those years. I feel uncertain that with so many changes in a market that has not stopped running, how can anyone be correctly seen as addicted? For example, who would not spend their entire weekend finding the secrets that Tombraider brought in the first instalment? Who did not run to the shop (and claimed a sickie) the day that Tombraider 2 was released? Who did not drop their jaw the day Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots started on their PS3? That game can still hold up to the most that the PS4 brings to the table today. One view was: “The game has been considered one of the best games of the seventh generation of console gaming and among the greatest of all time“, a view I very much agree with. When perfection, art, challenge and achievement come to the table, the view we have changes, because exceptional quality keeps us at the screen. Just look at all those 4K nature movies Bing Lee sets on the TV’s they really want to sell, that’s not addiction, that is admiration/amazement. So in that all, I think that there is a case that Prof Mark Griffiths might not make the mark on this ‘addiction’ addition, there are just too many variables. And even if we recognise that an unhealthy devotion to games might be worth investigating, it would be to find the underlying cause to it all as Dr Netta Weinstein justifies. In that she is completely correct, so as we realise that Jo Twist, the UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) states the correct part with “We are very concerned about the inconclusive nature of the research and the evidence that WHO is using to base this potential classification on“, she could have (as not seen here) stated the matter a little better than what we got to read.

That is merely $0.04 on the matter (due to the FTSE Crash my $0.02 devaluated whilst writing this).

 

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What is the mission?

This is not about Russian jets, I feel that some members of the press are only now realising certain elements in that case (better late than never) and in addition, the second element towards the cauldron filled by the demons of idiocy will require a little more investigation (legal papers can be consuming, with an exam due on Monday that part must wait). What is interesting is the article by Keith Stuart called ‘Has video game reviewing become an impossible task?‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/nov/25/video-game-reviewing-critics-industry). He starts with: “four of the year’s biggest releases – Fallout 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Star Wars: Battlefront and Rise of the Tomb Raider – three stars out of five. All are decent in a lot of ways, all have intriguing ideas and look beautiful – but each of them is lacking in fundamental areas“, of course with my passion in there (fallout 4) that 3 out of 5 is not an acceptable rating (perhaps I am slightly biased). Now by itself, Keith is very much allowed to give that rating. It is his view, his review and as such I will not become an anti-Keithereen, however I still disagree!

I will skip both Call of Duty and Star Wars battlefront. Apart of not having played them, I am not a fan of either title, which is a massive issue when reviewing games!

Yes, you can remain neutral, you can look at a title academic, but how many academics can truly explain to you a poem or a painting? These items must be heard and seen, reading about them is often not a workable solution. In this, you must rely on the names of reviewers who are enthusiastic on that type of game. Yes, we can get a good indication of any game, but the non-fanatic will more often than not miss things, if that person did not miss anything, we must allow for the notion that the article gets to be ‘coached’ by the game makers. This is not something we want to see, especially when we consider the results from Ubisoft these last two years.

In this paragraph I will illustrate what I mean by giving a view, which will be revealed at the end (no peaking readers! see if you can make out what it was).

When I look to my left I see a man in pink, well groomed standing between a couple naked. They are outside and I notice the bunnies, a cat, blackberries, with blooming trees and a little pond in the foreground. When I turn to the right, I see what is either a gangbang or an orgy. I cannot hear the music, but there are plenty of musicians and no one in that crowd has any clothes on, I see a lady holding what seems to be a wine can, I noticed her firm breasts. She does not look happy, I think she is the waitress and this is the outfit of the evening. The other guests are enjoying the company of each other and they seem to leave the lady alone. In the distance I notice a mill and a castle burning. Perhaps this is what they are celebrating? I cannot tell! In front of me there is another garden party, none seem to be dressed. The people are talking and eating fruit. I see it all form a distance, I am not invited to this party.

You might find the paragraph weird, but the explanation will follow at the end.

You see, I do not disagree with the Rise of the Tomb Raider review, I would have given the same, but only because of the graphics, which are sublime to say the least. The game is not unlike the previous game, too easy to play and to finish, not that large in the end and repetitive and scripted items are too common in this game. I would state that this game is, to some extent, nothing more than a next generation version of ‘Dragons Lair’. I felt massively happy that I did not pre-order this game. When the game gets priced down to $29, I will most likely get it, because the graphics are truly amazing, no doubt about that. You see Fallout 4 is definitely 4 stars. As a fan I would like to give it 5 stars, but there are flaws and there are a few glitches (which is utterly unavoidable with a game of this size).

Now we get to a few quotes that bothered me: “The reviewer would then play it for a few days, often to completion” the second quote is to the point: “There were occasions where reviewers were forced to assess an incomplete version of the game, in which case the publisher would send a list of known bugs and beg that you ignore them, because they’d all be sorted before release“, I have been there several times. I had no issue with that, yet in the old days QA was a lot better dealt with by software houses, whilst the game makers are pushed by their marketing department to push out as soon as possible and rely on patches. So Keith is correct here, in the old days there was a straightforward process. In those days the makers were in charge, not its marketing department. Then we get “Nowadays, publications determined to get a review out on day one will be asked to attend special events, where access to the review code is strictly controlled and monitored” They did exist in the old days too, but they were pretty rare. In several of those cases it involved a gold master for let’s say PlayStation and only a developers system could run that, so going there was pretty essential. I had a few of those visits to London where I went to Virgin Interactive Entertainment. Whilst on the way back I bumped into Richard Branson and shook his hand, apparently it was Noel Edmonds (from Noel’s House Party), so I had that little embarrassing moment to survive.

This brings us to the event where Keith hits the nail on the head: “These days, you’re not a consumer when you buy a new game, you’re an investor. That’s a weird psychological leap to make“, I agree and I do not totally agree with the setting there. When we take a beta game as an early adopter (like Elite Dangerous) I get it and that is fair. When we look at a $110 full game that is incomplete and lacking it becomes something else. We again get to Assassins Creed Unity, which should never have gotten the 80% ratings that many gave, especially with the lack of stability, the bugs, the glitches and a few other failings. Any reference to ‘new console’ should be ignored as Black Flag did not have those bugs (as far as I saw). Personally I believe that software houses are more and more blocking reviews when their release is flawed, the fact that in light of AC Unity there were stories about embargos and NDA’s, which only made things worse.

Yet Keith has more gems to offer in the article: “Since the very beginning, game reviews have operated in a confusing no man’s land between arts criticism and product assessment“, this is where I agree almost completely. In my view it is a merging of both, without the console you cannot play, without the insight of the art you cannot comprehend, both are required. The third element here is the topic, the theme or the environment. You must have a certain feel for it, because without the third part the game will not be adequately be dealt with, the review of a product the reviewer did not understand. I will try to explain it. In those days we had ‘Myst’, which now seems to be ‘the Talos Principle’. If you have no patience for puzzles and mind boggles, you will miss out on the game. In my days there was Myst, I played it to some extent and the graphics were beyond believe, but I never got some of the puzzles, which meant that you become an aimless ‘clicker’ on objects, hoping that something will react. That takes away from the experience as frustration will set in sooner rather than later.

The next part is a little less agreeable. “Reviews would compartmentalise each game into its constituent parts – graphics, sound, playability – with each often separately rated in ever more complex conclusion boxes. This approach reached its logical conclusion with the 1980s magazine ACE, which reviewed games out of 1000, and provided a “predicted interest curve”, which attempted to map out the longevity of the game – like the lifecycle of a vacuum cleaner“, I disagree here. Yes Keith seems to state his view decently, but he forgets a little part here. When we see Rise of the Tomb Raider, we see a 30Gb game on a Blu-ray, yet the very first one Tomb Raider on PlayStation (one), offered 300% more gaming, challenges and puzzles on a disk no more than a CD (600Mb), when you know that you will be playing this for MONTHS longevity becomes a factor. And in those days there was no internet with cheats and walkthroughs, you actually had to get through the game by yourself, or with friends giving you clues (many false ones). In those days Lara was truly exploring stuff and as a result so were you. I still remember those final bosses and how one if the very first secrets in level one was one that I did not solve until much later. The massive increase of graphical quality should also not be ignored, that part has been continued, but as the games are now almost utterly flawless, the size of the game seems to be a mere fraction of that what was.

Yet, this is not a given, you see, RPG’s only became bigger, much bigger. Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 show this (as does Skyrim and a few others). I personally believe that the games are not more complex to review, for the most the makers are now too scared on any level of quality critique. So as Fallout 4 got 3 stars from Keith, the makers will have seen this game as a clear 5 stars (I remain at 4 stars), which is at the heart of the issue as well. Marketing fears the reviewer because they lose control at this point, which gets me to Ubisoft and their embargo and NDA. I have only faced one NDA ever, that was from Adobe and they had the valid reason as I got access to the product several months before release. So basically I could prepare the review and much closer to the release date (I believe roughly a month before the official release). I got the final product to write about and upgrade my initial article. That is a valid part. Game makers have for a larger extent lost the visionary part that the old makers had, which is also part of this situation. It is not just the reviewer, it is the product! Keith does go there! He quotes: “But unlike books or movies, games are now evolving platforms, open to updates and improvements“, again I disagree. The game in its core foundation should be the reviewed product. ‘The last of Us’ is an amazing achievement all by itself, ‘Left Behind’ is just an additional element which is totally worth the extra cash. The relaunch of Tomb Raider for all its graphical brilliance was not. There is another side to the quote of Keith and it does matter. When we see Skyrim his words do definitely hold meaning, but in another way. You see Skyrim was a complete product, people played it and then they improved upon it. Even today, 4 years after release that game is still being improved upon. Console players like myself miss out and for all the options I am jealous not having a decent gaming PC. That is seen in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCU862nVpJ0. Here we see some of the most incredible graphics. 4 years after release that game can be replayed and the amazement of graphical brilliance will overwhelm you. So here we also see longevity in another way. Bethesda created a game that allows people to enjoy the RPG world for a lot longer than we bargained for and as such we will anticipate an almost equal evolution and the first mods are already available. This takes care of the RPG, but I will not increase the score for that reason because it would not be fair to the other game styles. The issue is that Fallout 4 is massive, even as I relaunched the game, find places I missed the first time because I turned right instead of walking on the same road. Houses that are not on the map, places with some lovely items for my survival. More important, Fallout 4 is nothing like the previous version. In the previous version repairs was important, now guns will not break, but evolving weapons into something a lot more powerful (believe me, you will need that). The game has elemental differences which makes for an evolved game, which makes it partially a new game. My old tactics did not work as well as I expected which was awesome! Evolving new tactics is part of the fun. I heard that there is even an option to get through a big part of the game without killing the animals, how is that for a challenge? Yes, Fallout 4 is my baby so I give it a higher rating, not the highest as I am a realist. Yet my version does not invalidate Keith’s view.

Keith ends his article on strong curve: “All art forms are subject to erosion, but with games, that impermanence is now built in like a self-destruct mechanism. As a consequence, reviewing games is like reviewing a relationship: you only know what you have in that moment, and even then, nothing is certain or solid. Both the author and the reader need to understand that now“, it is a good view to have, but is it relevant? The impermanence is only founded on multiplayer issues. The solo part of a game remains a reality for a long time. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots can still be played and as long as the PS3 is around the game remains playable. Keith is right, Mass Effect 3 multiplayer will at some point stop, but with Destiny it is all multiplayer, so like World of Warcraft, the game will evolve, the servers will evolve and we will end up with an upgraded version, this does not invalidate the previous review, it would only validate the newest review. I also agree that reviewers need to adapt, but in all this I disagree with the title, reviewing a game is not an impossible task. It just requires the right editor with a good set of balls and mentoring skills, because the best reviewers tend to be younger and they lack journalistic skills. Now for the conclusion, I promised to talk about the ‘description’. I was looking at The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. I shows that I am not an art critic and I left out a few details too (on purpose here), yet what items would I have forgotten? That is the part that matters, that is why a level of passion for certain games are required. I will never review GTA because I personally do not like that game, it needs to be reviewed by a fan of that play style with a firm foundation of realistic reviewing. In all this do not forget that you do not have to agree with me and that Keith is from his point of view not wrong, I just think he was not correct, which is not the same. My view evolved from reviewing games all the way back to the VIC-20, the beginning of the 8-bit era, a lifetime ago.

And it is merely my view on the matter.

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