Highbrow High Score

The Art of Gaming Intellectually

An Exercise in Smack Talk

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Let’s be clear, I love vulgarities. Contextually or otherwise, cursing is one of the best things about the English language in my opinion. So rarely do four-letter-words convey a more clear or succinct meaning, but with an arsenal of cusses in your vocabulary, you can easily convey almost any emotion with little or no question from your audience.

But sometimes, things go a little too far.

I never really used a mic to play games on XBox Live until a friend at work let me borrow hers so we could strategize whilst playing Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty: World at War. I never really utilized the microphone until I used a Christmas gift card to buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Although I had not played the first or second installments, it looked fun and a lot of my friends were playing it as well. I’ve been trying to get more skilled at the console first person shooter because I’ve gotten used to PC shooters and I hate being at the bottom of the lobby leaderboard.

I imagined that using the microphone in MW3 would make me a more strategic part of the team – calling out where turrets should go, how the enemy team is flanking, etc. But I quickly realized that, at least with this particular experience, the mic serves only two purposes: to scream obscenities when you are killed and to berate teammates/opponents in the lobby. I laugh when something is funny, scream when I am killed unjustly but mostly keep my mic on mute and keep it on my head for entertainment because… my voice clearly marks me as someone outside the general shooter population. I’m clearly female when I speak (or a little boy, which I guess is fair) and being female in a lobby full of dudes is the virtual equivalent of walking by a construction site… except you’re in a bikini and the men have the freedom of anonymity… that is to say, females become a target for all kinds of remarks.

I was recently in a lobby where there was some discussion of a movie that I had seen and enjoyed, so I started quoting parts of it with the guys in the game. I was quickly reprimanded, almost told to “stay in my place” and accusations of promiscuity were  levied at me. I chalked it up to mob mentality coupled with the aggression of the game itself and dished out just as much. What struck me as odd, however, was the fact that after a few rounds of holding my own, they changed their tune and were playful – in a vulgar and flirtatious sort of way and gave their own teammates a hard time about having fewer kills than me.

The following statement may not go over well with some female gamers, but I don’t feel the need to herald my femininity when I begin playing a game online, nor do I use opportunities like the above as “educational experiences” and try to make these guys see the error of their ways. Yes, some of the things said were hurtful… but that’s kind of the point. You call me a slut for being a girl, I’ll insinuate that you have female genitalia. I know how this works. I want to play a game where I run around for a little bit, stab campers, and have shoot-outs. Although I understand the game is marketed primarily as male wish-fulfillment, I enjoy the simplicity of the concept and the fact that it is so damned rewarding.

But it just reminds me of how closed off the world of gaming still is to females… I know a lot of women who play and enjoy these games, but because we are the minority, it’s easy to single us out. Unfortunately, there are a lot of women who almost go out of their way to let other players know their gender…This is not unfortunate that they are proud of being a woman, but the perception that  their femininity is a novelty. Not only do I think this is unnecessary (most men don’t “advertise” their sex when they play because they don’t have to), it makes them a target in a world where the “feminine” is weak or less than and make themselves a target for smack-talk that cuts much, much deeper than most.

This post was very cathartic for me after that experience. Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or comments regarding the world of online insults, I’d love to hear it.

Written by highbrowhighscore

January 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Why Sony will cripple the PSVita (and why I hope I’m wrong)

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Although the Vita is missing the holiday gifting madness, we’re seeing more and more ads and videos about Sony’s next generation of handhelds. The Vita is loaded with features as well as gorgeous aesthetics – taking pages from smartphone design (sleek and interactive touch surfaces) and functionality (use of apps and connectivity) as well as finally integrating the second control stick to the handheld market. The announced line-up looks stellar with Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet and – my personal most anticipated game – Touch My Katamari. With state-of-the-art touch controls, the Vita is going out on a limb to deliver more options for gameplay and more features for developers to experiment with. And it looks just plain sexy.

Handheld high candy with real capabilities

I want my fingerprints all over that!

But, the cynic in me is reminded of another Sony handheld that was supposed to change the nature of on-the-go gaming – and the sad truth that followed. The original PSP boasted a bigger screen, beefier graphics, and a more “adult” experience than the Nintendo DS could offer. The system had potential to usurp Nintendo’s handheld throne with the grown-up gamer… but it fell short of just about every expectation or promise Sony made. I’ll note that although the system sold well, as someone who has owned and played the original, actually using it is frustrating on almost every level.

Here’s a brief list of why the Vita will probably* be every bit as unplayable as the PSP:

1. Proprietary media

With the PSP, Sony introduced both the UMD and their Memory Stick Pro. Now it seems the Vita will fall prey to the same overpriced proprietary forms of memory and media.

2. Sub-par online experience

But... but!

The free online gameplay network that Sony introduced is nowhere near as smooth an experience as Xbox Live and seems to be constantly updated to prevent errors like the hacking snafu earlier this year - which leads to...

3. Constant firmware updates

No one likes waiting on updates, but Sony must think we do because these are more frequent than any other comparable console or handheld.

4. Price

An acronym that could apply to a lot of the Playstation family

Even with a Wi-Fi only model of the Vita, buyers will be spending upwards of $250 on the unit itself. Add a few $50 to $70 dollar games and a memory card and the deal seems a little steep.

The PS3 clearly illustrates that Sony is dedicated to giving gamers a modern video game experience and the Vita seems to be a continuation of that; based on hardware alone, these consoles are superior to other consoles on the market. On the other hand, there is a reason the sales of the PS3 and the PSP lagged behind those consoles – trailing the Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS by one-third and half their stateside sales figures respectively. It’s a shame because I think the Vita will be a great handheld as far as the quality of game and functionality it will provide, but Sony’s history with “flash in the pan” gaming may kill the handheld shortly after it’s launch.

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December 16, 2011 at 3:00 am

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Rainy Day Games

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Although the holiday season is (frighteningly) close, most of the big blockbuster games came out earlier in the year. That being said, while I got the opportunity to buy and play a lot of great games this year, limited time and money meant there was a lot I had to pass on.  This year has added a few games to my “to play” list and hopefully 2012 will afford me more opportunities to enjoy them.

These games will have to wait until I get done with my Dragonborn duties...

  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Although I could not tell you exactly what this game is about, the “cool” factor was almost enough to make me buy it on release – but not quite.
  • L.A. Noire – Now that I don’t have to drop upwards of $50 on a game I’ll only play once, I may consider grabbing this old-school detective story.
  • Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – With this one still being pretty new, I don’t see myself going for it yet. Instead, I’ll watch the Indiana Jones films a few times – just the first three, don’t worry!

Indy would win this fight, but Captain Reynolds would kick both of their asses.

  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Unfortunately, I will have to buy the console again, but I would feel cheated if I didn’t get to play a brand new Zelda adventure.
  • Minecraft – This one is sitting on my desktop, just waiting to be played, but I haven’t had the attention span or direction to really get into it yet.

    It looks so sad and alone

So, there are a few games that didn’t quite make it for me this year – what’s on your rainy day list?

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December 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Nostalgia

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I consider myself and my generation “on the cusp” of video game movements. On one hand, we grew up with classic consoles and as we continued to play, saw a surge of graphical enhancements, console wars, and “hardcore” games as we got older. Instead of seeing video games as childish like older generations or being spoiled on modern games like younger ones, we found ourselves growing just as quickly as the industry itself, watching as games fell in and out of favor and the community becoming more vibrant.

Luckily, emulators make it easy to enjoy games like this again

Sweet, Campy Goodness

But because of the accelerated growth that occurred as we were becoming adults, what we feel nostalgic for can vary greatly. Today, for example, I got a strange urge to play Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the game my sister and I played non-stop and was my first co-op experience. That game still gets my vote for best zombie themed game ever. And later in my young life, when the Sega Genesis got old and newer, nicer consoles came out, I found myself talking about why the Dreamcast was better than the Playstation (still red-faced about that),then later still, being introduced to the seemingly endless world of Liberty City and muting GTA III anytime my mother was near.

With recent stellar releases, I think about the games I used to look forward to – reading “Nintendo Power,” ooing and awing over the high-end graphics of 4th and 5th gen consoles, puzzling over “conceptual” versions of the PS2. And at the same time, 5th grade and the birthday parties I went to. I think the accelerated growth of the industry colored my childhood in such a way that video games became standard, yet so full of wonder as I steeped myself in the culture.

And that changes the way I think about them now. They are not childish vestiges of imagination or even a disposable form of media. I take the games I love to heart because they have always been there for me – to explore, rampage, challenge, terrify, but most importantly, to instill a sense of awareness of my life and letting me look at things as they aren’t to appreciate things as they are.

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November 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

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This Business of Gaming

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When I bought Skyrim earlier this week, I brought a few old games to my closest major video game store to take advantage of an extra percentage of trade credit. Although I did get over half off the game for these old games, it made me think about the video game retail industry and how these stores thrive on the constant flow of patronage they receive and how ingrained they are, especially in console gaming.

I mainly buy from my local GameStop because of the trade benefits and deals on used games, but it seems like the business model is flawed. Since GameStop and EBGames get all of the profits for used games, the resell industry leaves the makers and publishers of the game out of that loop. While I’m sure this isn’t much a threat to bigger studios with headlining games, it really shirks the indie developers out of a pretty lucrative market.

Since there has been a drive (in my house at least) to buy, eat, and support local stores, I’ve been wondering if there are more “ethical” ways to buy games. Are there smaller vendors you like to buy from? Of course digital distribution on PC and consoles benefits the game makers the most, but as far as consumer cost, is this the most practical option?

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November 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm

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Post-Halloween Horror Reflections

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Halloween always takes me back to my childhood. Although I loved dressing up and trick-r-treating, what I remember the most about the holiday is having sleepovers with my best friend, watching horror movies and playing scary video games. I recall actually feeling terrified as I played the first two Silent Hill games and took turns with the controller when my friend and I got stuck at certain parts.

Atmospheric games like the Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and to some extent, the Resident Evil series seem to have aspired to different standards than today’s horror games. Although each game has their own brand of fright and varying levels of violence, overt gore did not seem as necessary as it maybe today. Fatal Frame, most notably, relied on a camera as your main weapon and expanded on Japanese folk-tales to convey each games story. New horror series like Dead Space tend to accentuate the macabre and focuses mainly on “jump” scares, but did not stay with me the way scenes in Fatal Frame 2 did. While I enjoyed Dead Space and Dead Space 2, it was a much different experience than the puzzle and action mix of earlier horror games.

Can I at least get a bigger camera?

This makes me wonder if system limitations prevented extremely gory games from being produced during the last-gen console era, if ultra-violence is just “in” now, or if I’m just getting overly nostalgic in my old age. The lack of immersive, atmospheric gameplay with the current console generation severely limits the amount of truly frightening psychological games – trading in that experience for cheap scares by horrendous monsters with little in the way of story line. In many newer games, I haven’t been connected enough with any of the characters to feel anything for them.

A tribute to a classic

Are there any newer or even forgotten games that have really scared you recently? I’ve been told I should play Amnesia: The Dark Descent by several people. If you have any suggestions, I would love to try them out.

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November 2, 2011 at 5:46 am

First Thoughts – Batman: Arkham City

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After putting in a decent number of hours, I am so happy that I’ve only completed 17% of Batman: Arkham City. The experience is open without being overwhelming and the game play is as fun as its predecessor.  This was the first game I’ve attended a midnight launch for and I realized it was worth it after I finally went to bed at 4am that same day.

A break from your average Batman

As soon as the story is introduced, we find Bruce Wayne behind bars. Moments later we take control of Catwoman and go to town. This was every bit as fun as it sounds and not a “that’s what she said” joke. The game’s combat sequences are entertaining without a lot of strategy, but gaining successful strike combinations requires some timing and the beat-em-up aspect is very rewarding. The mechanics are solid and the learning curve is not steep in the slightest, but unless you pick your battles wisely with Detective Mode you could find yourself at a disadvantage. There are also a lot of side missions that serve to upgrade Batman’s equipment, meet new villains, and get a better feel for the city.

The game also succeeds in balancing out the classic comic noir feel of the first game with a dose of camp. There are a lot of great villains making a return or being introduced to the series and they all manage to mesh in the crumbling grey city with the looming threat of “Protocol 10” and a more immediate threat of certain doom for Batman. The game’s constantly weaving and changing threads enhance a feeling of loneliness and that the city itself is conspiring against you. I still have a long way to go with this game, but thanks to a well-timed vacation, I’ll be spending a lot of time with it!

Pow! Bang! Zing!

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October 24, 2011 at 3:28 am

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