Has Gaming Become Socially Acceptable?

“Video games are ingrained in our culture. Driven by some of the most innovative minds in the tech sector, our industry’s unprecedented leaps in software and hardware engages and inspires our diverse global audience. Our artists and creators continue to push the entertainment envelope, ensuring that our industry will maintain its upward trajectory for years to come.”

– Michael D. Gallagher

In my lifetime, gamers have always been stereotyped into these sweaty, neck-bearded, Mountain Dew-drinking, Doritos-eating, fedora-wearing losers who dwelled in their moms’ basements at the age of 40 and never left the house because they were so glued to the computer screen all day. They were overweight men who experienced difficulty in finding romantic partners, and possessed no reputable skills other than playing video games. But has this stereotype more or less dissipated?

A study found in 2015 that as many as 155 million Americans play video games, and four out of five American households own a console (“Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry”, 2015). These numbers are unprecedented compared to thirty years ago, when gaming was first making it into the public eye. Thirty years ago, fairly rudimentary video games such as Pong and Pac Man were only accessible through arcades, and even then you had to wait your turn before you could play them. Today, video games are accessible everywhere and to everyone, and have evolved to a point where you can literally explore entire worlds from the comfort of your own living room. The current trajectory could lead to full blown virtual reality that engages all of your senses, including, God forbid, pain.

Technological advances have obviously accounted for the recent explosion in video game popularity, but what about cultural advances? As I’ve stated, it used to be that if you played video games, you simply didn’t have a life. It didn’t matter how much or how often you played them—you were always defaulted to this basement dweller who was “below” everyone else on the social hierarchy. But we know that the hierarchy has become more accommodating in recent years. If you play video games, you’re now seen as no different from somebody who watches movies or reads books.

The increased social-cultural acceptance of gamers could be reflected in mediums such as television shows and YouTube videos.

Take the widely beloved sitcom The Big Bang Theory for example, which will be going into its twelfth season in 2018. This show follows the antics of four socially awkward close friends, Leonard, Sheldon, Rajesh, and Howard, as well as Leonard’s way-out-of-his-league neighbor, Penny. The cast has expanded to include more female characters.

The Big Bang Theory has received critical appraise for its humorous depiction of nerd dynamics. Typically, characters will have conversations about how Indiana Jones has no effect on the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or in what order the Star Wars movies should be watched.

However, The Big Bang Theory’s greatest strength is equally its greatest weakness. A common qualm with the show is that while it promotes social acceptance of nerds, it perpetuates false perceptions of who nerds really are. I define a nerd as anyone who exemplifies extreme enthusiasm for his or her hobby of choice, but in The Big Bang Theory, nerds are presented as socially compromised. In the beginning of the series, for instance, Leonard is a chronic loner, Raj is unable to speak to women, Howard is a creep, Stuart is cripplingly depressed and routinely embarrasses himself in public, and Sheldon cannot connect with anyone on a human level. But hey! At least they all love to play Dungeons & Dragons and go to the movies together, right? Nonetheless, The Big Bang Theory has turned out to be one of the highest-rated, longest-running, and most profitable American sitcoms of all time.

Take PewDiePie, the most subscribed user on YouTube, as another example. In 2011, Felix Kjellberg attended college for a degree in industrial economics and technology management, but dropped out to instead pursue a passion in making videos. What began as a hobby would then evolve into an enterprise in its own right, with Felix rapidly rising to prominence by taking advantage of the YouTube algorithms, uploading consistently, and maintaining but refining the fundamental format of his content. As of November 2017, PewDiePie has amassed up to 57.7 million subscribers, and in effect defined the gaming genre on YouTube and inspired countless others to create their own gaming content.

What about my opinion? I am by no means a fan of PewDiePie. I’ve got nothing against the guy personally, but I don’t find any of his videos funny. I don’t see where the appeal comes from—is it just immature children who find amusement in watching a Swedish man incessantly shout into a microphone while playing a horror game?

PewDiePie’s gargantuan fan base cannot solely consist of immature children. He appeals to a wide audience unbound by age, race, or sex—an audience that derives entertainment value from watching their preferred personality play games as opposed to playing games themselves. And, it’s this new entertainment value that has contributed to the popularization of alternatives to PewDiePie like VanossGaming, Markiplier, and RoosterTeeth. Even Smosh, one of the top channels on the website that previously did not produce gaming content, has branched out to appeal to a more gaming-centric audience.

Overall, through clever exposure to their way-of-life, shows like The Big Bang Theory and content creators like PewDiePie have incrementally lifted the stigma off gamers, and proved that they are not just basement dwellers who can’t find girlfriends. They’re people, too.

Destiny 2 – Beta (First Impressions)

The Destiny 2 Beta has concluded as of July 25th. I’ve invested about 15 hours into testing all three character classes, The Crucible, the story mode, and the strike. Here, I am going to discuss what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what needs to change for launch day. I believe that this longer article will sum up all of the criticisms that have thus far accumulated.

Initially, I was not impressed with Destiny 2. The guns felt weak, abilities took too long to recharge, and the 30 FPS was a massive step down from the 60 FPS that I’ve become accustomed to. What’s worse is that The Crucible felt like a blanketed downgrade from everything that made the first Destiny’s Crucible experience so much fun. For the purposes of this article, however, I am going to attempt to keep my complaints as levelheaded as possible.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that this was a Beta and therefore not representative of the complete experience. All of my criticisms are liable to be, or have been, addressed.

The Story Mode

The story mode was decent. It was grandiose and a return-to-form for Bungie’s exceptional approach to storytelling in First Person Shooters. I’m happy that NPCs are actually DOING THINGS now and not simply spouting exposition at us through a radio. One complaint I have (the same complaint I have with The Taken King’s story mode) is that the game thrusts you into this large-scale conflict without any meaningful setup. It would be nice to see a calm-before-the-storm cinematic that precedes Gaul’s assault on The Last City, similar to the award ceremony in the beginning of Halo 2. Another complaint I have is that, yet again, our characters have zero personality and do not utter a single word.

At any rate, if Bungie can maintain the level of quality that they delivered in the first mission throughout the rest of the campaign, then I will be very pleased.

The Strike

The Inverted Spire strike is pretty much what you would expect from any strike in Destiny: plow through hordes of enemies until you reach a bullet sponge of a boss. Interestingly, my team and I died 5 times on the boss fight, and thus I commend Bungie for actually challenging the player and not making the mission so exploitable. I can’t imagine what this would be like on Nightfall difficulty.

Overall, I was not very impressed with the strike, but it is good time-killer in the event that you want to sit back, relax, and shoot mindless aliens for 20 or so minutes.

The Gameplay

Now I can talk about the nitty gritty—the REAL meat of my criticism: the gameplay and The Crucible. First off, I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but abilities charge way too slowly. This includes the Super ability, grenades, and supplementary character abilities. As my disclaimer noted, this has probably already been fixed, but I’d like to talk about it nonetheless.

To put things into perspective, in a typical strike, you will only get to use your Super twice, and no more than three times. And The Crucible? Forget it. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll only get your Super in the last 2 minutes of the match (when EVERYONE ELSE uses it). That is ABSOLUTELY pathetic for a game whose majority of fun derives from utilizing unique abilities that alter the dynamic and flow of its combat. Destiny 1 was special because I got to live out my childlike power fantasy by wielding the Light of the Traveler and vaporizing my opponents into thin air. I still get to do that, but those moments of empowerment are few and far between, and ultimately take a lot of enjoyment out of the equation.

Also, who in their right mind at Bungie Studios thought it would be a good idea to nerf melee damage THIS drastically? In The Crucible, it takes up to THREE punches to defeat your opponent. That desperately needs to be changed, because dumping several rounds into somebody but then having to stab them two times severely disrupts the fluidity of closer-ranged encounters and leaves you more vulnerable to team shots.

Gunplay is as always, smooth and solid. Say what you want about Bungie as a developer, but they understand shooting mechanics. In fact, much of what keeps people coming back to this game after all these years is just how good it feels to shoot things. But remember when I said that the guns felt weak? I meant it. Unfortunately, the primaries that we were given in the Beta often felt like peashooters, while the sniper rifle felt like a slightly stronger scout rifle. Again, this is subject to change, but right now, guns are underpowered.

Finally, the transition from a PRIMARY/SECONDARY/HEAVY loadout to a PRIMARY/PRIMARY/SECONDARY loadout really hurts the PvE experience. While I can understand this design choice for PvP to a certain extent, in PvE, it’s insipid having to switch between two mediocrely powered auto rifles and rarely getting to use a sniper, rocket launcher, or shotgun because power ammo is so scarce. I sure will miss my Fatebringer/Blackhammer/Gjallerhorn combination. Can we please go back to the way things were in this regard? Of course, it is more balanced as it is now, but sometimes, balance is boring.

The Crucible

So how is The Crucible? In short, watered down.

I thought I was going to despise the 4v4 format, but it’s not as bad as I expected. The maps are specifically scaled down to accommodate 8 players instead of 12, and so you’ll encounter your opponents about as frequently as you would on a map that’s been built for 6v6. Despite this, I prefer the classic 6v6 format because in 4v4, there are fewer opponents to engage with and thus fewer opportunities for extremely satisfying multi-kills. Why is it that Bungie can’t just do what they did with their Halo games and design some maps and modes for 6v6, and others for 4v4? Blanketing 4v4 across ALL maps and modes is a colossal step backwards because not everyone is going to prefer these smaller-scale, less chaotic matches. Personally, I want to see Combined Arms and Rumble make a return.

I love and hate the new scoring system in Control. I love it because it’s been simplified in such a way that I understand how points are distributed between both teams (in Destiny 1, it was convoluted and made no sense). I hate it because it needlessly rewards assists. If I kill somebody, I want it to MATTER. In other words, I want to feel like I deserved it. However, in Destiny 2, if you so much as scrape an opponent and one of your teammates deals let’s say 90 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted a full point (i.e.: +1 point). Alternatively, if you deal 100 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted two points (i.e.: +2 points). With that said, it appears that the only indicator of individual performance is Efficiency, which is a special number on the scoreboard that aggregates your kill/death/assist ratio, level of accuracy, and other factors. However, I want the scoreboard to display the number of times you acquired FULL kills relative to the number of times you died. Currently, the game has either eliminated or minimized these statistics in favor of giving everyone on the team a participation medal.

By the way, I hope to God that we are not solely relegated to Quickplay and Competitive in the final game. THIS IS NOT OVERWATCH. Destiny 2 is expected to promote diversity and versatility by featuring multiple playlists that cater to different preferences and different play styles. It should NOT be this restrictive and barebones.

A couple more suggestions that I would like to offer are to increase the score limit in Control from 75 to 100, and to increase the rate at which players’ health bars regenerate to both deter and prevent incidences of team shooting. It is very frustrating when, upon legitimately outplaying your opponent, someone else comes from around the corner to “clean you up” because you couldn’t recover in time. As for Control, the score limit is a little too condensed for my liking. Bumping it up to 100 should make matches last for just the right amount of time.

Skill Based Match Making is ever so prominent in Destiny 2, and just like in Destiny 1, I am routinely punished for performing well. Whenever I have one great match or a string of great matches, I am pitted against full teams of 4 and get utterly decimated. Why should I be forced to play my heart out every single match against players who are just as good if not better than me? I said it before and I’ll say it again: Bungie needs to either abolish or restrict SBMM to COMPETITIVE-ONLY playlists so that The Crucible can remain a lighthearted, laidback experience. Not every game on the market needs to be an eSport.

Fellow Destiny player Tibbaryllis2 puts it perfectly, “The game is infinitely better when you go through a cycle of games where you have some close matches, you stomp some people, and you get stomped by some people. You need all three; one helps you get better, one helps you have fun, and one keeps you humble.”

Final Word

Believe it or not, I criticize Destiny this harshly because I love it and want it to succeed. It’s the only game that keeps me coming back to it on a consistent basis, and I’ll be damned if it sacrifices its identity to become another generic, bland, dull, and dry shooter game.

So far, Destiny 2 is not a game plagued by poor design, but rather by poor design decisions. It seems that Bungie’s best answer to the complaints players directed toward Destiny 1’s PvP experience is to literally nerf everything that made it fun in the first place, and achieve a more leveled playing field in a panicked attempt to please its entire player base. In doing so, they punished the PvE-centric audience.

I hope that come September, my opinion on the game improves and does not worsen. In either case, I’ll be here to call it out.

Why a Halo 3: Anniversary Just Couldn’t Happen

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone and, with it, a slew of unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. One of these disappointments (besides Bethesda’s press conference) is the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary. But hey, at least the Flood are canonical again.

What strikes me as perplexing is that Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) and Halo 2 (2004) both received the anniversary treatment after 10 years, but that Halo 3 (2007), the hottest selling and generally most beloved game in the entire series, is left untouched for its 10th anniversary. It’s awkward to say the least—the first two Halo games received graphical upgrades on the 10 year mark, but Halo 3 conspicuously discontinues this trend.

Pushing aside my frustration with Halo Wars 2, a game that I believe alienates more than half of the Halo community, I’m going to view the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary in 2017 as a plus and not a minus. We know that Halo games are released every 3 years. However, because 343 Industries did not showcase a teaser trailer for Halo 6 at E3 this year, we can surmise that the next major Halo title will be delayed until 2019. That, combined with 343 Industries investing most of its manpower into Halo 6 because they do not have to worry about developing a Halo 3: Anniversary, and there is an increased chance that the follow-up to Halo 5 will be the game that we all want and need it to be. A longer, more coherent campaign. A streamlined multiplayer. A state-of-the-art Forge mode. Split-screen. And dare I say… a veto system? These are features that we can expect in Halo 6 by virtue that 343 Industries does not, for instance, have to deal with another Master Chief Collection debacle.

I understand 343i’s decision to not remaster Halo 3 this year because from a logistical and technical standpoint, it’s just not feasible. Halo 2: Anniversary’s graphics look like what vanilla Halo 3 looks like currently. I’d rather wait until the 20 or 25 year anniversary for a remastered Halo 3 to match the more high-powered tech. Also, playing through Halo 3’s campaign again to celebrate its 10 year anniversary anyway (because I know my life will be consumed by Destiny 2 in September), the game still plays so smoothly. It’s not a clunky mess like Halo 5.

And so, if I have to delay gratification and wait a few extra years for Halo 3: Anniversary because 343 Industries wants to invest its resources into Halo 6 to make it the best Halo game that it can possibly be, then I am totally fine with that. On the other hand, if 343 Industries never gives Halo 3 some type of special treatment, then I will be thoroughly disappointed. They really need to win back some of the fans that they already lost.

Are Multiplayer Videogames Dehumanizing?

“To rend one’s enemies is to see them not as equals, but objects—hollow of spirit and meaning.”

―Destiny (2014), In-game description of Exotic weapon Thorn

Thorn used to be one of the most loathed Exotic weapons in all of Destiny’s multiplayer. The Hand Cannon was so detestable that people felt offended whenever they were killed by it, complaining that it was a “noob’s weapon” that took no real skill to use. They would send you hate messages, rant about it on the forums, and even use the weapon itself to stoop to the level of its offenders. You would know when you were killed by Thorn, too, as getting hit by it twice to the head or three times to the body would cause your screen to turn into a mucky greenish color while your character slowly died from the weapon’s damage over time effect.

Bungie’s Hell spawn that was the Thorn was unarguably the most obnoxious weapon to ever plague the fronts of competitive multiplayer, but I couldn’t help but think that this obnoxious quality was what made it so enjoyable to use in the first place. During the five months when Thorn was in its prime, the time when everyone used the weapon to their sadistic pleasure, I too derived profound enjoyment from the poison effects and inevitable slow and humiliating deaths that would follow.

The widespread abuse of the Thorn brought to mind a broader question regarding the nature of online competition: do multiplayer videogames unknowingly cause people to lose touch with their more compassionate sides? In other words, do they diffuse empathy to where people become indifferent to the pain experienced by their virtual opponents?

Multiplayer videogames practically dominate the market right now—Halo, Battlefield, Call of Duty, TitanfallDestiny, and Overwatch are among the most popular and widely recognizable of the bunch. To answer the question of whether these types of games decrease empathy and increase indifference, I inquired as to why they’re so popular and how they affect perceptions of human emotions beyond just the immaterial game world. I arrived at a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, multiplayer videogames have gained traction as both an entertainment medium and as a way of relieving stress because they satisfy a primitive urge to compete against and weed out the weaker members of our own species. They appeal to man’s darker qualities such as greed, selfishness, and aggression.

If you are unfamiliar with Skill-Based Matchmaking, the idea is that if you adjust matchmaking parameters enough so that weak players get matched up against other weak players, and the strong against the strong, you appeal to a more generalized audience of casual players and thus sell more copies of your game. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. However, SBMM is actually counterintuitive to the principles of intraspecies competition (competition that occurs within a species as opposed to between two species) since the strong will always prey on the weak. In evolutionary terms, this is comparable to killing a weaker member of your own hunting tribe just so you can eat that extra piece of meat and stay alive yourself. It’s an intrinsically motivated act of selfishness.

Another explanation for why people are so drawn to multiplayer videogames as an outlet for aggression is that, plain and simple, they don’t have to worry about the consequences of murdering people in cold blood. Think of it this way: when you defeat an opponent in a multiplayer match, to you they are nothing more than an avatar stripped of virtually all human qualities. They are a cheeky and elusive moving target, or a bundle of pixels generated by your television screen. They are a virtual punching bag that you can slam on, beat, stab, humiliate, demean, and degrade to your heart’s content, and all without a single consequence to bare. Who wouldn’t take sick pleasure in that? I know I certainly have.

Yet when we give it a second thought, we start to realize that in control of that avatar, that cheeky moving target, that bundle of pixels, is a real person. A living entity with thoughts, feelings, memories, goals, dreams, aspirations, and heartbreaks. Have you considered that, beyond all of that bloodshed and mass chaos in Battlefield’s “Conquest” mode, someone is feeling a little hurt, even if they’re thousands of miles away from you?

By now, you probably think this article is a glorified criticism of multiplayer videogames. It’s far from it. Personally, I’ve invested hundreds of hours into Halo Reach, Destiny, and the Modern Warfare series. I have no qualm with these games; I love them. At the same time, I do have a few regrets about how I’ve treated my opponents over the years. I have tea-bagged, viciously wailed on corpses, and shouted vile obscenities over the microphone. Even today I display these behaviors out of compulsion but not intent. Nonetheless, I’m writing this article to attest to how our treatment of strangers over the Internet, despite the anonymity, still matters and that we should practice better sportsmanship. Just because they live halfway across the world doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated any differently from you or me.

And so, coming back to the question of whether multiplayer videogames decrease empathy and increase indifference, the answer is yes they do, but only if our behavior is left unrestrained. We can easily lose touch with our compassion, but we also have to remember that we can activate it when it’s needed.

I think I’ll just stick to RPGs.