...And all the men and women merely players.
A blog about the state of gaming and technology

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Economist - Sony Fanboys?

I was struck by a short blurb I read in The Economist. They claim (or rather, the analysts they are quoting claim) that each console will have its day in the sun, and that the PS3 is on track to surpass the Wii in 2011.

Now, I think the PS3 is a fantastic console. It's got a ton of power, it's got features that blow everything else away. But let's be realistic here - people aren't stalking UPS drivers to find one.

I think sales of the PS3 are going to continue to improve, especially as cost-cutting and feature improvements come into play, but I think it'll be doing well to catch up to the 360 at this point, never mind the Wii.

Of course, I'm not an analyst, so what do I know?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Colossal Daddies

So I still haven't finished Bioshock. My motivation ran out somewhere around Arcadia, where I got sick of the gameplay repetition. But I recently had cause to revisit it, and I found some things to appreciate.

First, easy mode. Maybe it makes me a wimp, since the game was quite easy anyway. But maybe it just means that the game comes down more on the story side of things than the gameplay.

The second was the philosophical underpinnings. Philosophical underpinnings generally just turn me on (oooh, baby), even when a game tries and fails to get a point across. But in my first playthrough of Bioshock, I was fixating too much on the (disappointing) mechanic of saving/harvesting the Little Sisters to really analyze the game's take on Objectivism and some of the other things it does well. In short, I approve of the great job they did setting up the world and the characters to expose the triumph and eventual failure of Galt's Gulch... I mean, Rapture.

But the other thing that struck me, philosophically, is that I felt bad for killing characters. Not the Little Sisters, I frankly just viewed them as creepy. But the Big Daddies. At one point, I had cleared a level of Little Sisters without realizing it. The next time I saw a Big Daddy, I attacked and killed it. When I failed to find the girl he guarded, I realized that there was no reason to have done so. And I felt guilty!

Another time, I rescued the sole Little Sister available, then found another Big Daddy wandering the level. He would go into a room, walk over to the vent, and knock on the wall, summoning his partner - who never came, and would never come again. He kept wandering, making mournful, whale-like calls, totally without purpose. And unlike a Little Sister, who has hope of redemption, the Big Daddies can't be saved. They can only be killed, or left in their purgatory.

It reminded me, most of all, of the Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus. That game did it better (which is to be expected, since that was the entire focus of the title), but they both had this idea of frequent boss battles, against large foes who are no threat to you, but must be hunted for your quest to continue. Both the Colossi and the Big Daddies are tragic figures, behemoths brought down for little reason, and whose death ends up making the player feel complicit in something like genocide. Of course, the Big Daddies must be killed to save the Little Sisters, but on the other hand, they are the Sisters' guardians, seemingly wanting nothing more in life than to see them safely about their business.

Perhaps there's something there, too. A theme about the girls remaining safe, but trapped. A theme about needing to give up their guardian in order to truly evolve and grow. Perhaps it says something specific about parenting, and letting go of your children in order to see them reach their true potential. Perhaps it's more general, along the lines of "if you love something, set it free."

But either way, the game has something to say, and I'm sorry that I didn't take the time to appreciate it before. I feel better about all the awards it's garnering now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

John Gabriel and the Ring of Gyges

Well, it's been two years since I had something worthwhile to say. Not really, but two years since I was last motivated enough to post on a blog. Luckily I've recently been re-motivated.

So without further ado:

This article on Destructoid got me thinking. It's an interesting question, no doubt. Are people on Xbox Live jerks because gamers are jerks, or because people are jerks? The conclusion the article comes to is that any people, given anonymity, will act like jerks. Of course, I already knew that from Professor John Gabriel.

But the conclusion reminded me of Plato. Specifically, the allegory of the Ring of Gyges. Basically, a shepherd finds a magical ring that makes him invisible, much like Frodo. He uses it to get himself sex and power. Plato thinks this means that most people, given the opportunity to avoid social sanction, would act like jerks.

It's interesting that we can put Plato's theory (or at least, the theory he sticks into the mouths of his characters) into test in such an immediately applicable way. It turns out that not everyone is a jerk. But plenty of people are, when there's no social sanction for their actions.

So, the solution (to my mind) is obvious. Make the social sanctions more stringent. The reputation feature is a great idea - why isn't that working? Make it really easy to find the person who last spoke and sanction them, and give it a reason.

In more general terms, maybe the solution to Internet anonymity is a universal reputation system - something like Doctorow's Wuffie?