Malik  (10/22/04)

Another slow week is upon us geeks.  At least in terms of real news.  Yeah, HL2 has a release date, but I don't give a shit about release dates when I'm wanting to bitch about things.  Luckily for me, a certain special event came along this week by the name of "Serious Game Summit".  I doubt I have to even start with explaining that something is wrong when a conference can have this dumb of a theme...but I will elaborate.  I'm Malik, and this is me world, biz-natch!

Games That Are Actually Meant to Not Be Fun 

There have been many styles and genres of games over the ages since video games first became a reality. There have been plenty of games that weren't fun but were designed to be so...I mean a good deal of eye-candy based games fit this bill. However, the idea of making a game intentionally to not be fun seems to defeat the purpose of what a "game" is. 

On, they recently covered some of the less detailed points of a recent "Serious Games Summit" that look at the issues of how games can be used to enhance medical care, how games can alter and affect behavior, and how games can be used as training. This is all well and good, in one perspective. This would be the perspective that would see how the Americas Army games came into existence; originally this game, along with such games as Full Spectrum Warrior, was originally based off of a tactical combat simulator for the US military. There are a lot of good games that were originally designed to be simulators and tools to help education and training of both low level students and specialized professionals (such as specially trained soldiers and doctors). 

However, while it's good to have a summit or conference or whatever on the designs and growth of this sector of electronics, I have a problem with this being called a Serious "Games" Summit. My problem is that these are devices (such as a blood sugar measuring device that can be added to a GBA for kids with diabetes) and pieces of software that are not designed to be entertaining or fun in the least. A game, by definition, is something that exists to be a source of entertainment and fun. It's a simple definition. 

I think advancing technology to make it more available for the general populace is a great concept. I mean if a kid is not likely to remember to carry a glucose measuring device with them, but may have a GBA on hand at all times, then give him an add-on for his GBA and let the kid remain healthy. I know that if I had to measure my blood glucose on a regular basis, I'd find it far easier to remember to bring along a GBA rather than a normal glucose monitoring device...I mean I'm a geek and geeks have certain habits, like bringing games with them wherever they can. Plus, having better simulators that can be ran on common PCs is a great concept since it will allow more specialized training to a wider number of people who wouldn't normally have access to training centers. 

However, to call these games is something that can only cause further problems with the poorly defined geek genre of gaming. It's not that we geeks have problems defining what a game is, since we live for them. However, it's the more "serious" side of the world, like those who never touch electronics beyond their PC to check email and a PDA for scheduling, that will only further misunderstand our chosen passion. I mean if one was to look at the games news section at (a "serious" news site) versus the same news story at a site like Gamespot or IGN (two more "geek" friendly of news sites), you would not have to try hard to see the obvious oversights at These come down to how gaming is not understood by many people who do not take part in it. 

To the serious minded individual, a game player is someone who is usually isolated and has a routine of just sitting on a couch by themselves with a TV inches from their face plotting the next assault they can make in the form of their beloved violent games. While the reality of things is that geeks can be quite social (how else could one get so much fun from something like Smash Bros, Halo, or a Mario Party style of game), or even quite physically active (DDR people always earn my respect for having so much stamina to keep dancing for 10 or more songs in a row). Our path in life is usually stigmatized and is a more or less taboo subject in an average workplace (I know I've gotten some weird stares from my science co-workers when I said I was taking next week off of work to be devoted to GTA:SA without concern of my day job..."Where are you going for your vacation?", "To EB to get GTA:SA, and then on my couch...and maybe to a friend's place for some Smash"...I wont even dare to mention the "devil worship" I know as "D&D"), and to further blur the definition is only going to further add problems. 

While attaching something so serious, like glucose monitoring or medical training, to our beloved gaming can help to open some peoples' minds to the fact that gaming is not the source of moral decay that a vast number of people seem to see it as, it will only further complicate the issue. Instead of assuming all people are slackers if they play games, it will make it more aparent (in these peoples' eyes) that there "good" and "evil" gamers...the people who only "play games" to better themselves and take care of their health, and the "evil gamers" who find entertainment from games. 

Plus, on top of this Serious "Games" Summit tackling such exciting games as the monitor your glucose game, they are also looking at issues like how behavior can be altered by gaming, team building with games, and how gaming can effect the classroom. Besides the team building part (which is actually fun and easy to do with very un-serious games, like Halo), these subjects should have nothing to do with "gaming". For example, the idea of how games effect behavior not only belongs more in a psychology summit, but it is also a discussion that has been looked at many times. In these many investigations, it has been seen that either you can look at actual research or you can bullshit the entire subject. If you look at the research that has actual academically approved research methods, gaming causes no problems that can be clearly defined or classified. However, if you ignore the actual research and look at the crazy psychos who will shoot up a classroom or whatever, then there is evidence that some of these people have enjoyed video, the connection is obvious right? The games cause the problems (obvious sarcasm there, on my behalf). It's not like crazy people can actually find fun in something that's designed to be fun, like video games. 


I just think that certain things have definitions for a reason. For example, a game is a source of entertainment that is designed to be fun. You can add to it and try to make a fun game educational, but the basis of a game being fun is still at the core of the matter. To blur definitions will only cause further misconceptions by the vocal majority of people who do not play (nor ever have played) games, but have the influence to mess up the geek world (like law makers who have their heads so far up their asses that any conclusion is automatically the one of "games make people crazy psychopathic killing machines"). 

Also, just thinking of history, when did a simulator become a "game"? Most of these serious training modules are actually simulators. While these sims can be quite fun and entertaining, they were not designed for fun, but rather to be a serious educational tool. So, like how games can be educational, things not designed to be fun can turn out to be fun. 

Anyway, my deep down point is that stigmas need to end, and the only way for this to be done is for the uneducated people to not be educated incorrectly. It takes some effort to learn and investigate issues that are foreign to a person, but it makes you far less of a ignorant hypocritical ass than just jumping to a baseless conclusion. The first step is too not blur conceptions in peoples' minds by calling a glucose monitoring system a game just because it plugs into the game oriented computer known as the GBA.

A Bad Game With a Good Feature...Why Is This So Rare? 

I was looking at the other day and saw more details had come up about Tales of Eternia Online. For those who don't know about this project, I'll give a quick re-cap. 

Namco, the company behind such games as the Tales series, is planning to create their first MMORPG. It will be based off of the PS1 classic Tales of Eternia (the game that was released in the US as Tales of Destiny 2). The Tales games (until Tales of Symphonia, the latest release) have been developed around a 2D combat engine that involves action based battles. Basically, it's a side view combat in which you are more focused on button mashing and action than on strategy and planning your attacks. At least this would make it more ideal for an MMO since there is no need to alter the combat engine to be ready for real-time combat. The original ToE game consisted of a very anime inspired (cutesy) world that consisted of two separate worlds. In the original game, you played a party of four characters who were on a mission to save the two worlds from certain destruction by forming an alliance with the elemental spirits (fire, wind, know the deal). 

So, after reading a bit more about the game this week, I saw a line that amazed me; 

And since Internet cafes are widespread in Asia, the game is being designed to run on the average PC that can be found in an Asian internet cafe. 

A PC game that is not being designed to go beyond the common performance abilities of an average PC?!?! This is almost unheard of. While this game is still in development, and it will be yet another MMORPG that's being crammed down the system that is already flooded with too many MMOs to survive, it is nice to see that someone is actually being realistic about their expectations for their target audience. 

Unfortunately, not all PC games can follow this recipe (not the MMO part...the part about making the game work on an average computer). While it's nice to see on game that is looking realistically at what systems should be able to handle it, I'm left with the question of why more developers don't try a similar approach. Considering how each new release for the PC always pushes the envelope one step further, it leaves me, as a console favoring geek, wondering why the gamers don't revolt already. It would make more sense, to me at least, if this type of developing behavior caused people to be disillusioned with PC games. I personally only buy a few PC games a year, at the most. Part of the reason is that console style RPGs are my life, but also a good part of it is because I simply cannot afford a new PC game. When I got Never Winter Nights several years ago, for example, I couldn't afford the game. So, I got it as a belated birthday gift. However, I ended up going in debt to play the game since I had it sitting on my computer desk next to a PC that was lacking the memory and video card to handle it. There's also CoH, which was too much for my video card to handle. In fact, I think, more than anything else, that the video card makers are the ones who stand to make the most off of a new PC game. 

It would be ban enough if I only had to upgrade my video card or memory once a year (which is still coming out to be more expensive than buying a new current generation console each year), but with how technology is expanding, even this is not enough. To keep up to date on the latest PC games, depending on the year and exactly what level your technology is at in your machine, it could come down to upgrading the same components twice in a single year. Also, when you throw in the fact that many of these components are now facing shorter life spans (not their usefulness, but the actual length of time before they crap out and stop working...which is becoming shorter and shorter with each new generation of components), you can easily blow $500 to $1000 on PC parts in a year just to play a couple $50 games. Maybe I'm the only one who can see it, but this doesn't make any sense from a logic standpoint. 

One can always argue that upgrades are needed because the games are so revolutionary, but in reality, this is not the case. A game like Doom 3, which would require a massive upgrade for and average PC owner to play, is not revolutionary in the least. It's the same general game play we've seen a thousand times before, but with a slightly different weapon set (mostly the same weapons, but with the Soul Cube, I should say), and a different environment. At heart, it's, if anything, less than what we should be expecting, especially after the thousand years it was in development. I mean, for the cost of a massive upgrade and $55, you can have the same general game as the Unreal or Quake franchises have brought us time after time, but with no built-in co-op play. Yipee? 


The solution is seen with what Namco said about ToEO. Games need to be developed for a high end, but common, PC build. More times than not, a developer decides to push the envelope to give us slightly better particle effects, more realistic surfaces, or just one more creature on the screen at a time, just to get a rush of sorts from the effort of programming the game. This is fine for the developers, who should feel joy in their work, but it's a rather poor business practice. However, just like how the MMORPG market is overly crowded and should, by any logic, die off already, this practice will not end. For some reason, the average PC gamer is more willing to part with their money than just about any other type of person (including non-gamers). It's almost as bad as an addiction to gambling, in the end, since these components that set back the gamer $500 today will be worth nothing in another 6-12 months. 

So, beyond what Namco has done, in terms of making the game slightly lower technologically (and thus easier for a PC to run), the only real solution is for PC games to get fed up with blowing their money, and thus getting the attention of the developers. 

Either that, or a better solution would be for me to continue to get about 10 times as many games (console games) a year as my PC loving friends, have more fun, and still be able to get a return for my investment a year later when I trade in a bad game for some cash, and not end up with a closet filled with obsolete boards, chips, and cards.

More Serious Games Summit... 

As stated on;

"You can make a game out of anything," said Dunnigan, "a spreadsheet can be a game." 

Said Jim Dunnigan, the keynote speaker at the Serious Games Summit. I'll let you all think about that for a second, while I do some work on a spreadsheet for my day job...keep thinking...keep thinking...huh? Sorry, I was punching in some numbers on Excel for my day job and got so caught up in the FUN of it all that I forgot what the hell I was doing. I mean who needs to write a column, play some Shadow Hearts 2, do a little Halo, or whatever when you can have Microsoft Office. It's like 5 or so games in one! Is it even legal to have this much fun? Also, all of these games are so non-linear and open-ended with no damned random battles, and the visuals are a little simple, but they are so vivid and exciting. I mean my main character, who keeps pooping out letter shaped symbols is just blinking away, full of life!!! 

Ok. I think I got that out of my system. I hope. Like I said before, a game is supposed to be fun. Plain and simple, the definition of a game is entertainment and enjoyment. However, this line is obviously nothing but a blur in the minds of people who buy into the crap that is the "Serious Games Summit"...ok, I should say that most of it is crap, but something like America's Army is fun and has a serious purpose, so it's about the only damned thing that can be called a serious game (that and other things of the same general type, like Full Spectrum Warrior). 

Just because something resembles a game in terms of what platform said software runs on, or if it uses an engine that somehow resembles a FPS, does not in the least bit make it a game. In fact, it makes it a piece of freaking software! That's it. It's like how I can type for a damned year and call it a book, but if I just keep typing the letter L over and over, it's just a damned waste of time and, if it was to be published, a waste of paper. 

When I was in school, we had some learning games, such as everyone's favorite; Oregon Trail. That was a learning game because I think we learned something (I learned to never ford a damned river unless I wanted to watch all of my supplies and my family get washed away, leaving me with a wagon with no spare wheels...then my wheel breaks...then I die), and it was fun as hell...especially for the lucky SOB who gets to hunt. However, at the same time, we had some classes that taught us how to use spreadsheets...let me tell you, while OT was not the most exciting of games, it did offer fun. I never saw a damned game in the spreadsheets, no matter how the teacher tried to make learning fun. 

A game is simple and clear-cut in definition, yet this idea of calling everything a game does serve a purpose. It helps the developers get one of two things. Either they can get their resumes out to game studios and say that have actual game programming experience, in order to get out of the hellish world of "Serious Games", or it lets them try to pawn their game off on to a bigger audience..."You liked America's Army, right? It's a serious game. Well, we have a serious game, so you should buy this pile of's called Excel Raiders!". 


How to put this simply without being too vulgar? I know. People need to accept what they do for a living and people need to stop trying to deceive and lie to get their products noticed. If a "serious game" is actually fun and not just something that runs off of a console or a FPS engine, then call it a game. But if it's not fun, then don't call it a damned game, and leave the world of "games" to those who freakin' make and buy games. 

Now, to be less polite; F^%# OFF! 


Well, there really wasn't much going on this week, and that always makes it hard to bitch about anything. However, with that Serious Games Summit, I feel like a life-preserver was tossed my way. I'm still holding out hope for real news to be brought back to gaming, but as I said the other day, it's not likely until this season is over with. So, in the mean time, I'll have to pick and choose carefully as the tiny, but retarded, news comes forward of things like "games that are not supposed to be fun"...yup, that makes sense, and I messed up with since it's actually supposed to be an Internet site that 100% offline (sarcasm is fun!). Anyway, I'm going to go and play some Excel, and then maybe see if I can finish Word (the story is so open-ended that I can't tell if I'm almost done, or if the current boss is just a minor follower of the ultimate evil)...I might even sneak in a little outlook for a more fast paced gaming style.  Anyway,  feel free to write me or put it on the forums, if you think you've got something to add.