Keyboard Geniuses

Final Fantasy VII


Highlights from the week’s comment threads

By Matt Gerardi • January 18, 2013

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Decisions, Decisions

Game designer Charles Amis introduced us to the “Uncanny Valley Of Choice,” a place where the freedom that you thought you had in a game suddenly falls apart, and you’re disappointed by the limitations. Asinus used a great metaphor to explain this phenomenon and relate it to a personal gaming memory:

It was personally interesting to see him specifically cite Final Fantasy VII. Though I do still love the story and characters in that game, it was my first real experience of playing through a Japanese role-playing game more or less on my own. I’d watched friends play them before, but never found them to be particularly interesting in the snippets I’d seen. What was kind of remarkable on my second playthrough was how that illusion of choice and free will completely disintegrated.

When I was a kid, we used to go to this theme park at least once per year. When I was in about sixth grade, I took a flashlight onto one of the indoor rides and illuminated all of the artifice that made the ride work. The fire was obviously a colored sheet flapping with a light behind it (not that I believed it was fire, but it was very well done), side tracks became visible, the mechanics, and basically all of the strings that I always knew were there, were made completely apparent.

That’s what the second playthrough of my first JRPG was like. These lines that I had read with some emotional weight were obvious scrips. I guess my disbelief’s suspension blew out, and the shock pushed through the floor of the trunk, making for a rough, noisy ride. I still like that game, but it’s just not possible to really capture that illusion of choice in Final Fantasy VII or any other highly scripted game. I suppose if I had to pick a game to introduce me to and destroy my illusion of JRPGs, I chose pretty well.

In response, trilobiter pulled back to look at the big picture:

The plot of a real life, such as it is, is always determined by two things: the decisions you make and external forces over which you have little control. Their relative importance is a question for the ages, but everybody has surely experienced an important, life-altering event that simply happened to them, without their having planned it or been able to avoid it.

I think it’s a secret of the appeal of games that they model that aspect of life so well: They tie your hands in arbitrary ways and make you move via prescribed methods, but life does so too, in a broader sense. We like choices, because we like feeling as if we have the upper hand over life. But a scenario where we have truly absolute choice couldn’t help but feel uncanny, because it’s completely outside our experience.

Elsewhere, Alkaron brought up a lack of games that turn the spotlight on the player:

I think there’s another aspect of choice in games that is criminally underexplored: the player as accomplice in the unfolding of the game narrative. Most games frame all their big decision-making moments as having consequences only for the game world: What does it mean for this Spec Ops character to be forced into the role of executioner? However, I think the more interesting question is, what does it mean for the player to be forced into the role of executioner? I can count on one hand the games that have the balls to turn the spotlight on the person holding the controller and ask him or her, “Why are you choosing to keep playing?” If you have to choose between two evils to progress in the game, why wouldn’t you just quit?

Of course, you don’t quit because games exist to be played. If you quit, you’re not fully engaging with the work as a whole. And there’s a tension there. The designers want you to feel the agony of a tough decision—it’s part of the game. But if you’re so engaged that you sincerely feel that agony, then that means that the choice has meaning for you and not just for your character. And if the choice has meaning for you personally, doesn’t that add a moral dimension to it?

In The Year 2000
Mega Man 2

As usual, our Inventory of video game futures was fleshed out and extended in the comments. ItsTheShadsy cheekily reminded us of one particularly obnoxious game prediction:

Don’t forget Klax. It kept insisting “It is the nineties and there is time for Klax,” but there was never time for Klax.

And as pointed out by Kyle O’Reilly, there might be signs that Future No. 14 on our list, “U.S. president is a secret terrorist,” is coming true right before our eyes:

I’m not so sure No. 14 won’t come true soon. Why else would Barry Obama try and take our guns unless he was planning world domination through a series of giant Metal Gears on top of an even bigger Metal Gear that controls the internet, I think…Thanks a lot, OBAMACARE! *Fires gun into the air*

Heinous De Milo
Dead Island: Riptide promotional statuette flyer

This week, the image of a gory promotional statuette for the game Dead Island Riptide caused a stir. John Teti gave us his take on the work of art in a For Our Consideration. The comment thread that followed was full of thoughtful, insightful, and, of course, humorous takes on this atrocity and what it says about “gaming culture.” Effigy Power provided an impassioned response:

Between articles about male geeks insulting female geeks as camera-bait for wearing skimpy costumes other male geeks designed and “limbless titty torsos” (thanks, Fluka), it feels really shitty to always have to be addressed as a gamer with the qualifier of being female.

There is a good, sad reason why so many female gamers remain gender-neutral online out of fear of recrimination and lewd insults. A large part of the gaming community doesn’t appear to find this an issue and I’ve heard plenty of male gamers say that if I didn’t want the abuse, I should just not tell anyone I am a woman. For someone who has heard the same statement regarding her sexuality for almost 20 years now, this is a proposal that’s beyond demeaning and has to stop.

I am aware that gaming isn’t the only entertainment branch that behaves like a “He-Man Woman-Hater” boys’ club, but it is definitely the one that has the least issue about taking our money and then calling us a slut or attention whore for enjoying those games. It is a hard pill to swallow and even for someone with a hefty dose of egocentrism it can be overwhelming at times to the point where to me personally the word “multiplayer” for the longest time was synonymous with “abuse.”

Fluka talked about why it was things like this that drove her away from games for a spell:

I’m someone who recently came back to games, after years of not paying any attention to the industry whatsoever and giving them none of my money. I played lots of stuff when I was a kid, but as I got older I started associating “big” games with stuff that I didn’t want to be involved with. First-person shooters starring big burly dudes blowing up piñatas of alien viscera. Antigravity tit physics simulations. Marketing targeted at guys pretending to be bigger guys (or said anti-gravity tit girls) shooting other guys. A lot of it came from marketing—“Gaming culture.”

At some point, I got slowly reintroduced to gaming. I realized that I had been wrong, and some of these games were awesome. Things like Oblivion, Portal, Dragon Age. There were games, and more importantly there was a culture around those games, where it didn’t feel weird to play as a woman, or hell, as a functioning member of society. In the years since then, the games industry has gotten my fandom. More importantly, it has gotten my money.

Shit like this bust, and its defenders, brings me back to that old “gaming culture” feeling, and makes me sometimes ask myself: Why am I wasting my time with this? Game industry: why do you not want my MONEY?

HobbesMkii was ready with a pragmatic answer to that last question:

Because you’re not as easily won over by sex appeal.

Marketing generally goes after the easiest and most readily available consumer dollar. Being a luxury, entertainment already has to fight an uphill battle for your buck. It’s not something you have to pay for, like food or medical care or your abode. Consequently, it’s generally (or should be) the smallest portion of any given person’s budget and subject to frequent change from month to month. You see a fair number of gamers (including this one) who make trade-offs in their purchases. (If I pick up a game when it comes out, I have to wait until the price drops by a third on the next couple of games that are released.)

Luckily, there’s this wonderful demographic called the Male 18-34 demographic that makes more impulse buys per capita than any other demo. Because they’re men, they earn 30 cents on the dollar more than their female counterparts, they’re often single and without children, and they have more disposable income than other segments of the population. And if they’re white, well, *SPLOOSH* is what I believe the term is. That disposable income just went up again.

Elsewhere, Cornell_University provided a different take on the bloody bust:

I actually sort of like this. In the way that I sort of like [the film] Funny Games. Maybe “like” would get me on some watch lists. Appreciate? To my eyes, at least, it’s a big wet middle finger raspberry of “OH YOU LIKE SEX AND VIOLENCE? HERE YA GO FREAKS! ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” I see a lot of self-awareness in it and no small amount of self-indictment. Though if I’m misinterpreting it and it has zero amount of those things, well, someone needs to get hit with a barrel.

And Spacemonkey Mafia gave us a lovely alternate history of the piece:

I recall when Marcel Duchamp was preparing, with great fanfare, to reveal his piece Violated Woman’s Torso with Nationalist Lingerie in the 1913 Armory Exhibit of Modern Art.

When he unveiled a modest portrait of a fully clothed and non-eaten woman quietly reading a novel in the Solar, critics were outraged.

It took a hundred years, but we’ve finally achieved the aesthetic clarity long denied by that Dadaist prank.

Break Out The Cigars

Join us in congratulating Gameological regular Aurora Boreanaz on the birth of Baby Girl Boreanaz!

Baby Girl Boreanaz was born last Wednesday morning, and is doing well. Her parents are totally exhausted, but slowly getting used to catching a couple hours of sleep when we can, and it’s totally worth it when she’s sleeping in my arms, or staring up at me with one eyebrow raised.

Well, that was an exciting week. Each of these closes with a thank you, but, especially after this week’s discussions, I just want to emphasize that we appreciate how much intelligence, civility, and wit you all bring to the comments. We’ll see you all next week!

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49 Responses to “Busted”

  1. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    Klax: its actually kind of like a rhythm game minus the rhythm.

  2. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    Aww, thanks!  BG is doing well.  She enjoys watching me play Minecraft at midnight while listening to piano renditions of lullabies and classical music.  Now if only we could get her to sleep just a bit more in the morning so Mom isn’t so frazzled during the day.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      The sleep thing is tough, but you will get eight hours again soon, I promise. Well, that’s assuming you actually choose sleep, and not an hour or so of gaming after everyone else is in bed.

      • Limeade Youth says:

        With 4 LimeKids, I heartily endorse this stratagem. Or maybe it’s the lack of sleep talking.

      • Chum Joely says:

        Let’s be honest: You may or may not get eight hours again soon. (Assuming you ever did before; cue ancient “will I be able to play the piano?” joke.) It depends on your and your baby-mama’s sleep patterns, and their genetic and behavioral influence on the kid.

        For me and Mrs. Joely, both of our kids got the combined force of their parents’ “late to bed” tendencies, plus my personal “early to rise” habits. It has continued to be a challenge.

        If that’s your case, learn to take turns sleeping. Develop a system. And remember it’s not your fault if the kid doesn’t sleep (even after your best attempt at “crying out” or whatever else you may try).

        But I hope you get lucky  8^)

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          We’ve been trying the alternating sleep schedule, but if BG ends up waking up for longer than usual, one of us misses out on sleep.  So last night we just both went to sleep at the same time and both woke up when BG did to eat, and did okay.  Out of three feedings, she went right back to sleep after two, and about 30 minutes after the third.

          So for the first morning in two weeks, we both feel well rested!

          And before I totally turn TGS into BabyCenter…I’m playing Episode Four of The Walking Dead. I’m very pleased that Clem is getting more self-sufficient, especially knowing that eventually I won’t be around to take care of her any more.

        • Chum Joely says:

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus Episode 4 was a real turning point for me in Walking Dead.  Clem makes a certain discovery somewhere past the halfway point of that episode, and when she found “it”, I suddenly found myself almost physically jumping to my feet in excitement– because of what it meant for our survival, but also as an indicator of her doing big things by herself. That’s when I realized how thoroughly the series had got its emotional hooks into me.

  3. duwease says:

    I had nearly forgotten about Klax.  Which is hard, because they spent about 15 years in a dedicated push to release it on every single platform in human existence.  What other game can say it was on the Xbox, the ZX Spectrum, *and* the Atari Lynx?

  4. stakkalee says:

    One thing you can say about Deep Silver’s tasteless promo item, some good did come out of it; namely John Teti’s brutal takedown of it, and the ensuing conversation in the comments, which proves once again why GS is such a great site.
    The most-commented article this week was Museum Piece which has 204 comments, well ahead of the WAYPTW thread.  The top 5 most-liked (non-KG) comments this week were:
    1) @Citric:disqus gets 39 likes trying to cheer someone up.
    2) @evanwaters:disqus gets 23 likes urging some restraint.
    3) @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus gets 21 likes by putting his fine arts degree to use.  And they told you it was a useless degree!
    3) @caspiancomic:disqus breaks the combo and gets 21 likes on this Street Fighter joke.
    5) Back to the Museum article, @Sandwichands:disqus gets 16 likes for this scholarly aspiration.
    And now the Keyboard Geniuses.  @Alkaron:disqus is joining our merry band, so come one down and pick up your plaid jacket!  Plus, we have a lot of members getting their second mention: @trilobiter:disqus, @ItsTheShadsy:disqus, @Cornell_University:disqus, Kyle O’Reilly (@twitter-88752419:disqus), and @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus, who unlocked the ultimate acheivement this week.  Come on down and get your studs folks!
    @The_Asinus:disqus is back for a third time, @Fluka:disqus is getting her sixth mention, @HobbesMkii:disqus gets to 15, @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus is at 17, and @Effigy_Power:disqus closes in on @Paraclete_Pizza:disqus, getting to 18!  One more mention and she’ll be tied!  Plus, a special shout-out to both Eff and SM, who each have over 100 likes on their total KG comments; @Effigy_Power:disqus is at 130, and @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus is at 158 likes!  His Duchamp quote broke all the records, getting a staggering 62 likes!  And it’s still going up!  Well done everyone!

    Now, Linkdump: Conspicuous Consumption Edition!  Do you have $20,000 lying around?  Then why not buy this custom arcade cabinet with over 50,000 games preloaded.  Not conspicuous enough?  Then why not have a custom Halo4 Warthog built?  That’s it for this week folks.  Enjoy your gaming, and remember to keep it scintillating!

  5. William Burr says:

    How did Funny Games make a cameo here, but in completely the wrong spot? It should have popped in its head after ” I can count on one hand the games that have the balls to turn the spotlight on the person holding the controller and ask him or her, “Why are you choosing to keep playing?” If you have to choose between two evils to progress in the game, why wouldn’t you just quit?”

    Also, on:  “Luckily, there’s this wonderful demographic called the Male 18-34 demographic that makes more impulse buys per capita than any other demo.”

    Were this true, we would have no music industry.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      “Were this true, we would have no music industry.”

      You’re going to have to explain that a bit more thoroughly.

      • Girard says:

        Maybe he means that the pop music industry has historically done more to court both teen girls and boys who keep the music industry alive with their impulsive purchases of various flash-in-the-pan teen pop groups? (This seems to ignore the fact [citation needed, I know] that female performers, even those with a largely female audience, are expected to court the male gaze in their attire/presentation/etc. moreso than male pop artists.)
        I’m trying my hardest to make sense of the statement, and even if the above is what he means, I don’t exactly know how it refutes the prior argument or maps clearly onto the discussion of video games or pop-culture in general.I suppose it might show how the game industry doesn’t have to suddenly start producing challenging, mature work that its infrastructure doesn’t lend itself to in order to drag itself out of the stone age. The dumb-as-dirt pop music machine recognizes the benefit of pandering to women as well as to men. Then again, as noted above, its presentation of gender is hardly laudable.

        I guess I have no idea what he means. But I sure used a hell of a lot of words to say that!

        • William Burr says:

          Mostly I wanted to use few words and provoke someone into recognizing the teen market, which you did. The teen market engages in way more “impulse buying” than males 18-34, and therefore sinks the quoted post.
          Socratic ftw.

    • Chum Joely says:

      Effigy’s right, I don’t see what you’re going for with that comment. Bait: Bitten.

      • William Burr says:

        I was just pointing out that that claim I quoted is completely unsubstantiated.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          Fair enough, but you countered with a claim that is just as unsubstantiated or at least you offer no sources or references for your case. So I am still not entirely sure what you mean.

        • Girard says:

          “Were this true, we would have no music industry.”

          Were this true, the turkey would still be our national bird.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Unsubstantiated? Counter-intuitive? Do a Google (or, if you have it, Lexis Nexus) search for “18-34+Male+demographic.” You get a results list miles long of marketers talking about how to court it and it’s role as a perceived spending-heavy target that’s easily swayed by advertising gimmicks.

          Moreover, the music industry has long succumbed to that same demo. For example, gangsta rap is consumed heavily by white teenagers and college-age kids, leading to a number of rappers whose songs are near cartoonish representations of inner-city urban life (if it was a good day because Ice Cube didn’t need an AK, he probably had a lot more good days than bad). Other genres have been just as driven.

          If you went into the thread where I posted my comment (which is heavily edited from its original format), you could also see that I was particularly down on videogames for not recognizing that there are other sectors in the market (and, particularly, that the market is beginning to trend away from 18-34 year old men). All media make efforts to court other demographics. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a favorite. Television, for instance, has long favored the 18-34 male demographic because advertisers pay more for it.

          I’m not sure how it would be counter-intuitive. What is your intuition telling you about marketing trends?

        • William Burr says:

          Reply is to HobbesMkii, although the forum architecture won’t let me put it there:

          You are suffering from what I like to call “Windy Assertion.” It reminds me of Liam Neeson’s character in The Grey, walking around, saying things about wolves like “Wolves are the only animals that seek revenge.” Sure, you can say that, and maybe it even sounds good, but that doesn’t make it a fact. A hypothetical Google/LN search is not data. “18-34+Male+demographic” “yields many results. So does “12-16+male+demographic.” So does “24-44+male+demographic.” So does “30-60+african+american+demographic.” So does “wet+hot+teens,” etc. Miles-long results have nothing to do with importance or relevance. 

          Here’s what’s wrong with your assertion that 18-34 males have the most disposable income. You’ve included 18-22, who are either starting secondary education and therefore un- or under-employed, or tend to be in starter jobs that require no higher learning. You’ve included 22-30, who are feeling the pressure of rent, utilities, education loans, and possibly that of starting families. You’ve targeted a large demographic that includes neither the discretionary spending that comes of youth with family purse-strings, nor the financial stability that comes later, from having equity. You’ve actually identified a group with the least “spare” money as having the most.

          Here’s why it matters: Your view of the gaming industry is then centered on the consumers, or the perceived market. That 18-34 male demographic is not known for excessive impulse spending or for greater disposable income. But think for a second who it *does* resemble…the industry. A more probable answer as to why the gaming market has been heavily weighted toward males, young-adult to adult, is because the producers, from design to coding, have predominantly been that demographic, making games for people that they presume resemble themselves. A company such as Sierra, comprised largely of families and having many women directly involved with the creation of their games, sold products quite different from those of, say, Id Software.

          But these are still questions, really, which are the opposite of assertions.