Category Archives: Essays

When gaming is a literal pain

It’s a good thing I don’t work in an office where I need to type all day. Oh, wait.

I have always been clumsy. I often joke that I was born without a sense of self-preservation. My injuries are the jokes of legends and are best told at the pub over a few drinks. But over the last few years, I’ve found that my mobility had gotten worse. I chalked it up to years of netball on hard-surfaced courts (parents: don’t let your kids do it – no matter how much they beg), and years of evolution trying to remove me from the gene pool in the most amusing way possible.

And then my memory started to go and I would forget words and forget what I was saying in the middle of a sentence, and I would get pain for no reason at all, and it all seemed to start out of nowhere and go on forever. 

All this fed into my depression and anxiety, which fed this random thing happening to my body, which fed the depression and anxiety – it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction. But, we finally got a diagnosis – old mate Fibromyalgia. I didn’t realise this meant having to reassess how I entertain myself.

Video games aren’t just an important part of my career, they’re also an important part of my self-care. When I’m trying to recuperate after a tough mental health spell or escape the responsibility of being an adult for an hour or two, video games provide a vital portal for me to piece myself back together.

It recently dawned on me that this is going to be infinitely more difficult as my body goes through the ups and downs of fibro.

The fun thing about fibro is that it’s so random from patient to patient. The week I started writing this for example – I’ve had left wrist issues for no particular reason. This has made holding anything with my left hand really painful, including game controllers. Playing the PS4 with my partner was hard because I could only do short bursts before I had to have a rest. While he understands and is sympathetic, it’s frustrating for me and probably for him. I want to spend quality downtime with my fiance without having to have a rest every 20 minutes. 

Not to say there aren’t some amazing ways for people with restrictions to get more involved with video games.  I got to unbox an XAC (Xbox Adaptive Controller) while working at Trade Media. The XAC is one of the coolest pieces of technology in gaming, but not really fit for my purposes. I’m also a really big PC gamer and using WASD with my left hand has been hurting my wrist. 

So I went through my Steam list and looked at games I can play with just my mouse, or with my Xbox controller because happily, my Xbox controller hurts my wrists less than the PS4 controller. Probably because it’s a larger controller and feels better in my hands (that’s what she said?)

This means I’m rekindling my love with real-time and turn-based strategy games. Hello, Age of Empires. How are you, Civilisation? Welcome back, World of Goo. They’re also great if I haven’t been able to get into work, or do much work from home because of fibro fog – being able to engage my brain with games that require strategy give me a kickstart to get back into what I need to do.

Having this diagnosis means adjusting the way I approach certain tasks and taking better care of myself. I never thought it would mean that I had to adjust my approach to gaming. Something as natural as holding a controller, or using a keyboard and mouse is proving to be more difficult when I’m having a pain flare-up. I’m turning it into an opportunity to gamify my treatment – I’m levelling up my skill tree. The biggest thing I’m learning about this new diagnosis is that my body just works in different ways now. Not better, or worse – just different.

If you liked this piece, and think I should be writing more – think about supporting my Ko-Fi. Your support means I can keep running the website, buy material to review, and generally keep things going.

Hands-on: ASUS ROG GL552 (Sponsored)

When you think of gaming laptops, a lot of people automatically think about Razer or the previous champion, Alienware. What not a lot of people understand is that ASUS also create some of the most powerful gear for gamers today. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to review the ASUS ROG G550J laptop and this year I’ve been able to get my hands on the ASUS ROG GL552; an equally impressive beast.

“Look, I know you’re trying to work but…” – My cat, Ivy.

ASUS sent this laptop for review purposes. All of the opinions in this review are true at the time of publishing.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s get into the fun.

ASUS Republic of Gamers laptops are designed for your most hardcore LAN sessions and to look like you’ll beat the opposition. Before you even open the laptop, you’re faced with a lid that’s inspired by a F-22 Stealth Fighter Jet and I can definitely it in the sharp edges and brushed steel detailing on the front. The ASUS ROG “guitar pick”, as I like to call it, sits proudly among the simple design.

Once you open the laptop up, you’re greeted with a black and red full-sized alphanumeric keyboard and intricate detailing above the function keys. The keyboard is also backlit with red LEDs and the WASD keys are highlighted red, too. It’s also fantastic to use. Laptop keyboards can be a little funny when it comes to using them on a regular basis. While I’m used to typing on laptop keyboards and free-standing keyboards, using the keyboard on the GL552 wasn’t like using a new keyboard; everything feeling like it’s one inch to the left. While the very two-tone palette might be a little much for me, the keyboard makes up for it. Most of this review was written using the laptop, so I’ve got a good handle on how it goes with long sessions of writing.

The ROG “Guitar Pick”

When you strip the GL552 down, it’s clear this is a laptop meant for some serious gaming sessions. Armed with a Intel® Core™ i7 6700HQ Processor, NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960M with GDDR5 VRAM graphics card and 8GB of DDR4 RAM (with the option to expand up to a whopping 32GB), ASUS have given this laptop everything it needs to be functional for years to come. And with easy access to the HDD and RAM stations, becoming obsolete isn’t an issue with the device since you’re able to pull it apart and install more memory or space with ease. Although with a 1TB HDD and a 256GB SSD as standard, you’re pretty good with space straight out of the box.

While playing a variety of games on the laptop (Borderlands 2, The Witcher 2, Portal 2, The Sims 4), it handled what I threw at it in its stride. The games auto-detected all settings and the laptop was happy to play then in high or ultra-high spec. I had some minor framerate issues in Borderlands 2 and The Witcher 2, but with some minor tweaking in the settings, it was  pretty easily fixed. What was a little unimpressive was the on-board GPU crashing. This happened two or three times while I was using the laptop as an everyday carry. The GL552 recovered well from the crashes, but it was a little worrying while I was writing or browsing the internet.

Sexy, sexy keyboard

Like I mentioned, I used this laptop like an everyday carry. During the day, it replaced my standard laptop so that I could get an idea of how the GL552 handled. It’s bigger than what I’m used to, boasting a 15.6” screen (I use a 13” laptop normally.) The screen makes watching Netflix or YouTube great; but since it’s an LCD screen, you do need to adjust it a little to make sure that you don’t get the weird viewing angle. It also did a funny thing where it shifted into a blue tint when viewing certain parts of a website. It wasn’t every website and it seemed to only happen when I was viewing a GIF or small video, but it was weird.

The sound while watching video or gaming is where I was disappointed. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just… underwhelming. It sounded a little tinny in places and while I was playing high-action games like Borderlands, it didn’t quite have the kick to it like I was hoping. It was easier to plug my headphones in and keep going.

When it comes down to it, this laptop is actually quite decent. A lot of PC gamers discount gaming laptops as expensive and limiting. ASUS have tried to address some of those complaints with the ability for users to upgrade their HDDs and RAM in the future. The ASUS ROG GL552 is stylish (but maybe not to everyone’s tastes) and carries a lot of potential under the hood. While I have some minor complaints about the sound and on-board GPU, overall, this laptop was a joy to use. It’s not so large that you couldn’t use it daily or take it anywhere, but it’s not so small that you lose details in games or videos to size.

The ASUS ROG GL552 is now available at Harvey Norman, Dick Smith and JB Hi-Fi, starting from $2,099 – $2,199 depending on your specifications.

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The Morality of GTA: V (Or Why I Need Therapy)

(Originally published on Player Attack)

One of the biggest tragedies of Grand Theft Auto V is in how little its moralities are spoken on. The characters are reprobates, the actions amoral in the best case and utterly reprehensible in the worst.

They are monsters of the most depraved calibre, and with a single document, I wondered if I shouldn’t be among them.

At the end of Grand Theft Auto 5, you’re presented with a psychoanalysis of your playthrough by the in-game therapist Dr. Isiah Friedlander. The doctor’s observations are harsh, brutal, and entirely honest. Mine read as follows:

– Fascinating. Rarely have I encountered someone so deluded.

– Good at compromise. Not so good at willpower.

– Terrifying egomaniac.

– Irresponsible with money and with rest of life.

– Likes to show off around women.

– Morally conservative about some things – which is weird.

– Not good on giving time to others.

– Keen to be a part of the American dream, which is odd.

– Psychopath or sociopath? Both.

– Magpie who will steal whatever takes their fancy, time and time again.

– Ignores anything spiritual.

– Lazy.

– Friendly, in a way.

– Easily distracted.

– A real mess.

 

I didn’t understand what any of this meant until I went back and thought about it. Some of the points are fairly obvious: I stole anything that wasn’t nailed down (but I do that in Skyrim, too). I have to admit I avoided any physical activities. Triathlons, swimming, biking, and anything explicitly physical was something of a bane. My money was better spent on vices, like clothing, cars, and comforts.

It is easy to get wrapped up in it all. Having the money to lead a lavish life of fast cars, cheap booze, and easy comforts make work infinitely less appealing. Anything that required dedicated effort was, by default, infinitely less attractive. The best things in life should be easy, or fulfilling, and fun.

With Benjamin’s exploding from my pockets, I never needed to do anything other than exactly what I wanted. And no one wants to work, do they? Is it really so wrong to live the American dream, to be distracted, messy, and dedicated to living the high life without the high responsibilities?

Dr. Friedlander seemed to think so.

What could x have meant, though? Other points are less obvious, and I still haven’t shed much light on the subject. More research is required, but to what ends. What would exploring Dr. Friedlander’s possibilities mean making me do?

Grand Theft Auto 5 has an unconscious morality system. While I can choose certain things to differ the ending, other things aren’t in my control. My actions are taken note of by Friedlander and judgements are made. I’m not sure whether to be offended by Friedlander’s assumptions or impressed by Rockstar’s new take on the traditional morality system; if it can even be called that.

You don’t really have a sense of right or wrong in Grand Theft Auto 5. As a player, you know that behaving the way you’re encouraged to in-game would be considered wrong, but within the context of the game world, it’s entirely okay. Other games like Mass Effect give you a variety of choices based on your characters morality, but in Grand Theft Auto 5, it’s an afterthought.

My biggest issue with the traditional morality system (in games like the original BioShock or by some extension, the Mass Effect Trilogy) is that you’ve really only got three options: Teachers Pet, Boring or Pure Evil. There isn’t enough depth into how your choices changed the game world or your character.

The analysis by Friedlander gives a more in-depth look at how you played. I’m well aware that Rockstar probably has a pool of lines to pick from that depend on what choice you make, but it’s a nice change from “Oh, you harvested all the little girls? I bet you kick kittens, too.” Oh, come on game!

I harvested like two little girls. ”In the original BioShock, if you harvest one too many girls, it tips the scale from good to evil quite quickly, implying your choices have dire consequences. While in BioShock: Infinite (the third instalment) of the game, any choices you make have no impact on the outcome, implying that your destiny is chosen for you no matter what.

The mini analysis post-game definitely made me sit up and think about how I played Grand Theft Auto 5 and it’s making me rethink the way I play through now. Did I ever question what the game was making me before I read the report? Should I have? I still murder indiscriminately, but there’s some forethought going into it. I’m constantly aware that the in-game shrink is making notes and silently judging me and I wonder if I’m really a sociopath, a psychopath or both?

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2014 Gift Guide!

beth_christmas_2007_topper

It’s that time of year again! With Christmas on the horizon, the difficult task of buying gifts becomes obvious. Being the well-skilled shopper that I am, I find buying gifts for my game-orientated friends the worst. It’s like buying shoes for someone without knowing their size.

So in the spirit of the up-coming season, I give you my guide to buying the perfect gamer gift.

Gift cards are the easiest solution for the picky gamer or someone you don’t know very well. Your friend can pick what they want without the risk of buying something said gamer already has or doesn’t want.

Games are a great gift if you know what your friend plays. Steam has a ‘wish list’ system that is a fantastic indicator. Games are ranked in the order that your friend wants them and they show up-to-date prices. If you’re buying a game for the console user, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network Store and the Wii store offer a range of games that be purchased using a credit card or a point-system.

As far as the consoles go, Xbox One and PS4 bundles are a great choice. EB Games have Xbox One without Kinect + 6 game bundles going for $529, Xbox One with Kinect + 7 games for $599 and their PS4 bundles are just as good. Several different game bundles with the black or white PS4 console available for $598. Other retailers like Big W or JB Hi-Fi will have similar bundles available, so shop around and see what you can get.

Nintendo released brand new 3DS consoles this year and they’re going for $250, gifted along with the new Pokemon Alpha Sapphire or Omega Ruby, Super Smash Bros or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you’re going to make any gamer happy.

Big name AAA titles like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4 have been reviewing well. If your gamer hasn’t picked up one of the later year release titles, they should definitely be something to check out.

If your gamer doesn’t play video games, try to find your local tabletop games shop. The staff are generally very helpful and friendly. Check out the Youtube series Tabletop, hosted by Wil Wheaton, for some fun board game ideas. Tabletop has given my friends and I some great games to play, including Gloom, Zombie Dice and the friendship-ruining card game Munchkin. If your tabletop gamer like RPG-style games, buying the miniatures they want or a set of really cool dice will get you some quality brownie points.

If your nerd has a game in mind, but it hasn’t been released, offer to buy the pre-order for them. Some pre-orders are quite cheap and you still get some decent loot with it. If they already have a pre-order organised but haven’t paid it off yet, offer to pay the rest off. Some collector’s editions can be upwards of $150 price wise, so buying it or paying it off is always a good idea and who doesn’t want a shiny new figurine for Christmas?

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STOP BEING ELITISTS YOU GUYS

<rant>1ce

There are a lot of problems in video games at the moment, and the one I’m super sick of (other than everything else) is this whole “Master Race” PC gaming bullshit.

Today, my friend linked me this Imgur post where OP essentially calls console gaming a niche market and that it’s ruining modern day gaming using screenshots from the currently unreleased Star Citizen and ArmA 3 games. He also applauds Cloud Imperium and Bohemia Interactive for not releasing the games on console because it would “ruin our games for PC gamers.”

What I’m getting from this is that he’s angry that there are really shitty PC ports of games and that it’s somehow the fault of people who game on consoles and NOT the fault of lazy developers.

Bad PC ports are awful, I’ve played a few in my time but I don’t blame people who enjoying playing games solely on their Xbox or PlayStation. The blame lies on developers who aren’t optimising their game for computers.

Console gaming isn’t ruining the video games industry, elitism about what platform you “correctly” play on is destroying video games. Whatever happened to playing games because you enjoy escaping into some fantasy world to avoid reality, or sitting down with your friends for a several hour long grind session? Is it too much to ask that people stop trolling others because “Hurr, you’re gaming wrong”?

Guys, let’s have a serious talk here: Play on whatever you want to play on, whether it’s on PC or on your Xbox, PlayStation, GameBoy, Wii, or whatever you play games on. If playing your favourite game gives you joy, don’t let any elitist asshole try to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. You’re doing it right because you’re enjoying video games, and that’s what’s it’s all about.

</rant>

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So you want to be a video games “journalist”?

Over the last few months, I’ve had people coming to me for advice about wanting to break into the video games industry as a reviewer or journalist. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure I’ve actually gotten into the industry yet but I’ll give you whatever advice I can give. I’ve also asked friends who work in journalism or video games about what advice they’d give people, so that’s thrown in too.

“Video Games Journalism”

Let’s be honest with each other, there aren’t that many legitimate journalists in the video games industry. Not traditional journalists, anyway. A lot of what video games journalism is these days is regurgitating media releases and reporting on rumours. Doing legitimate journalistic work is pretty hard to come by, it’s more editorial work. Not that there work isn’t out there, but it’s probably being done already. You’ll need to prove yourself.

So, the advice I’ve got:

                On writing

It sounds simple enough, but depending on where you want to get into, your writing style needs to suit that style of publication. Read previous reviews of the publication you want to write for and get a feeling of their style. Having a range of writing styles is a great thing to have in your arsenal as a writer.

Write about anything and everything, it’s the only way to improve this utmost vital skill. Find press releases and rewrite them, write fake news stories about the characters in games, write reviews on everything you’ve used, played, seen or read. Start yourself a blog and put your opinions out into the world. You’ll get a range of people looking at your stuff and they’re going to give you their honest opinion. Just remember, all criticism can be useful if you don’t get upset by it.

On video games

Understanding how video games work is probably important if you’re interested in video games. Ask developers what goes into making a game, or take a basic coding course (there are some available online) to give you a greater insight into how what goes into a game. Your passion for video games is what got you interested in this kind of writing, a deeper understanding never hurts.

On industry shows

Go to every event you can get in to. Last year at PAX Australia, I introduced myself to indie developers showing their wares and built relationships with people. A few weeks later, I got an email from one of the guys I’d met asking me to review their game. I took down business cards with my contact details (work email, mobile number, website) and they sent me a copy of their game. Going to industry events is important for networking. Sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s in your best interest to know everybody.

For stuff you can’t get to (E3, anyone?), streaming and live-tweeting are going to be your friends. Getting involved in hashtags will help you get into the conversation and gauge the reaction of your intended audience.

On the Internet

The Internet is a big, scary place and it’s full of individuals who have strong, conflicting opinions and you’re likely to meet someone who disagrees with you. And maybe, they’ll disagree with you so much they’ll call you nasty names, say horrible things about you to their friends and try to rubbish you so that you don’t get more work. It’s bound to happen. What’s important to remember is that there are people who agree with you, too.

It’s also a vital part of what you want to do. Traditional print doesn’t have much room for video game editorials or reviews (outside of video game publications), so it’s best to make yourself an online presence.

About yourself

Be honest. People will read your work under the impression that you’re being completely honest and transparent in your work. This is especially important when reporting news and writing reviews, even your editorials needs to accurately represent your opinion. If someone pays you to write something; announce it upfront. If you’ve been provided with a product; acknowledge that the product was provided by a company. If you don’t disclose everything, people will find out and you risk your reputation.

Have confidence in yourself, and your writing. If you’re not confident of what you’re writing, it’ll be reflected in your piece. This is something I struggle with time to time, but I have a good circle of support to help me realise that sometimes I write English good (yes, that was intentional.) Find people who are willing to read your work and give you feedback, it’s the only way you’ll learn.

If you’ve got the talent and the drive to be successful, you’ll be successful. People respond to people who are confident in their ability to progress and succeed. With help, I’ve written for Player Attack, been retweeted by PAX Australia and reviewed for ASUS and Walk-Thru Walls. Have the guts to ask for help and send your stuff to everyone. If they reject you, ask for feedback about what you can improve. If you’re accepted, ask what they liked about your piece. Every little bit helps.

 

Thanks to James McGrath, Lauren Grey (and her friend) and Scott Rhodie for their help with this post.

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