Archive for the ‘Games’ Category


Good and Evil In The Garden of Eden (Creation Kit)

September 9, 2009

I find it appropriate that the first substantive post in a long while comes on Dreamcast Day. 9.9.99: NEVER FORGET.


Escapist fantasies be damned: it’s hard to be an asshole in a video game.

I was polling my Facebook friends for good anecdotes about applying the problem-solving skills we learn from video games to real life problems (that’s Quality Research, folks) and got the following from one of my Jiu Jitsu buddies:

“I’ve found in choose-your-morality games like Fallout, KOTOR, or BioShock I have a really hard time playing a bad guy, even in a simulated world where there are no real negative consequences for my actions. I think a lot of the time we like to think of the character as our idealized self in an extraordinary environment.”

Now to be fair, this guy is a genuinely nice guy. Even in a sport that consists of grown men mauling the shit out of each other like wild dogs, he manages to be downright courteous. As in he sent me three apologetic text messages after a practice session where he noticed I was rubbing my neck after he caught me with a choke. However, I don’t think that his nice-guy nature is why he always gets the Good Ending. No, it’s most likely because most games “morality choices” are, well, garbage.

Grand Theft Auto got people all hot and bothered because they saw gamers in a virtual world which looked like they could do anything without worrying about consequences, and given a choice, they ended up stealing cars, doing drugs, fucking prostitutes and shooting pretty much everyone. People who actually played Grand Theft Auto weren’t nearly as shocked about the crimes they were committing because verbs like Steal, Fuck, and Shoot had buttons mapped to the controller. In GTA, being a law-abiding citizen, much less a Nice Guy, would be akin to winning the Evolution National Championships on a gamepad with one working button. It’s easier for Solid Snake to thwart a plot that endangers the whole world without killing anyone than it is for C.J. from San Andreas to drive on the right side of the road. There’s no meaningful choice between good and evil, which is fine, because no one buys a game called Grand Theft Auto to help old ladies across the street.

The Fallout series has a different legacy, however. The tension between Good and Evil is supposed to be a constant element throughout the game; each mission, no matter how small, generally has at least two or three different outcomes that will push your karma in one direction or the other. Unlike GTA, however, I’ve found that the path of least resistance is that of the Good Guy, because the decisions are too moral. Let’s say we have a real life moral spectrum that looks something like this (bad to good, with “|” denoting neutral):

Hitler ———————————-|———Garden-variety Asshole—–Average Joe————–Mother Teresa

GTA‘s looks something like this:

Raging Armed Psychopath——Murderer——|———————Regularly Drives Over The Speed Limit

and Fallout 3‘s looks something like this:

Raging Armed Psychopath—-|—-Guardian of the Wasteland

That is to say, there isn’t really much of a middle ground. Either you’re a saint or you’re shit. For any given quest, the options are Make Everything Better or Kill Everything, and the neutral path consists of Do A, then B. Fix Megaton up, then blow it up. Tell Zimmer who the Replicant is (to get Wired Reflexes) but tell the Replicant first (to get his Plasma Rifle). I could understand this if it were a Star Wars story involving Jedi powers, but then the good and evil actions would be more oriented around whether you prefer Force Heal to Force Choke and less about the morality themselves. Basically, the problem is that the Good Path tends to be more generous with in-game rewards (XP, items, Perks) than the Bad Path, and you don’t risk missing out on any further game content by offending (or killing) certain characters. There are certain NPCs and quests that can only be had if your karma is negative, but from what I can tell, it’s negligible compared to the whole, so everyone plays the game as a good guy the first time. If they really like the game (as in, they like it enough to play through it again with the handicap of having bad karma) then they’ll do it again to see the remaining 20% or so of the stuff that they couldn’t see as a good guy.

To make this a little bit more concrete: I’m playing through the game a second time. Even though I fully intended to play as a Bad Guy the whole way, I find myself choosing the Good option more often than not just because it makes the game easier. This is not a good model of morality. If GTA tells us that people can do incredibly horrible things if they’re just a touch of a button away (think of it as mass-market Milgram experiment), Fallout tells us that stealing a bottle of soda is maybe two steps removed from genocide.

Fallout is set in a post-apocalyptic fucking wasteland. Shouldn’t my do-gooder enthusiasm be rewarded with selfish backstabbing at every turn? For a world that claims to be harsh and soul-crushing, it’s awful easy to be the good guy. Needs more crabs-in-a-bucket.

This is not the good-evil tension I want in a video game, because it bears very little resemblance to the good-evil tension that fascinates me in real life. In real life, it’s less about Good or Evil (because honestly, who thinks of themselves as Evil?) and more about Selfish and Selfless. The Evil we encounter in real life isn’t Hitler, it’s the guy who can’t be bothered to make a new pot of coffee at the office. The lady who willfully cuts you off in traffic. Being good in real life is a combination of the belief in delayed gratification (or karma) and genuine concern over others’ well-being, and being evil is being just enough of an asshole to walk the lines of civil society without crossing them. One of the first moral choices in Fallout 3 comes up right when you leave the Vault, and you have the option of shaking down a lady on the run for her money or delivering her from her difficult situation. It’s a fairly insignificant moment in itself, but it captures the selfish-selfless tension perfectly. You can opt for the money, or you can opt for the good Karma.

I opted for the money.


War Games

August 5, 2009

Check out the PC World website for a piece that I’ve been working on for a while. Not related to games and race, but it IS about games and the military, and I figured that would be interesting to y’all. This is the edited version (unedited draft came out to about 2x the length).

Read it here: G.I. Joystick


A Good Post On Resident Evil 5

February 13, 2009

…Is right here.


Broken in Oakland

January 9, 2009

I rarely have occasion to walk around the streets of downtown Oakland, mostly because there isn’t a whole lot there. It’s a stretch of office buildings that all feel like they were ripped off the set of Mad Men, complete with elevators that actually have working Door Close buttons. Well, more accurately, it’s a stretch of vacant lots, punctuated with the occasional inhabited office building. It’s kind of depressing – were it more densely populated, I could see it being kind of cool to work in an area that looks like I imagine New York did in the ’60s, but whenever I’ve been there it has looked like a ghost town.

So it was rather unusual that the one time I’ve had to go to downtown Oakland happened to be the day after the BART-shooting-protest-turned-riot. Honestly, though, I had a hard time telling exactly what was due to last night’s events.


I wish I had been there, if only to see how the protest became violent. I can certainly understand how frustration and anger lead to the desire to smash and destroy, but it’s totally stupid to go about demolishing your own hood. That’ll teach them, all right. Next time the rioters ought to bus over to Piedmont and loot the A.G. Ferrari, at least.

Interestingly enough, SFGate notes that several of the “mob” were affiliated with Revolution Books over in Berkeley:

The core group of the mob appeared to be about 40 people, several of whom were with Revolution Books, a Berkeley bookstore. A man distributed the “Revolution” newspaper – whose tagline is “voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A.” – as he shouted “This whole damn system is guilty!”

I’ve been there a couple times – there’s a lot of amazing reading material there – but I can’t imagine them to be the kind of guys who go around breaking stuff.

I’m sure there’s a game idea here. Something about replicating the influence of the mob mentality, perhaps. Maybe I’ll think more about it later.

pat m.


It’s That Time Of Year…

December 19, 2008

How Akuma Stole Christmas

Screw Christmas music in all the stores. Every time this gets posted to I know it’s the holiday season again. (Click Next at the top to go from page to page.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc. etc. to all of you! And thank you for reading!

pat m.


Chrono Trigger DS

December 2, 2008

I’ve been playing through the Chrono Trigger DS remake lately. Yeah, it’s still Chrono Trigger, with a few new gimmicks here and there to spice things up. Worth playing if you never played it on the SNES or PSX, but if you’ve already gone through it a few times you might want to save your time and money. If you haven’t played it, you might want to avoid reading this, as there are mild spoilers.

– The new monster raising mode seems pretty boring so far, and unless it changes dramatically later in the game (I’m almost at the Black Omen) I wouldn’t really bother with it. Sure, you could probably get some nice items from it all, but by the time you can fight the high-level battles your party is already probably pretty dominating.

– For better or for worse, the game was retranslated. The game reads much more smoothly now (“The finest in defensive equipment for my, daughter!” has been fixed, thankfully) but Frog’s accent has been removed to make him speak more like everyone else from the Middle Ages.

-I had never noticed this before, but the game was almost perfectly designed for handhelds from the start. Even though there is no quicksave option, the dungeons tend to be short enough that you can finish one in ten minutes or so. The game is meant to be broken up into small manageable chunks, and with the exception of the new dungeon, it doesn’t keep you in any one place long enough to really get bored. 

– The new dungeon was thoroughly disappointing for a few reasons. Disappointing Reason #1: It took me a few hours to get through, not because it was particularly difficult, but because you had to keep on walking back and forth between essentially what amounted to the same seven screens or so. I think I climbed that stupid mountain at least fifteen times. What’s more, each screen has an annoying unavoidable fight that does nothing but make the fetch quests you’re sent on even more of a pain in the ass. Do yourself a favor and use a FAQ to save yourself one or two redundant trips, at least. The reward items are nice, but half the stuff isn’t as good as your end-game equipment (which you can get very easily before you do the Lost Sanctum) and the stuff that is good doesn’t really mean much because the game pretty much peaks in difficulty at the Ocean Palace. I never understood why people bothered getting their characters all up to level 99/max statistics in this game because it’s not like there’s anything that really gets hard to kill after level 60 or so. I hear there’s a new ending, and a new last boss. Maybe I’ll need to be really buff for that one.

-Disappointing Reason #2: I found the end of the second fight with the Reptites to be one of the more poignant moments in the game; Team Crono has basically been fighting to ensure the survival of the human race, and the Reptites have all been total jackasses up until this point, but once you beat Azala he reminds you that he was basically doing the same thing for his people, and since he lost, the Reptites were doomed to extinction. Even Ayla, despite the fact that she was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with all Reptite-kind, seems to be surprisingly understanding and even sympathetic towards Azala. Considering that non-human, Other monsters are so easily written as straight evil characters without any particular nuance, I thought that Azala’s send-off was really well done. What’s more, the effects were permanent – the only Reptite you see in the game after that fight is running in the races at the Millenial Fair – which is something unusual for a game that’s all about traveling in time to fix things. You can bring Crono back, you can put Cyrus’s spirit to rest, but you can’t make the Reptites and humans co-exist…

…That is, until you go to the Lost Sanctum and discover there’s a whole town of Reptites left. Guess you just killed the Asshole Reptites.

pat m.


White Nationalists Love Dungeons and Dragons

November 19, 2008

Good stuff, though – as usual – the comments thread isn’t quite up to snuff.

pat m.